When the ancient Romans designed and built roads, the infrastructure was intended to last forever. Fast forward a few thousand years to the current age and you’ll find most things are being built to function as intended only under certain conditions and for a specific period.
“Today, we often don’t consider what the full design process is: the whole infrastructure system, the reliability of components, and also sustainability, what happens at the end of life,” says Lary Speakman, senior instructor of Electrical Engineering in the College of Engineering, Design and Computing. He leads the new cross-disciplinary Reliability Engineering Micro-Credential course launched this summer by the College.
Reliability engineering focuses on designing systems that will function optimally, for the intended life cycle, fully knowing the specific details of the system and the processes that define it. It is an approach that uses applied mathematics and decision making, probabilistic and statistical methods and numerical analysis.
When reliability engineering principles are not applied properly, components can fail prematurely or can be over-engineered creating unnecessary waste. A common example is a computer system: the CPU becomes obsolete after a few years, yet the monitor, keyboard, mouse, and all cables are fully functional and useable long after. Typically, scarcely any of the original system is re-purposed, resulting in a significant waste stream of the complete system.
“If the life cycles of a system are properly synchronized or the individual components can be disassembled for other uses, then we can prevent most of the original system going straight into the landfill,” Speakman says. “Social pressures and increased costs are driving companies to take a greater focus on all facets of reliability.”
The three-credit course is taught through an interactive lecture format and consists of civil, electrical and mechanical engineering modules. Students also complete a class project implementing systems design, reliability, and sustainability.
Since reliability engineering is a critical skill for a wide range of technologies and industries, it’s no surprise students at the undergraduate and graduate level, as well as industry professionals, have gravitated to the new offering.
Elise Harrison completed the reliability engineering micro-credential this summer and is set to earn her graduate degree in civil engineering in Spring 2023. She is currently researching the structural arrays of photovoltaics (PV). Harrison says that while the panels are considered a green energy source, many end up in landfills once they come to the end of their initial lifecycle.
“The reliability aspect is especially important in these panels so we can take apart and reuse them. Personally, I am interested in sustainable construction and being good stewards of the land and working for companies that hold that to a standard,” she says.
Harrison adds, “I can see this micro-credential being beneficial for manufacturing, factory work, assembly line, and production, for example. It also offers students an opportunity to apply statistics and probability in real-world settings.”
Graduates of the micro-credential are eligible for the industry-recognized Reliability Engineer Certification from The American Society for Quality. The certificate demonstrates an individual’s understanding of the principles of performance evaluation and prediction to improve product and systems safety, reliability, and maintainability.
Speakman says he is passionate about reliability engineering and anticipates offering the course again in Summer 2023.
“This micro-credential is not only about learning industry best practices but is also a call for an engineering design approach as world citizens,” he says, a sentiment that echoes the College’s strategic goal of leaning into technology to drive transformation.
At the CU Denver College of Engineering, Design and Computing, we focus on providing our students with a comprehensive engineering education at the undergraduate, graduate and professional level. Faculty conduct research that spans our five disciplines of civil, electrical and mechanical engineering, bioengineering, and computer science and engineering. The college collaborates with industry from around the state; our laboratories and research opportunities give students the hands-on experience they need to excel in the professional world.