A system consisting of n components or subsystems, of which only k need to be functioning for system success, is called a “k-out-of-n” configuration. For such a system, k is less than n. An example of such a system might be an air traffic control system with n displays of which k must operate to meet the system reliability requirement.
There are two principal applications of the normal (or Gaussian) distribution to reliability. One application deals with the analysis of items which exhibit failure due to wear, such as mechanical devices. Frequently the wearout failure distribution is sufficiently close to normal that the use of this distribution for predicting or assessing reliability is valid.
The other application deals with the analysis of manufactured items and their ability to meet specifications. No two parts made to the same specification are exactly alike. The variability of parts leads to a variability in systems composed of those parts. The design must take this part variability into account, otherwise the system may not meet the specification requirement due to the combined effect of part variability. Another aspect of this application is in quality control procedures.
The basis for the use of normal distribution in this application is the central limit theorem which states that the sum of a large number of identically distributed random variables, each with finite mean and variance, is normally distributed. Thus, the variations in value of electronic component parts, for example, due to manufacturing are considered normally distributed.
μ = the population mean
σ = the population standard deviation, which is the square root of
Most modern engineering disciplines are based on applied mathematics. An engineer or scientist observes a particular event and formulates a hypothesis (or conceptual model) which describes a relationship between the observed facts and the event being studied. In the physical sciences, conceptual models are, for the most part, mathematical in nature. Mathematical models represent an efficient, shorthand method of describing an event and the more significant factors which may cause, or affect, the occurrence of the event. Such models are useful to engineers since they provide the theoretical foundation for the development of an engineering discipline and a set of engineering design principles which can be applied to cause or prevent the occurrence of an event.