IEEE TRANSACTIONS ON RELIABILITY, VOL. 52, NO. 1, MARCH 2003 125
A Critical Look at the Bathtub Curve
Georgia-Ann Klutke, Peter C. Kiessler, and M. A. Wortman
This paper addresses some of the fundamental as-sumptions underlying the bathtub curve. It is shown to be unlikelythat any practical hazard function is decreasing near zero. Greatcare should be taken in interpreting the hazard function, particu-larly in applying quality-control practices, such as burn-in or en-vironmental-stress-screeing to manufactured products.
Bathtub curve, burn-in, hazard function, infantmortality, mixture of distributions.
Cdf cumulative distribution functionESS environmental stress screeninghzf hazard functionIFR increasing hazard (failure) ratepdf probability density functionSf survivor function.N
pdf of time to failure: inflection points of hzf of time to failurecompact parameter space for mixture of distribu-tionselement of probability measure on, Cdfs of time to failureSfs of time to failure.I. I
FUNDAMENTALtenetofreliabilitytheoryisthatthehzf displays a “bathtub shape.”The origins of this curve are unclear; it appears in actuariallife-table analysis as long ago as 1693 . The bathtub curveis described in nearly every standard reliability text, e.g., ,, , , –. The curve represents the idea that the
operationofapopulationofdevicescanbeviewedascomprisedof 3 distinct periods:
Manuscript received February 24, 2001; revised June 12, 2001 and August7, 2001. This work was supported by the U.S. National Science Foundationthrough Grants DMI-9713947, DMI-9726852, and DMI-9900368. ResponsibleEditor: J. A. Nachlas.G.-A. Klutke and M. A. Wortman are with the Department of Industrial En-gineering, Texas A&M University, College Station, TX 77843 USA (e-mail:Klutke@tamu.edu, Wortman@tamu.edu).P. C. Kiessler is with the Department of Mathematical Sciences, ClemsonUniversity, Clemson, SC 29634 USA (e-mail: Kiesslp@clemson.edu).Digital Object Identifier 10.1109/TR.2002.804492
The singular and plural of an acronym are always spelled the same.
• an“earlyfailure”(burn-in)period,wherethehzfdecreasesover time,• a “random failure” (useful life) period, where the hzf isconstant over time,• a “wear-out” period, where the hzf increases over time.The bathtub curve occupies a place of considerable impor-tance in reliability practice, particularly in justifying burn-instrategies for improving system reliability. This paper exposessome of the limitations of the traditional bathtub curve, andshows that a bathtub-shaped hzf cannot rigorously agree with asimple bi-modal lifetime density. Thus, the value of the bathtubcurve in characterizing infant mortalities is questionable. Whilethe useful life and wearout intervals are not examined, the re-alism of these segments of the curve might also be questioned.Some simple analyses are offered that examine the foundationsfor the traditional bathtub curve for manufactured products; itsindiscriminate use is discouraged here.While most reliability texts mention the bathtub curve, thereis considerable disagreement on its applicability.• Reference  describes it as a “typical hazard rate”shape;•  claims that “a few products show a decreasing failurerate in the early life and an increasing failure rate in laterlife”;•  asserts that the bathtub curve describes “only 10% to15%” of applications;• statesthat“thebathtubcurvecanmodelthereliabilitycharacteristics of a generic piece-part type, but not of anassembly, a circuit, or a system.”;• ,  represent the hzf as the sum (superposition) of a
decreasing hzf, a constant hzf, and an increasing hzf.Interestingly, none of the standard references cited hereprovide compelling
evidence in support of thebathtub curve for manufactured products. Indeed, there havebeen several efforts to dislodge the bathtub curve from its placeof importance. References , , and later, , advocated
a “roller-coaster” curve for electronic components and provideboth philosophical and analytic justification for such behavior.These papers point to the limitations of the traditional bathtubcurves to adequately-model early life failures.The presence of decreasing hazard near time zero has beenexplained in several ways; two are listed here, although otherexplanations can certainly arise.1) The “physics of failure” explanation  postulates thatindividual devices improve with age in their early life. Whilethis explanation might be viable in certain situations (e.g., bio-logical systems, curing of materials),  points out that ther-modynamic considerations make it an unconvincing argumentfor manufactured devices.2) References ,  (see also , , ) explain that
a manufactured component belongs to a population at risk of
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