Detecting and Characterizing Patterns of Failure in Complex Engineered Systems: an Ontology Development and Clustering Approach

DS 122: Proceedings of the Design Society: 24th International Conference on Engineering Design (ICED23)

Year: 2023
Editor: Kevin Otto, Boris Eisenbart, Claudia Eckert, Benoit Eynard, Dieter Krause, Josef Oehmen, Nad
Author: Walsh, Hannah Scharline (1); Dong, Andy (2); Tumer, Irem (2); Brat, Guillaume (1)
Series: ICED
Institution: 1: NASA Ames Research Center; 2: Oregon State University
Section: Design Methods
Page(s): 1425-1434
DOI number:


While the causes of failures in complex engineered systems are often clear in hindsight, it can be challenging to predict failures proactively during the design of novel engineered products or systems. Identifying patterns can be useful for capturing common characteristics that may lead to failure. In this paper, we present a methodology for identifying patterns of failure from NASA’s publicly available Lessons Learned Information System (LLIS). We apply an ontology development and clustering approach to identify representative patterns leading to failures in historical lessons learned. A joint inductive-deductive approach reveals the key themes in lessons that lead to failure, which are formalized and recorded as an ontology of complex systems failure causes. Documents from the LLIS are manually tagged with relevant characteristics from the ontology. From the tagged set, clustering is used to capture co-occurring sets of characteristics that lead to failure. The primary contribution of this work is a method for extracting a set of generic failure patterns in complex engineered systems and characteristics for these patterns that can be identified at design time, knowledge of which can be used to plan mitigation strategies.

Keywords: Complexity, Risk management, Ontologies

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