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IEEE Boston Reliability Chapter
A Joint Chapter with New Hampshire and Providence


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5:30 PM, Wednesday, 11 October 2017 at 3 Forbes Road, Lexington, MA

The Genesis of Reliability Engineering aka "Certainty of Operations"

Gilmore G. Cooke, PE


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The first two individuals to introduce reliability engineering in their work were: Dr. William Channing (1820 -1901), inventor of Boston's fire alarm system over 160 years ago, and Fred Stark Pearson (1861-1915), chief engineer of the world's first and largest public transit system of Boston. Channing had carefully examined and specified requirements for communicating fire emergencies, coining the phrase 'unerring certainty of operations'. Channing then incorporated certain design features to guard against circuit interruptions and false alarms. These included redundant conductors, separation of circuits, monitoring of circuits, and automatic testing of wires. In his paper to the Smithsonian Institution in 1855, he reported that the overall design had proved sufficient to make Boston's fire alarm system the 'most certain means of communications which has yet been devised, under all conditions of weather and seasons'. Decades later when Pearson was an engineering student at Tufts College, he visited Boston's central fire alarm station with Professor Dolbear. He became a disciple of Channing by expanding his motto to 'taking the public view with regards to certainty of operations'. Pearson applied reliability engineering concepts to develop power and traction systems in Boston, Manhattan, Niagara Falls, Mexico City, Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and Barcelona.

   


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