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ISRN Applied Mathematics
Volume 2012 (2012), Article ID 850686, 36 pages
Review Article

System Reliability at the Crossroads

School of Aerospace Engineering, Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, GA 30332, USA

Received 30 August 2012; Accepted 10 October 2012

Academic Editors: J. R. Fernandez and Y. Tsompanakis

Copyright © 2012 Vitali Volovoi. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


This paper surveys the current state of research related to the modeling and prediction of failures of engineering systems. It is argued that while greater understanding of the physics of failure has led to significant progress at the component level, there are significant challenges remaining at the system level. System reliability, a field of applied mathematics that addresses the latter challenges, is at a juncture where fundamental changes are likely. On the one hand, the traditional part of the field entered a phase of diminishing returns, largely having followed the trajectory of the Cold-War era technology development: golden years of rapid growth in the 1950s and 1960s, followed by maturation and slowing down in the ensuing decades. On the other hand, the convergence of several technologies related to data collection and processing, combined with important changes in engineering business and government priorities, has created the potential for a perfect storm that can revive and fundamentally transform the field; however, for this transformation to occur, some serious obstacles need to be overcome. The paper examines these obstacles along with several key areas of research that can provide enabling tools for this transformation.