Sensitivity analysis of system reliability using the complex-step derivative approximation

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Sensitivity analysis of system failure probability is performed to evaluate the dependence of system reliability on design parameters or component events. Sensitivity analysis is integral for the implementation of efficient gradient-based optimization algorithms in system reliability-based design optimization, and for risk-informed decision-making. This paper presents a method for sensitivity analysis of system failure probability using complex-step differentiation. Many derivative approximations use a small step size to minimize subtractive cancellation errors. The complex-step approximation utilizes an imaginary number, such that the subtractive cancellation is not included in the formulation, resulting in calculations without the associated round-off error. The level of accuracy in sensitivity analysis using the finite difference method (FDM) can vary with change in the step size, which is generally selected arbitrarily, as the actual effect of the step size on the result itself is difficult to predict prior to actual calculation. The complex-step approximation, however, is not confined by the step size, as subtraction cancellation is not included. Compared to the FDM, the complex step approximation has only one limit, the numerical precision of evaluating the function. The proposed method integrates complex-step differentiation into a numerical integration scheme, for the assessment of system reliability and sensitivity. System failure probability and sensitivity are obtained by taking the real and imaginary part of the cumulative distribution function, which is numerically evaluated using the proposed method. The computational efficiency for system reliability problems involving high dimensionality is improved with the utilization of a dimension reduction technique. Numerical examples of sensitivity analysis for series, parallel, and general systems are presented to illustrate the performance of the proposed method.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number107814
JournalReliability Engineering and System Safety
StatePublished - Nov 2021


  • Sensitivity analysis
  • complex-step derivative approximation
  • system reliability

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Safety, Risk, Reliability and Quality
  • Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering


Dive into the research topics of 'Sensitivity analysis of system reliability using the complex-step derivative approximation'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this