Fault Trees, Decision Trees, and Binary Decision Diagrams: A systematic comparison

Lisandro A. Jimenez-Roa*, Tom Heskes, Mariëlle Stoelinga

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contributionAcademicpeer-review

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In reliability engineering, we need to understand system dependencies, cause-effect relations, identify critical components, and analyze how they trigger failures. Three prominent graph models commonly used for these purposes are fault trees (FTs), decision trees (DTs), and binary decision diagrams (BDDs). These models are popular because they are easy to interpret, serve as a communication tool between stakeholders of various backgrounds, and support decision-making processes. Moreover, these models help to understand real-world problems by computing reliability metrics, minimum cut sets, logic rules, and displaying dependencies. Nevertheless, it is unclear how these graph models compare. Thus, the goal of this paper is to understand the similarities and differences through a systematic comparison based on their (i) purpose and application, (ii) structural representation, (iii) analysis methods, (iv) construction, and (v) benefits & limitations. Furthermore, we use a running example based on a Container Seal Design to showcase the models in practice. Our results show that, given that FTs, DTs, and BDDs have different purposes and application domains, they adopt different structural representations and analysis methodologies that entail a variety of benefits and limitations, the latter can be addressed via conversion methods or extensions. Specific remarks are that BDDs can be considered as a compact representation of binary DTs, since the former allows sub-node sharing, which makes BDDs more efficient at representing logical rules than binary DTs. It is possible to obtain cut sets from BDDs and DTs and construct a FT using the (con/dis)junctive normal form, although this may result in a sub-optimal FT structure.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationProceedings of the 31st European Safety and Reliability Conference (ESREL 2021)
EditorsBruno Castanier, Marko Cepin, David Bigaud, Christophe Bérenguer
PublisherResearch Publishing
Number of pages8
ISBN (Electronic)978-981-18-2016-8
Publication statusPublished - 21 Sep 2021
EventEuropean Safety and Reliability Conference 2021 - University of Angers, Angers, France
Duration: 19 Sep 202123 Sep 2021


ConferenceEuropean Safety and Reliability Conference 2021
Abbreviated titleESREL 2021
Internet address


  • Fault tree analysis
  • Decision tree
  • Binary decision diagrams
  • Systematic comparison
  • Reliability engineering
  • Decision making
  • Graph models


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