Component Obsolescence Management

- basic details of management of electronic component obsolescence for the design, manufacture, repair and support of electronic equipment.

Component obsolescence is a major issue for companies that design and manufacture electronic equipment.

With developments in the electronics arena taking place at a rapid rate, components come and go very quickly.

The sales like of a particular component may be very short. This can be an issue for manufacturers who may need to manufacture the equipment over a period of time beyond when the particular component may be available, and then support it for even longer.

Accordingly component obsolescence management is a key issue.

Obsolescence management basics

All components become obsolete after a time. However some become obsolete more quickly than others.

In this way, obsolescence is a factor that will be with all electronic designs. Accordingly obsolescence is a factor that is best managed right at the earliest stages of the development of an item of electronics equipment, or anything else for that matter.

Obsolescence management techniques can be placed into two categories:

  • Design obsolescence techniques:   It is possible design equipment to try to minimise the effect of any likely obsolescence. While this may not always be easy in many respects there are some strategies that can be used to provide design stage component obsolescence management:

    • Second source:   When using any component it is always wise to ensure that there is at least one other source for the component. Second sourcing components is a very standard method of obsolescence management. If one supplier stops production, or has difficulties in production, then the other supplier or suppliers may be used.
    • Consider near second source components:   One obsolescence management strategy may be that even if exact replacements are not available, a second source of an almost identical component may provide a viable alternative.
    • Use industry standard components:   Specialised components tend to be used by a smaller number of products, volumes will be lower and this makes them more likely to have a short life. Industry standard components will tend to be used by more manufacturers and in a wider number of products, some of which may have a long volume production life. While the production volumes are present, manufacturers will have the impetus to keep manufacturing the components.
    • Use automotive components:   Components used in high volumes in some industry sectors will tend to have a longer life. Products used in automotive applications tend to have a long life. Not only are the components used in high volume, but automotive manufacturers, buying in high volumes, will have the weight to insist on the component remaining in production for a long time to support not only the car production but later maintenance.
    These approaches and others, will help reduce the likelihood of components within the design falling obsolete and requiring action during the production stages.
  • Production engineering based obsolescence techniques:   Obsolescence management is very applicable to the production stage of the product. Here the responsibility for obsolescence management responsibility tends to fall to the production engineering department. There are a number of obsolescence management options open at this stage of the product life-cycle.
    • Last time buy:   Often manufacturers will give notice of a component becoming obsolete. At this time it may be possible to undertake a last time buy. This option is not always advantageous. It requires finance to be committed to buy sufficient product. Also, estimates of total usage are required and it may not be possible to accurately predict overall usage. However this is an option that may be used on some occasions.
    • Locate surplus stock:   If a product has gone obsolete then it may be possible to locate some surplus stock - possibly a product manufacturer has over bought and needs to release the capital invested. Care must be taken to ensure that the product is genuine and has an adequate pedigree, i.e. it is not from a non-traceable source. This is important in view of the level of counterfeit product being sold.
    • Use near alternative:   It may be possible to use a component that has a very close performance to that of the obsolete part. This may prevent the need for a redesign of the particular board.
    • Board re-design:   In some cases there will be no alternative and the only form of obsolescence management available will be to redesign a board to enable a different part to be used. When undertaking a redesign it is necessary to ensure that the performance of the board or module remains the same as it was before. In this way its operation will not be affected and it will still be able to interface with other elements of the system with no ill effects. Unfortunately alterative components tend to be more recently introduced and have a better level of performance. This can provide some challenges for the design engineer trying to retain the original level of performance, or only alter a small area of the original circuit.

Obsolescence is a major issue in any item of electronic equipment - it is quite common for some components to go obsolete before the final design for the equipment has been completed. Accordingly obsolescence management is a key element of any design.

By Ian Poole

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