Component Obsolescence: The Unavoidable Problem

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Regardless of the type of product you are developing, it’s a reality that all components become obsolete over the course of time. This makes having a strong component obsolescence management strategy an essential element to all product designs. Taking a holistic approach comprised of three important components that attack the problem from all angles is recommended.

Eliminate Potential Issues at the Design Stage

Taking a proactive approach is one of the three essential elements to a strong obsolescence management process. Its goal is to minimize the impact through design and is best managed at the earliest stages of development. One of the key things to examine is vendor obsolescence vs. parts obsolescence. This is accomplished by taking steps to ensure that there is at least one alternate source for any given component. This insulates the product from being unavailable due to a given supplier going out of business or no longer offering a particular part.

Another recommended practice is to provide viable alternatives if no exact replacement part is available. This gives the supply chain and production teams the flexibility to substitute a given component without a loss of functionality to the final product and limits impact to the manufacturing process.

It is also recommended to specify industry standard components during the design stage as these are often simpler to manage. Dealing with an impending obsolescence issue is much easier while the part is still available compared to when it is off the market.

Create a Technology Roadmap

One of the key aspects of a proactive approach to component obsolescence management is to create a technology road map during the design stage. This begins by selecting technologies with an anticipated longer product life cycle. Often times a component will go obsolete before the design is even finalized, so delaying these types of issues, will get the product to market quicker and keep it in the field longer.

It is important to conduct a full review of all the components against the road map and highlight those that are in jeopardy of going obsolete. While all parts should be monitored regardless of the risk factors involved the components that were tagged as potential problem items should be scrutinized more closely.

Not a Panacea

No matter how forward-thinking you are at the design stage, the unavailability of key parts is inevitable. That’s why a comprehensive strategy that includes both reactive and on-going maintenance tactics to complement the work done at the design stage is required to avoid an interruption to the supply chain or costly redesigns. Adhering to this all-inclusive approach on an ongoing basis is an essential element to manufacturing products built for the long-haul.

What is your organization doing in the rapidly changing area of component obsolescence? Which tactics have been most effective for you? Are you considering investing in technology to assist with the process? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.

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