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Collaborating to Address Obsolescence


Design challenges come in many flavors, each with its own set of process paths to choose from, and each with different strategies to ensure quality, continuity, cost management, and product support. In the case of end-of-life (EOL) and component obsolescence, the challenges often intensify because of limitations imposed by the original design, customer requirements (e.g., cost, time, and various restrictions), and the issues around supply itself. Importantly, EOL component challenges can prove to be mission critical and can require dedicated collaboration across the supply chain, such as between end-product manufacturers, original component manufacturers (OCMs) and component distributors.

A recent article published by EDN, co-authored by Bob Chesla, Senior Project Engineer at Rockwell Automation, Nora Gibbs, Account Executive at Smith & Associates, and myself, considers the design and supply challenges encountered when EOL component events arise. This two-part article explores the processes and challenges from two different points along the supply chain, and underscores what happens at the intercept of end-product manufacturers and independent distributors (IDs) by considering how to tackle the ever-present (or looming) challenge of component EOL events.

The EOL challenge

Very often components go obsolete and have a shorter life cycle than the products they are designed into. Some components have only a two year life cycle and can go EOL before the product even gets released to production. Many products in the industrial, aero, auto, military, and similar markets must be supported for 5 to 20 years or even longer. Having a component obsolescence management process is key to sustaining product life cycles.

Adding to these EOL challenges is the threat of counterfeiters who regularly target the EOL sector. Not only are there (re-)design considerations during these EOL events, but there are critical sourcing and cost strategies that often necessitate including alternate suppliers due to lack of part availability through traditional channels. Knowing how to balance design and sourcing adds a layer of complexity with significant repercussions and challenges that must be carefully considered in concert.

The EDN article offers the first part of a thorough and detailed presentation of processes and decision flow-downs typically taken by an end-product manufacturer, OCM, and a component distributor. A wider lens view that considers the ecosystem of solution design for EOL component challenges is also offered to provide another means for engineers to derive solutions to their respective EOL design and sourcing challenges.

Collaboration is critical

In devising EOL solutions, working closely with an approved, qualified, and certified ID, is an important step for both procurement departments and for engineers alike. The reasons are rather simple in origin but have far-reaching and critical ramifications if engineers are not kept in the loop in component sourcing. Because last time buy (LTB) and EOL parts are inherently more difficult to source, they are often also a targeted market for counterfeiting. As a result, it is all the more important that the engineering team be part of the sourcing solution to ensure that industry approved anti-counterfeit detection methods are employed, that rigorous functional screening be conducted and that results are reviewed prior to shipment from the ID. Additionally, leading IDs can offer long-term stocking programs for either EOL parts or for those parts you want to ensure future stock availability due to potentially significant redesign issues in the event of an EOL. These programs ensure availability and pricing for components to meet production and warranty needs.

These are all part and parcel of today's global, leading, professional IDs. Ensuring that your procurement department understands that price may not be the final determiner in sourcing LTB or EOL components can obviously be a question of cost-savings and safety. Smith & Associates is a leading ID that provides these types of proven, time-tested, and industry recognized processes as turnkey solutions focused to address the challenges of specific industries, markets and component sectors. Quality and sourcing decisions for immediate and longer-term strategic needs demands deep market experience and agility. Ensuring the best value chain relationships ensures the best outcome when facing EOL events.

Lisa Ann Cairns, Ph.D.
Written on Tuesday, 14 May 2013 13:53 by Lisa Ann Cairns, Ph.D.

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