What Is Obsolescence?

Obsolescence is a significant cost driver and can impact products and equipment at all stages of the acquisition process.

Early identification of obsolescence risk allows a wider range of options to be considered and consequently reduces the actual cost of resolution.

The rate of obsolescence is increasing and the financial and availability risks to equipment will continue to require careful management to reduce through life costs. There is clear evidence that a robust Obsolescence Management strategy can significantly reduce such costs and interruption to supply.

When a part failure occurs, or a modification / change is required, a major problem can develop if the replacement part is no longer available from its original manufacturer, or any other approved sources. This can often result in the most expensive resolution (redesign) being the only option available.

Through Life Support Obsolescence Management

What Is Obsolescence Management?

Although electronics are most likely to be discontinued, obsolescence of non-electronic and commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) items also poses a significant problem to long life systems. In short, obsolescence is a threat to system supportability. It will not go away. It has been shown that the annual growth of End of Life documents, where manufacturers declare a part obsolete, increases significantly year on year by as much as 25%.

Obsolescence in long life projects and equipment is inevitable. Unforeseen obsolescence issues can happen quickly and could cost a significant amount of unplanned money to resolve and can have the impact of:

  • Loss of equipment capability (production down time)
  • Significant increase in support costs through life

The only way to mitigate the obsolescence risk is by implementing a proactive Obsolescence Management capability. There is clear evidence that a robust Obsolescence Management capability can significantly reduce the obsolescence impact on through life costs.

The IEC 62402:2007 definition is:

Obsolescence Management – “co-ordinated activities to direct and control an organisation with regard to obsolescence”

The principle aim of Obsolescence Management is to avoid the costly resolutions when an obsolescence issue occurs. Careful planning can minimize the impact of obsolescence and its potentially high costs. The objective of obsolescence management is to ensure that obsolescence is managed as an integral part of design, development, production and in-service support in order to minimize cost and its detrimental impact throughout the product life cycle.

The main elements of a proactive Obsolescence Management strategy are:

  • Understanding the parts and other elements (e.g. software, tooling, skills etc.) in your project.
  • Understanding the current and future obsolescence risk.
  • Putting steps in place to mitigate known risk.
  • Reducing the impact of obsolescence on :
    • Capability
    • Cost

A robust, proactive Obsolescence Management strategy will deliver:

  • An understanding of the current and future risk to the parts within a system.
  • Mitigation of known current and future risk.
  • A reduction in support costs, through life.
  • A reduction on expensive reactive obsolescence resolutions.
  • Reduced risk of obsolescence affecting capability (decreased production downtime).

The impact of obsolescence can be significant. Recent industry and academic studies have clearly shown that the cost difference between being reactive, where redesign is the most common resolution, and being proactive, where more cost effective resolutions are implemented, can be as much as 50 times more expensive.

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