Evidence shows that components obsolescence is increasing rapidly. According to recent research by IHS Technology, in the year 2000 alone, component manufacturers issued 1,164 end-of-life (EOL) or product discontinuance notices, and the figure spiked to 5,506 by 2014. Though IHS forecasts that the number of such notices is going to decline, it’s always best to be prepared. Here Neil Balligner, head of EMEA at automation parts supplier EU Automation, looks at three innovative ways to proactively manage obsolescence.
Knowing your equipment is the first step to deal with the complications of its old age. Conducting regular audits to determine the level of wear and tear of machinery, having a solid predictive maintenance plan, and working with a reliable parts supplier can go a long way in minimising the negative impact of obsolescence.
Sometimes, however, manufacturers might need a little extra help in keeping track of their equipment’s life cycles and taking appropriate measures to extend its useful lifespan. Luckily, there are many resources available to make sure that your machinery will still serve you for years.
Obsolescence management as-a-service
In a society characterised by the quick obsolescence of components, companies that offer long term system availability can have a distinctive advantage. As a consequence, innovative automation companies are starting to offer obsolescence management as-a-service to support their client base in prolonging the active life of their equipment and reducing costs related to the requalification and certification of systems.
For example, ACTIVEROBOTICX, a German provider of unmanned systems solutions, offers complete proactive, strategic and reactive obsolescence management packages. This means that their engineers will work closely with the client to create a personalised life cycle management plan of their unmanned systems, helping them to avoid costly system redesigns in the future.
Advances in 3D printing technologies could allow manufacturers to produce spare parts with various additive manufacturing techniques. Given the variety of materials available, and the fact the 3D printing is becoming more affordable than in the past, it is not unlikely that additive manufacturing might become a valid tool to manage components obsolescence.
There are, however, limits to this approach. Firstly, reproducing an original design exposes manufacturers to the risk of infringing intellectual property rights. Secondly, there is no guarantee that the 3D printed part will perform like an original one. Finally, additive manufacturing is an expensive and time-consuming process.
There are promising research projects that are currently investigating the potential of 3D printing as a solution to obsolescence, especially for equipment used in the defence sector. However, keeping track of components’ life cycles and working with a reliable supplier to source obsolete parts is, at the moment, by far the most convenient approach.
Outsourcing obsolescence management
In smaller organisations, keeping updated spreadsheets with equipment’s lifecycles and suppliers’ contact details can go a long way in managing obsolescence proactively. However, in larger plants obsolescence management can be a full-time job.
For this reason, many large companies are opting to outsource this service to an external obsolescence manager. These experts usually have a background as maintenance engineers and are competent in identifying obsolescence risks across their clients’ assets.
This involves conducting routine predictive maintenance tasks, either onsite or remotely, and identifying components that need to be replaced or repaired. It also involves sourcing replacements or alternative parts that meet legislative requirements, and forming relationships with suppliers that can provide them quickly and conveniently.
Innovative ways are emerging to keep up with increasing components obsolescence, but at the base of them all, is the ability to source obsolete parts quickly and from a reliable source.