Electronics 360: Combat Obsolete, End-of-Life Components
Electronics 360: Combat Obsolete, End-of-Life Components

Sep 23, 2017

Faster, smaller, better, and more secure technology. However, every coin has two sides, and, in this case, faster, more compact, and more secure and efficient technology triggers some unfortunate challenges. Recently, we discussed a major obstacle in the electronics supply chain: component obsolescence and its contributing factors. As a whole, engineers are consistently combating obsolete, end-of-life (EOL) components. Short consumer product life cycles and general weakness in the global market have increased the speed at which components are becoming obsolete. When parts’ demand decreases, manufacturers reduce the rate at which they produce those parts. This is part of the motivation behind part termination.

“As new semiconductor products increase in demand, the manufacturing volume increases, and older products are phased out. This is the semiconductor lifecycle. When the original semiconductor manufacturer chooses to discontinue a product, they typically offer an end-of-life purchase. The issue with this is that few customers have the ability to fund these purchases or buy enough for their continuing requirements,” says Chris Gerrish, President, Rochester Electronics. Emerging industries and products such as the Internet of things, automotive, and mobile require new chips that possess longer lifespans, smaller sizes, and lower power consumption rates. As a result, even end-products experience shortened life cycles.

“Many products are discontinued as wafer fabs, assembly, and test contractors stop supporting older technologies and systems,” says Gerrish. There are some instances when engineers are inclined to use an EOL component to keep costs low for a particular project. Still, most often, this poses a serious inconvenience, as production of a part has suddenly stopped, and now they’re forced to find components that suit the form, fit, and function of the previous parts they were working with. Most industries will have to combat the challenge of component obsolescence at some point. Those in the military and aerospace markets encounter this less frequently since those sectors require a minimum of 10 to 15 years of support.

Overcoming Component Obsolescence

To adapt to the issue, OEMs design-in components of similar functionality, two to three alternates, and sometimes even have to re-design the entire product, according to Sreedharan NG, Syrma’s VP of Engineering. This can have a costly effect on OEMs as components become obsolete more quickly and re-designing or qualifying component alternatives increases. “There comes a time when [a part] reaches the end of its useful lifespan. When support wanes, due to obsolescence and lack of spare parts, or if the vendor withdraws active support for your system, the cost to your business increases,” says Jeff Conner, Dallas Service Manager at Control Concepts. Incorporating these tactics into the development strategy will be useful as 2017 has been a year full of component shortages due to company mergers, price hikes, and a flat-out lack of demand.

There are three key ways to deal with this:

  • Find comparable parts: Many manufacturers are developing strategies to assist. For example, Texas Instruments provides product obsolescence notifications and offers a Life Time Buy (LTB) opportunity, as well as a handy cross-reference search tool for discovering part alternatives. The company also accepts customer orders for products up to 12 months from the date of obsolescence notification and allows an additional six months to deliver any ordered product.
  • Incorporate customization: Work with manufacturers that will design the parts you need to produce your component. The key to the solution is a partnership between manufacturers and companies that can provide products that last for extended periods of time. Rochester Electronics is one such company. Companies like Rochester Electronics can provide physical design and process replication, as well as reverse engineering.
  • Be educated: It’s important to stay up-to-date on part status changes and failure/counterfeit components. Learn more about product forecasts before developing a product to better prepare. Researching the driving trends behind obsolescence as part of your sourcing strategy will benefit companies in the long run.

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