Buying time

ES Aug15 Pg26 & 28 JJS 1You can’t stop components from being discontinued, but you can manage the process so there’s time to determine a contingency plan, explains JJS Manufacturing’s Chris Ames.

At some point in the future an electronic component within your product will be made obsolete. Time, money and resources can be drained in managing the process, but if the item is critical to the functionality or design of your product, an obsolete component could stop production altogether, which will hit sales figures hard.

So what do you need to know to help you plan for the future? There are a number of tools that will manage obsolescence issues for you. Some independent companies provide an obsolescence management service. There are also various websites, which provide component lifecycle information. Alternatively, some companies that offer kitting or component verification services may also provide supply chain management services.

Unfortunately, all of the above are reliant on certain notifications that the end manufacturers send out, so it’s unlikely that all of the items within your product will be covered by one solution.

Get notified

There are a number of notifications that component manufacturers typically send out.

Product change notifications (PCN) are normally used to communicate changes such as factory location, raw material specifications, software updates, process or quality improvements and functionality differences. A PCN does not necessarily mean your part will be made obsolete, but the changes could impact your product. It’s therefore advisable to get samples of the replacement so your engineering and design team can carry out trials to make sure product functionality remains as intended.

End of life (EOL) or product discontinuation notifications (PDN) confirm that a part will be made obsolete. Unfortunately there aren’t any definitive guidelines on the time period between EOL and when the last purchase order will be taken, or the last delivery made.

Last time buy (LTB) notifications confirm the last date purchase orders will be accepted by the factory. If the part is critical to your design, you may want to consider ordering a significant amount of stock now to secure the longer term future of your product.

Finally, last time ship (LTS) indicates the last dates that the factory will ship product out, either directly to you or through their distribution channels. Again, each manufacturer will have their own policies on timescales between LTB and LTS.

In the dark?

There are a number of reasons why you might not know about these changes. Firstly it depends if you are sourcing electronic component parts yourself or your electronics manufacturing services (EMS) partner is buying them on your behalf. If it’s the latter, notifications should be sent to them, but it is worthwhile checking how they manage this within their electronics supply chain management process.

If you are buying items from a catalogue distributor, then the supplier may not always get notifications direct from the end manufacturer. Alternatively, EOL notifications may have been sent to an individual outside your department, or to the person who originally subscribed to them that no longer works for your company.

Lastly, if you are buying components from ‘grey market’ sources, they are unlikely to have direct support from the end manufacturer.

Sign up

There are a few simple steps you can take to ensure you receive obsolescence management notifications, but this may mean sharing product specific information either directly with the manufacturer or with approved franchised sources. If your assembly partner procures the parts on your behalf, you will need to allow them to pass on the details.

Give franchised distributors details of your product, end application, estimated annual usage and details of who, in your organisation, will be buying the parts. If there is a change to internal staff, or you decide to outsource manufacturing, let the distributor know so they can make sure the right people are informed. You may even want to set up a group e-mail address with more than one recipient/department.

Most manufacturers will allow you to subscribe to notifications directly through the website. While this can be time consuming, it will give peace of mind that critical parts are being monitored.

Although you can’t stop certain parts becoming out-of-date, obsolescence management planning means you get to know about any issues in enough time to determine your next move.