Take steps to manage obsolescence

When buyers encounter obsolescence issues, there are six main options available to resolve the problem. Here Winslow Adaptics explores what can be done.

Bridge buy
If you have registered to receive end-of-life notifications from franchised distributors or component manufacturers you will be informed of the final purchase and shipment dates. This allows you to plan a last time buy, which is great if you can establish when your project end of life will be and how many components you are likely to need. It is also important to ensure a proper storage facility and test regime is set up and funded to care for the buys. Naturally, bridge buys are easier if the equipment has ceased production and you are in the maintenance phase, not still actively promoting the unit.

Grey market
The global grey market consists of surplus stock held at OEMs, CEMs and remaining stock at franchised distributors in other territories. This is a legitimate place to source components if you remember that many component manufacturers will not provide technical support to components purchased outside of the regional franchise network.

Components may have no traceability, will not be supported by the manufacturer, have no evidence of storage conditions and may even be counterfeit. The risks can be significantly reduced however, by developing supplier relationships so that, although no formal paperwork is present, the source and condition of the components can be trusted and the components will be warranted. Testing is highly recommended to reveal whether the component is working to its specification, which just leaves the question of reliability. Is it better to use a component which may fail in a shorter time than no component at all?

If the component has become obsolete but is still available in another package, then adapt is the best solution. You will be using the same die at the same speed and characteristics and provided the adapter is made of the same material as the board onto which it will be mounted, then all other environmental considerations will be consistent with the use of the original device.

I consider reconfigure as adapt plus. For example, when the only available component operates at a different voltage, or the memory device is larger than the original, then reconfiguration is a legitimate solution. This will be designed to the fit of the original and, with the addition of a few components, the function and form can be maintained.

If reconfigure was adapt plus, then emulation is reconfigure plus. Here a form, fit and function solution will be established using a suite of different components. This solution is becoming more common with the rise in ‘intelligent’ components becoming obsolete. Fortunately, due to the age of these components, they are often not intelligent by today’s capability and are easily emulated using modern configurable devices. Depending on system complexity and environment, this type of solution certainly saves on the cost of re-design.

Unplanned re-design can be a costly exercise hastened by unexpected looming deadlines. Knowing the value of your options and their associated risk and surety provides the tools to assess the short and long term commercial impact as you move into the next phase of your product lifecycle.