Take the lead on obsolescence

Head of marketing, Cyclops Electronics, Beverley Scott

A component with market-leading functionality today can be superseded within a year. Cyclops Electronics’ head of marketing, Beverley Scott, looks at the proactive strategies purchasers can take to stay ahead of the problem.

Fifty years ago, Gordon Moore predicted that the capabilities of computing and electronics would dramatically increase whilst simultaneously seeing a decrease in cost. This estimate became known as Moore’s Law and has been a springboard for innovation for the entire electronics industry, challenging technicians and designers to keep doubling the number of transistors fitted on an integrated circuit.

In fact, Moore’s Law is as relevant today as it was when it was first published in 1965, which is amazing considering the rate at which technology has advanced in the past decade.

A consequence of this constant innovation however, is that the rate of obsolescence and end-of-life notices remains high. A component that has market-leading functionality today could be superseded within a year, setting off a chain of events that impacts both supply chains and production plans.

This causes a problem for everybody involved with the electronics industry, from designers through to sub-contractors and particularly those working in purchasing departments.

Proactive planning
It goes without saying that it is important for companies to be proactive when it comes to obsolescence because, in the worst-case scenarios, it can reduce both profit and product viability.

Luckily, there are countless tools and strategies that can be utilised to help manage its impact, ranging from sophisticated algorithms through to tailored purchasing plans and cohesive supply chain management systems. By staying on the front foot, it becomes possible to retain control when a crucial component receives that dreaded end-of-life notice.

Becoming dependent on a solitary approach to purchasing can cause problems. For example, relying solely on a just-in-time model of procurement could leave businesses vulnerable to a sudden spike in demand at both ends of the manufacturing process.

This is one reason why businesses may want to work with electronic component distributors. Many franchised, and indeed many independent, sources will have access to datasheets, discontinuance notices and specialist personnel that can help people plan their technical changes in advance.

Specialist distribution
If a component within a production schematic has become obsolete and there is no stock through authorised channels, there are several avenues that could be explored. Unfortunately, the majority of these come with associated risks.

It may be decided that an entire redesign is necessary, although this would come at some financial expense. Alternatively, parts could be reverse engineered or sourced on the open market by an internal purchasing division. Given the fears around safety, product longevity and counterfeiting, however, one would have to question whether these options would be wise.

As a result, many internal procurement teams turn towards independent distributors that specialise in stocking and sourcing obsolete electronic components.

The leading names in this sector should be able to offer technical advice and support, alongside additional value-added services. A good barometer of an independent distributor would be the level of guarantee that it offers on any purchase made through the company, as well as the stringency of its anti-
counterfeiting measures.

Asking questions
Of course, it is important to ask the right questions and look for the appropriate accreditation when enlisting specialist support. The escalating infusion of counterfeit parts means that when approaching new suppliers, it is best practice to remain vigilant. If at any point a company refuses to be transparent when it comes to its quality and testing procedures, purchasers would be wise to give that supplier a wide berth. Ask about internal supplier controls, membership to bodies such as the ERAI and what policies the company has in place to aid with counterfeit avoidance.

No doubt, given the rate that technology is changing, every manufacturer is likely to come face to face with obsolescence-related problems at some point. With some careful planning, however, and the right strategic partnerships with distributors that specialise in stocking and sourcing obsolete components, this risk can be mitigated.