Obsolescence Management – Designing Ahead

If you don’t design defensively and plan ahead, 4e Technologies believes obsolescence issues are bound to cost you in the end.

These days, if you’re looking to market and support a product for any length of time, obsolescence management will rear its ugly head.

The traditional approach to obsolescence was reactive – doing nothing until receiving an end-of-life statement from the manufacturer. This was usually followed by a last-time-buy, keeping the product design as is. While in some cases, that may still be a perfectly good approach, usually the up-front and storage costs required make it less than desirable.

A better approach is to future proof designs and design defensively for obsolescence as a matter of course, in the same way that a company would design for manufacture.

Segment Designs

One way of achieving this is to modularise and segment a design into black-box functionality at the architectural design level. This involves designing each of the blocks more or less as functional units, largely independently of each other. That way, when obsolescence hits, and it is bound to be ‘when’, rather than ‘if’, the amount of redesign required is minimised and get-well costs are as low as possible. As with many things, the appropriate strategy is best assessed on the basis of a risk/reward trade-off.

Designing for obsolescence applies to firmware as much as it does hardware and traditional modularised high-level coding techniques can help to minimise redesign costs. The increasing level of functionality available in today’s embedded peripherals however, tends to lock design to specific hardware and some recoding is bound to be required.

Damage Limitation

In the event that a component is no longer available, the best any hardware or firmware designer can hope for is damage limitation. Essentially, how much of the original design can be ported without having to redesign from scratch?

There isn’t a single get-out-of-jail-free approach to handling obsolescence. Any part of the design process many need to be revisited, from schematic land PCB layout design aspects, to firmware modification or EMC testing.

The only thing guaranteed, is that if you don’t design defensively and plan ahead, it will cost you in the end.