Solving obsolescence issues

Director of operations at 4 Star Electronics, Scott McKee, encourages readers to take time to develop and implement an obsolescence management program

Obsolescence is always lurking in the background, ready to upset the best-laid plans of purchasing professionals. Luckily, the value-added independent distributors who help find long lead time parts are using some of the same tools and techniques to help buyers solve obsolescence and end-of-life issues.

Over the last decade, the lifecycle of many standard components has decreased as technologies have improved for higher speeds and lower voltages, especially with FPGAs, MCUs and MPUs. Rapid obsoleting of these products has out-paced demand for them.

The pandemic exacerbated this effect, as manufacturers focused on switching limited production resources to the highest demand and/or most profitable chips. Some older designs, (not intended for obsolescence) have now been abandoned, with little hope of production resuming. Some products are listed with over two years lead time and there is serious doubt whether they will ever be available again.

All this leads to a higher likelihood of counterfeit parts entering the market. Buyers can be certain counterfeiters are diligently working to take advantage of the situation. The only thing counterfeiters love more than shortages is obsolescence.

To manage obsolescence, procurement organizations must develop a thorough obsolescence program. Some key steps are:

  • Develop a methodology for predicting part obsolescence or use an established program such as the one developed by the Center for Advanced Life Cycle Engineering at the University of Maryland. This relies on the use of algorithms to help forecast future obsolescence dates and determine the optimum time to redesign products to eliminate obsolescence issues
  • Stay close to original component manufacturers and their authorized channels to get notices and schedules of end-of-life material, especially while things are changing rapidly
  • Predictive lifecycle forecasting tools are available from data providers such as SiliconExpert Technologies, IHS and Z2Data
  • Work with independent distributors who are experts at dealing with shortages and end-of-life components and can help handle unforeseen circumstances revolving around obsolescence

Reducing risk by focusing purchasing efforts through original component manufacturers and their authorized distribution partners is an important part of procuring authentic parts: but this isn’t always possible.  One way to mitigate threats is by aligning with specialist independent distributors.

Quality independent distributors help procure material from the open market when other options are unavailable and provide value in an obsolescence program with thorough purchasing support. Many independent distributors have processes in place for bill-of-material and lifecycle analysis (sometimes referred to as BoM scrubbing), plus vendor management, kitting and full purchasing outsourcing.

The top tier independent distributors provide validated material and support counterfeit avoidance initiatives through in-house inspection and test, typically based on the IDEA-STD-1010 visual inspection standard or the SAE AS6081 aerospace standard for fraudulent/counterfeit electronic parts. If advanced testing techniques—such as full functional electrical testing—are required, independent distributors have relationships with established test labs.

Director of operations at 4 Star Electronics, Scott McKee, said: “The component shortages over the past couple of years have really driven the independent distribution model, allowing us to help a lot of customers. But we never forget the foundation that we were built upon, and that’s the comprehensive quality and inspection services that we provide.”