Understanding obsolescence, mitigating risk

Obso Global director, Leroy Spence, outlines key factors to consider when planning for obsolescence and how a third-party provider can help

When new electronic components are brought to market, it is not uncommon for older technologies to be phased out. This can present problems for plant and equipment managers tasked with keeping assets performing reliably.

However, when discussing the challenges of obsolescence, it is important to note that ‘obsolete’ does not mean equipment has reached its end of life. It simply defines the part as no longer supported by the manufacturer, so alternative sources that can provide a part of equal quality and design need to be considered instead.

Key to managing obsolescence is a plan which considers every aspect of the plant and its impact on productivity. This should include an audit of the installed base of machinery and equipment, identifying the risk by area, line and machine.

The second stage is to understand the equipment lifecycle. Spare parts do not reach obsolescence at pre-determined intervals and their availability cannot necessarily be predicted, so it is important to understand the equipment life cycle. This can help build an accurate profile of which parts are current and readily available, which are due to become obsolete and which are already obsolete.

Rather than waiting for a part to fail, this method helps operators stay in control, minimising the potential for expensive downtime, reducing the time-consuming search for parts and freeing up resource for more productive tasks.

A third stage is to consider an alternative to the obvious ‘like-for-like’ parts replacement. While no reputable supply partner would advocate the use of pirate parts or cheap imports, there are often numerous plug-and-play alternatives or a migration path available that will return the equipment to its original performance.

The final phase is regularly monitoring spare parts and components throughout their service life. Routine, proactive maintenance will always help prolong equipment longevity and help prioritise energy performance. In this way, operators can help lower ownership costs over the lifetime of the equipment.

Once a comprehensive obsolescence management plan is in place, operators should consider forming a partnership with a reputable, third-party supply.

Such a supplier will focus on minimising production downtime during parts upgrade or replacement, with an emphasis on maintaining existing equipment parameters. This may mean the first option is not an immediate like-for-like replacement but to consider reverse engineering a part or finding an upgraded alternative which may require minimal programming.

A third-party supplier can also assist with inventory management, especially when holding large volumes of spare parts on-site is impractical or where the cost of upfront purchase is prohibitive.

In conclusion, managing the product lifecycle requires operators to understand current and future risk and put steps in place to mitigate—creating a long-term strategy that includes replacement parts and an adequate stock of critical spares.

Obso Global has launched an obsolescence management guide (available to download) which guides operators through key steps when implementing an action plan and provides recommendations for outsourcing obsolescence management to a supply partner.