Understanding proactive obsolescence management

Charcroft director, Debbie Rowland

Charcroft director, Debbie Rowland, encourages purchasing professionals to start managing obsolescence earlier in the component lifecycle.

The past fourteen months have witnessed a total of thirty-one notifications that a series of capacitors or resistors has reached end of life (EoL) and will be madeobsolete. These notifications were received from eight different manufacturers on Charcroft’s line card. Component end of life affects all electronics industry sectors, but when the life of the end product is measured in decades rather than years, such as defence and aerospace, the impact can be even more critical.

The obvious solution for component obsolescence is for the distributor to have the knowledge and commitment to recommend a suitable alternative, particularly for defence, aerospace and other harsh applications.

This means the full specification of the obsolete component must be checked and matched against each of the performance characteristics of an available alternative. This is not always simple if the obsolete legacy passive was designed-in from a paper-based datasheet, which has not been retained by the original equipment manufacturer (OEM). To overcome the loss of legacy paper datasheets, Charcroft has an archive of digitised legacy datasheets going back to the 1970s and many original specifications can be retrieved from this archive.

There is a more proactive way for a distributor to manage obsolescence, relying on a strong and close working partnership between the distributor, component manufacturer and end customer. Component manufacturers allocate grades to each component so production can be built into the workload for the year. This forms part of the obsolescence process. There are a total of five grades and when a component reaches Grade 5, obsolescence is the usual outcome.

As a component moves along its lifecycle, it will move into Grade 4, when usage is for spares and repairs rather than volume production of end equipment.

If an industry goes into a slower period of manufacturing, a component may not be ordered for two to three years and could be regraded for spares and repairs. The lead time for Grade 4 components is generally very extended as the component manufacturer must find the materials and balance manufacturing the low-volume Grade 4 passive against higher volumes of the latest passives.

By looking at obsolescence earlier in the life cycle, Charcroft is advised by manufacturers when a passive is graded down to spare and repairs. Following this up with the end customer, a realistic usage forecast can be shared with the component manufacturer. This process has enabled some passives to be regraded to avoid obsolescence.

Another proactive option is for Charcroft to agree a stabilised price agreement with the customer and hold long-term inventory of an obsolescent passive in the UK. The customer gains confidence that there will be continuity of supply for the duration of the agreement, which can stretch to years.

Manufacturing a custom passive component or assembly in the UK is another way in which a form, fit and function alternative can be produced to replace a legacy passive.