Darren Halford explores the importance of obsolescence management for designers, engineers and users of aerospace systems
Electronic component obsolescence is a major problem for military and commercial aerospace manufacturers.
In the past, military equipment used to be in production for several decades, so obsolescence management was rarely an issue when aircraft designs were agreed.
However, it is now estimated that 60% of the integrated circuits currently on aerospace products will become obsolete in the next five years.
Obsolescence is easier to manage when it is considered starting with the product design stage. However, solutions exist at every level that can save a project from forced redesign.
The viability of the component is critical in product design and development for the defence and aerospace industries where communications, aircraft, navigation, guidance, and radar systems require long-term reliability and upgradability.
Commercial off the shelf products (COTS) offer designers of military and aerospace systems access to low-cost alternatives to full mil-spec parts. As the acronym implies, these commercial products have not been specifically designed or qualified for the military market. To meet potentially more demanding performance requirements, manufacturers may not have specified these components for operation over wider temperature ranges or with greater tolerance to high voltage supply.
Designers who need to meet tougher operating conditions, such as high humidity or extreme shock and vibration are calling for more rugged COTS.
These options still need to satisfy the criteria of being a catalogue product but may be originally intended for other applications, such as automotive components and applied using more conservative design rules.
Despite the growing obsolescence concern, the aerospace industry is increasingly turning to COTS to reduce time to market and production cost. However, as demand for faster and smaller devices grows, COTS are frequently being rendered obsolete before the aircraft leaves the drawing board.
Nowadays, most current commercial and industrial designs are in production for five years or less and the life span of those designs continues to shrink. No matter how much planning you do, it's likely that you'll have to replace a part that will become obsolete at some point in the future. Don’t let that worry you too much though. Not all is lost. Obsolete components suppliers, like EU Automation stock parts that have recently been made obsolete, saving you the hassle of replacing a whole system.
Darren Halford is group sales director of EU Automation.