Jonathan Wilkins discusses the benefits of a proactive obsolescence management strategy for manufacturers
With industrial obsolescence speeding up, it is vital for manufacturers to have some level of obsolescence management strategy in place to mitigate the risks of obsolescence. Companies can implement strategies that are proactive, reactive or a mixture.
According to one of Aesop’s fables, one summer’s day an ant was working hard dragging food back to its nest when came across an idle grasshopper, singing to its heart’s content. The grasshopper asked the ant to stop and chat – but the ant ignored him and carried on preparing for winter. When the seasons changed, the grasshopper looked enviously upon the ant’s vast food supplies and regretted his idleness bitterly.
Grasshoppers and ants aside, we have all heard stories and anecdotes on the importance of being proactive. In fact, it is listed as the first quality in the book Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. But what exactly is proactive obsolescence management and is it the best strategy for manufacturers?
Don’t sit and wait
A proactive obsolescence management strategy means that the plant manager is monitoring the availability of parts as well as taking actions to manage obsolescence before a part is discontinued. In general, proactive obsolescence management is a good idea if the component is essential to process or production, because if the component does become obsolete, it will be difficult to replace, which in turn could cause costly downtime.
It would be challenging for any company to monitor the obsolescence status of every single item in its bill of materials, so components should be ranked in order of importance and appropriate measures put in place. Using data available from the part manufacturer or an independent database as well as looking at algorithmic and historical data can enable a manufacturer to predict lifecycle changes early and decide on the most appropriate solution.
Go with the flow
Reactive obsolescence management relies solely on acting once a product discontinuation notice is made public or once an obsolete component breaks down. Whether it’s due to a core component for production or a dwindling supply chain of spare parts, obsolescence can cause plant managers serious headaches. A reactive strategy leaves a smaller window for action once the discontinuation has happened.
There are several courses of action when a component becomes obsolete. The manufacturer can source the same part using lifetime buys, although this means the spare parts must be stored and ordered in a quantity that predicts future use, which it is not always possible to do accurately. The same part can also be sourced through a supplier of obsolete industrial equipment. This way, a replacement can be delivered in record time, with minimal impact on production.
The manufacturer could also choose to redesign the product – but this is not always a practical option. If a second component goes obsolete and a second redesign is needed, this can be difficult and incredibly costly. A redesign is unlikely to be possible for a company using a reactive strategy as the window is too short.
The manufacturer could also switch to a different product with similar form, fit and function from the original supplier or a competitor. However, this requires complex analysis to guarantee the part is exactly the same in its parametric, dimensional and electrical characteristics.
A reactive strategy can make even these viable options impractical, so incorporating a proactive approach to the most important components should be considered to some extent. Staying one step ahead to ensure you are prepared for any critical component obsolescence is a good way to safeguard production, just like the proverbial ant prepared itself for the cold winter months.
Jonathan Wilkins is marketing director of obsolete parts supplier EU Automation.