The Need for Obsolescence Management
Having an obsolescence management (OM) program in place makes good sense. Making OM an integral part of design, development, production, and in-service support, ensures that obsolescence is being adequately managed. Excessive costs, associated with the detrimental impact that obsolete parts or systems can have on a business’s operations, can therefore be mitigated or avoided. Although this discussion is focused on hardware obsolescence, it is worth noting that the obsolescence, along with OM planning and implementation, applies to systems software and people (skills) as well.
The military has successfully integrated obsolescent management (OM) into many of its systems programs for years. Witness for example, the fact that the B-52 has been carrying out missions since long before its current pilots and crew members were born, yet it continues to be a viable part of this nation’s military arsenal.
Some commercial enterprises have a similar track record; but most do not. In fact, many of the products manufactured today are produced with planned obsolescence in mind; witness smart phones, and a number of other consumer products. The opposite is true for equipment destined for the factory floor, or other commercial uses where, to realize a reasonable ROI, preventing the negative effects of system or part obsolescence must be planned for.
The Benefits of Requesting Outside Assistance and Support
While small businesses may have the flexibility to plan for obsolescence, doing so can be a burden, and many businesses simply to not have the resources to integrate OM planning and implementation into their business models.
Even companies that have the necessary resources, often tend to put OM on a back burner during design and development; the time when putting an effective program in place would have the greatest positive impact downstream.
Obsolescence cannot be wished away. It will happen. The goal of an OM program, whether created in-house, or with the help of a service provider, is to take whatever steps may be necessary to eliminate the high cost of parts and equipment modification, improvement, or replacement.
Obsolescence Management Implementation
There are several major steps involved in a typical OM program.
A system is put in place to identify, categorize, and stock number those items that have a high probability of becoming obsolete. The military refers to this step as codifying.
A monitoring system is created to check for any problems that critical parts or equipment may be encountering before replacements become too costly or are no longer available.
Real or potential sources of critical items are identified, as are sources that specialize in redesign or reverse engineering.
A policy is put in place that makes it mandatory to purchase and provide long-term storage for critical parts or equipment that might cause, or be impacted by, obsolescence.
Without a proactive OM plan in place, a business can find itself at the mercy of decreasing availability of needed parts and equipment, and an increase in their prices; or both.
Going to an outside source for OM planning and implementation assistance can often be the most cost effective way to address the issue. This is especially true when the outside source has the flexibility, OM skills, expertise, and low overhead that some manufacturing businesses lack.
The reasons for soliciting the help of an outside source are several:
OM support can take the form of consultation; providing assistance to a client that has the means and the desire to implement a workable program.
Support can take the form of becoming familiar with a client’s business plan and operations, and creating an effective OM plan the client can then put into practice.
The support agency can put in place team to conduct periodic health checks and provide the client with impact appraisals.
The team can provide the client with advance notifications of impending problems that can be caused due to anticipated obsolescence.
The support team can assist in sourcing, procurement, and storage of critical parts and assemblies.
Putting a support team in place that can take charge of any or all of these activities usually creates a win-win situation for everyone involved; since both parties gain additional experience in developing and implementing sound OM practices.