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FEATURE OBSOLESCENCE


Seven steps to obsolescence management in Industry 4.0


Jonathan Wilkins, director at automation parts supplier EU Automation, shares his seven steps approach to effective obsolescence management


O


obsolescence is the by-product of continuous technological advances


and as such it cannot be eliminated completely, especially now that manufacturers are under more pressure than ever before to digitalise their facilities. However, plant managers shouldn’t feel forced to perform costly systems upgrades every time an obsolete component breaks. Obsolete doesn’t mean useless or


underperforming, and sourcing a like- for-like replacement can be quick and easy with the help of a specialised supplier. With a proactive obsolescence management plan in place, legacy equipment can be perfectly integrated into a smart factory, allowing manufacturers to digitalise their plants while saving money and reducing their environmental footprint. Let’s see how in seven simple steps.


STEP 1: SYSTEM ASSESSMENT To effectively plan for the future, you’ll need to know the present state of your system by performing a comprehensive system audit. How old is your machinery and how long have its components been on the market already? Compare your answers with life


expectancy data provided by the OEM to determine the life stage of your machines and their components, so that you can have a better idea of how long they will still serve you. Finally, make a list of components that are already obsolete or are about to be made obsolete by the OEM.


STEP 2: RESOURCE PLANNING Strategic obsolescence management requires resources. Do you have a dedicated budget for periodic upgrades and last-time purchases? Can you afford to hire an obsolescence manager to help you keep track of components life cycles


24 NOVEMBER 2020 | ELECTRONICS


and plan repairs when needed? Most importantly: do you have


partnering agreements with a reliable automation parts supplier? When obsolete components break, knowing who to call can make the difference between hours or weeks of costly downtime.


STEP 3: RISK ANALYSIS Critical applications, which are essential to operate the entire system, are ones you should prioritise when putting together an obsolescence plan. If a component of these applications broke down, how much would downtime cost your business? Draw up a risk assessment form to decide whether you can risk them breaking down or whether preventive maintenance is the most convenient option. Analyse how worn their moving parts


are, and research whether they are still available from the OEM or whether there are compatible products on the market. If they’re already obsolete, contact a specialised supplier to get a quote. Since a failure of these components would impact the functionality of the overall system, timely replacement might be the way to avoid unplanned downtime.


STEP 4: SHOPPING AND STOCKING Industrial parts need to be grouped based on their risk of becoming obsolete. For components that are already obsolete, evaluate the possibility of stockpiling some spares while they’re still relatively abundant on the market. For end-of-life (EOL) components, OEMs may send a last-time buy (LTB) notice and even provide special quotes. This might be the best time to squirrel away some spares. Don’t forget that for larger spare parts


you might need to have a dedicated space in your warehouse. This space and


its correlated costs have to be accounted for in step two.


STEP 5: THE RIGHT SUPPLIER Based on your analysis of how critical a part is to your process, the speed at which it will wear and its risk of becoming obsolete, you should draw up a plan of where you can source these parts from and how quickly. For example, if a supplier doesn't


regularly hold a specific obsolete VSD in stock, they'll have to source it from a third party, which could be located half way around the world. Working with an industrial automation parts supplier like EU Automation means you are safe in the knowledge that when a part does break down, the company has the stock and the contacts to get you obsolete replacements quickly.


STEP 6: COMPILING A DATABASE All the data collected so far should be recorded and safely stored. This information is invaluable and collating it into an easy understandable format could save precious time in case of breakage. This doesn’t necessarily mean


investing in an elaborate database. For small to medium plants, it can be enough to have a clear spreadsheet detailing the conditions of critical parts, their likelihood of breaking down, and the contact information of suppliers who have them in stock or can provide them quickly.


STEP 7: REVIEWING AND UPDATING Effective obsolescence management is a full-time job. It takes careful management to keep automated systems pitch perfect, which is the reason why larger businesses opt for hiring an obsolescence manager and sometimes even one or more last-time- buy purchasers who are responsible for managing EOL parts. However, smaller plants can go a long


way by simply keeping their spreadsheets updated and organised. Make sure you subscribe to OEMs’ newsletters to be notified when parts are discontinued and last-time-buys are available. Plan regular checks to update your spreadsheets, increasing their frequency for parts that are already visibly worn. By incorporating obsolescence


management into maintenance plans, companies can minimise the impact of breakdowns, eliminating last minute repairs costs and saving money in the long run.


EU Automation www.euautomation.com


/ ELECTRONICS


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