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Jeff Rowe
Jeff Rowe
Jeffrey Rowe has almost 40 years of experience in all aspects of industrial design, mechanical engineering, and manufacturing. On the publishing side, he has written well over 1,000 articles for CAD, CAM, CAE, and other technical publications, as well as consulting in many capacities in the design … More »

It’s Never Too Early To Plan For Obsolescence

 
November 5th, 2014 by Jeff Rowe

I’m not an impulsive buyer now, and never have been. Before I purchase just about anything, especially for business purposes, I explore function, options, alternatives, and expected life span. Before purchasing, as much as it pains me, I also plan for the product to eventually become obsolete

Obsolescence is a fact of life, whether incidental with regard to function or intentional because it was deliberately planned. As time goes by, it seems that the latter occurs with greater and greater frequency. Just look at cell phones, computers, software, clothing . . . just about anything you can name.

Even high-ticket capital investments, such as manufacturing equipment are not immune.

The video link below is simplistic and slightly off topic, but is a great case in point for how and why obsolescence is very much part of product design and consumption:

Planned Obsolescence, Perceived Obsolescence

Along these lines I recently came across an article written by Frank Powell, Grinding Products Manager at Marposs Corp. (Auburn Hills, MI). It appeared in the August 2014 edition of SME’s magazine, Manufacturing Engineering and is entitled, “The Time to Start Planning for Obsolescence is Now.” It really resonated with me, as I’m sure it will with many of you as follows:

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So, your shiny new, state-of-the-art metrology system is up and running. What’s next on the agenda? Well, after you relax for a minute and admire your handiwork, starting some serious, in-depth planning for its replacement is probably not a bad idea.

No, there is nothing wrong with today’s hardware and software, and your shiny new system will probably last for many years. But, it absolutely won’t last forever and when the time comes to repair or replace it you may be in for an unpleasant surprise.

Metrology, like all technologies, is evolving rapidly and continuously. That’s why your new system is a lot more capable than anything you could buy a few years ago. Your tolerances are tighter, you need more flexibility, you can’t find skilled operators so you need more capabilities in the software and a simplified interface—all of these evolving requirements are reflected in the components of your system.

Your needs will be different in a few years, and so will the systems available to meet them. The parts you need to keep the old one running, however, may not be available. In fact, some basic building blocks of today’s widely-used systems, like Intel 486 processors, component-mount transistors and some specialized chips are already in short supply. Other things, like gas-plasma displays are now listed as environmental hazards that can’t be used at all, even in a like-for-like replacement.

And, even if a manufacturer can find legacy components, in many places it’s already illegal to use them in commercial products. They often contain lead and other heavy metals for which voluntary reduction or elimination is being replaced with strict bans in many places and the list is growing rapidly.

There is no question that the time is rapidly approaching when manufacturers simply will not be allowed to produce many of the components and apparatus you are using today. Don’t wait for a crisis; you need to start planning now to avoid unpleasant surprises tomorrow.

A good place to start is with an inventory of everything that’s on your floor now. Talk to your suppliers about the status of key components, with particular attention to the electronic items that have the highest incidence of obsolescence. Let your suppliers know that you expect to get ample advance warning about anything that is going to be unavailable. That way you can make decisions about whether to repair or replace components or systems now, or to stock up on key parts that may not be available when needed in the future.

Barring crashes or catastrophic damage, any piece of metrology gear from a reputable supplier ought to deliver 10–15 years of service with routine maintenance. That’s a reasonable number to use as a base for prioritizing your spare-part requirements and replacement schedule.

It’s obvious, but nonetheless worth mentioning, that the older a system or component is, the less likely parts or direct replacements are to be available. In other words, prioritize your plan to deal with your oldest components first because that’s where failure is both most likely to happen, and most likely to cause the greatest disruption.

And, if you do decide to replace an old system, don’t throw it away. You can often cannibalize it for parts to keep some other system running while you’re waiting for an upgrade or replacement. It’s not a perfect answer, but it’s a lot better than losing production or making bad parts because the metrology system is down.

Beyond keeping you informed about products that are reaching the end of their life, your suppliers should be doing what they can to help ease the transition from old to new. For example, about 92% of the electronic products produced by Marposs are pin-for-pin compatible with their legacy predecessors. We also endeavor to provide logical upgrade paths. For example, the current P3UP and P7UP amplifiers are pin-for-pin compatible with the older machine interfaces they replace.

The same thing is true of many of the mechanical features such as mounting arrangements and hole spacing on our mechanical components. The Marposs Web site even has a section devoted to upgrades to help smooth the process.

Obsolescence is a fact of life. You need to plan for it now, and so do your suppliers. Don’t wait for a crisis to find out why you should have.

See the entire original article here.

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So is obsolescence inevitable? Unfortunately, yes, but there are ways to prolong the useful life of just about anything to ensure you get the most out your investment, regardless of whether the obsolescence was incidental or intentional. As I said at the outset, I don’t part with money easily, especially on technology, and I plan carefully for the near- and long-term benefits and consequences of my purchases.

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