Thanks to a number of trends that are accelerating component obsolescence, the electronics supply chain is paying more attention to the acronym PLM (i.e., product life-cycle management).
Without getting too technical, PLM is the stuff suppliers and customers have to worry about if an electronic component becomes obsolete. These two parties have the most headaches, although engineers, designers, and distributors are also affected by obsolescence. In part one of this blog, we'll focus on original device manufacturer (supplier) concerns. In part two, we'll talk about customers.
Some suppliers focus on introducing new products to the market as rapidly as possible to fuel the adoption of its technology. The Intel x86 family is a classic example of relatively frequent upgrades of a core technology. As ubiquitous as the x86 was, though, Intel eventually had to shift its focus to new generations of technology. Since Intel invested billions of dollars in fabs to build its semiconductors, its fab capacity moved to newer products and eventually abandoned the old.
Some customers take this in stride. PC makers kept pace with Intel's products because they too wanted to sell new technology. However, other products built on the x86 platform weren't so flexible. Military and aerospace equipment, for example, was also built on the x86. This stuff isn't as easily swapped out as PCs, so these customers tended to get disgruntled when components became obsolete.
Smart component makers such as Intel figured out a number of ways to keep these customers happy. First, they proactively shared with customers when the last run of the part would be. They allowed trusted partners, such as Rochester Electronics, to buy remaining finished products. This didn't always satisfy everyone, so they also allowed companies such as Rochester to buy the die, masks, and intellectual property (IP) that made the component unique. In order to guarantee customers had the same experience with the device no matter where it was made, partners such as Rochester are audited by suppliers and then authorized to re-manufacture the product. This enabled customers who wanted to use the device indefinitely to have a guaranteed supply.
Suppliers are now increasingly aware that customers want to know the life cycle of a product. They want to be able to plan their next product release based on that information. Suppliers have had to take a longer-term view for a number of reasons: environmental initiatives, such as the EU's Restriction on Hazardous Substances (RoHS) made some parts incompatible with the lead-free solder RoHS requires. Rather than make two types of parts (RoHS-compliant and non-complaint), some suppliers went straight to RoHS compliant. This created compatibility issues with maintenance, repair, and operations. A RoHS part on a non-RoHS board didn't always perform as expected.
Companies like Rochester are becoming a bigger part of suppliers' product life-cycle management. When suppliers share their plans with customers, EOL events can be better managed. By providing a path for an ongoing supply of parts, customers don't feel abandoned by suppliers. By authorizing continuing manufacturing partners, suppliers can guarantee the re-manufactured component performs exactly as the supplier intended.