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PLM: Creating Happy Component Endings

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.

12 comments on “PLM: Creating Happy Component Endings

  1. Eldredge
    September 18, 2013

    Military and aerospace equipment, for example, was also built on the x86. This stuff isn't as easily swapped out as PCs


    Obsolescence is certainly a major concern in mil and aerospace applications. These demanding applications require more aggressive and extended environmental and qualification testing to ensure the components and assemblies will perform under potentially severe service conditions. Unfortunately, the extra testing can take a long time, and makes component obsolescence issues both more likely, and more costly.

  2. Hailey Lynne McKeefry
    September 19, 2013

    Thanks, George, particularly for mentioning the RoHS piece. That's a huge concern, especially with the globalization of the supply chain.

  3. SP
    September 19, 2013

    It's a healthy trend where oems are letting other companies buy the ip and die and they can support the customers who still need the ic even after obsolescence.

  4. Daniel
    September 20, 2013

    George, technology is advancing or changing rapidly and hence certain components becomes obsolete very frequently. But who is going to be the looser; I think the vendor or technology developer because before flourishing the technology they will move for the new development phase.  

  5. Daniel
    September 20, 2013

    “particularly for mentioning the RoHS piece. That's a huge concern, especially with the globalization of the supply chain.”

    Hailey, moving to new technology or components for adhering to certain standards or meeting guidelines are ok, but when changing happens very frequently the end user is going to suffer.

  6. prabhakar_deosthali
    September 20, 2013

    It is fine that the companies like Rochester will buy the IP , and the manufacturing process from the original manufacturers .

    But with the new regulations such as RoHS , conflict minerals  may not allow the old manufacturing process to be used to manufacture the outdated parts which will be compliant as per todays regulations

  7. FLYINGSCOT
    September 20, 2013

    If you get a chance you should check out the web to see what comapnies like VW are doing wrt product lifecycles and recycling.  One article showed a VW SUV with all its components exploded out on a floor for full view.  It was fascinating stuff.

  8. Hailey Lynne McKeefry
    September 20, 2013

    @Jacob, certainly quick changes are hard for everyone… unfortunately, it seems to be the direction that we are going. Innovation (or at least renovation) is how companies maintain their edge in competition. Is it just marketing? Sometimes. But is there a way to change teh trend?

  9. Hailey Lynne McKeefry
    September 20, 2013

    @flyingscot, post a link if you get a chance! It sounds interesting.

  10. Lavender
    September 22, 2013

    RoHS is indeed a concern. But there is larger problem-reclying. Accelerated component obsolescence and product upgrading (especially mobile devices) caused great resources waste and environmental pollution, and many countries are issuing laws to ask suppliers and manufacturers for sustainable measure.

  11. Daniel
    September 22, 2013

    “certainly quick changes are hard for everyone… unfortunately, it seems to be the direction that we are going. Innovation (or at least renovation) is how companies maintain their edge in competition. Is it just marketing? Sometimes. But is there a way to change teh trend?”

    Hailey, I totally agree with you but companies won't get any return from their investment for R&D. if they need some return from the investments made for R&D, the outcome has to be productized and marketed for certain years, otherwise it's an economical wastage.

  12. Hailey Lynne McKeefry
    September 23, 2013

    @Lily and that's a good start…. We certainly need to address this at the manufacturing level. At the same time, it's also an issue of marketing–that consumers are being trained to replace their phones and ohter devices more regularly than is really necessary. it's a big job to change the tide on this one!

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