September 30, 2020

The importance of Obsolescence Management in achieving Sustainability across the product lifecycle


Keeping vital equipment in service

Whilst we live in a world with rapidly developing technology there is a fine balance between maintaining current equipment, whilst ensuring that there is a place for innovation. Maintaining the existing status-quo, whilst allowing technology to deliver improvements in performance, reliability and sustainability.

This is something that is common to all manufacturing sectors, where end-user demand drives new technology insertion. Specialist engineering industries such as the Defence and Aerospace Industry are no exception. However in the case of the Defence sector, new technology is often also needed to offer greater manoeuvrability, provide a strategic advantage, and more importantly increase survivability and ultimately protect lives, thus requiring additional focus on support.

In most cases, technology is usually driven by the end-user demand and willingness to adopt, this often also has to be balanced with an operator who is willing to finance the solution. This leads to an interesting dilemma in increasing technology whilst maintaining the current in-service asset, ensuring that the value of the legacy platform is attained, and potentially even enhanced to realise its full potential.

Nowadays we see an increased momentum regarding sustainability and environmental impact, and this debate is set to continue with potentially and increased focus on ensuring that no equipment is left to waste until it has reached the end of its expected service life, and/or new technology is implemented to either replace the equipment or extend the service life in order to offer longer term benefits. This further confuses the balance of end-user requirements versus return on investment versus meeting pressure for environmental compliance and regulatory demands. For the decision makers it has become a fine balancing act between cost, environmental impact and political will.

It is important to address Obsolescence Management at the very beginning of the product lifecycle, and ahead of any modification, as decisions made during the concept and assessment phases will have a significant impact on the overall supportability of the equipment, and will ensure that the product has the maximum in-service life. In any of the cases identified above, an effective Obsolescence Management Plan can help reduce the risk of supply through lack of material availability, and minimise any cost impact arising from obsolescent or obsolete components.

How IEC62402 provides a framework for support

And so now onto the age old question…”Just how are we going to do this?”

This is where IEC62402:2019 comes to the forefront. IEC62402 defines the requirements for managing the obsolescence of any type of item. It provides a framework and a guide for implementing a cost effective Obsolescence Management process and therefore plays a crucial role in minimising cost and risk, and ensuring the supportability of a product at all levels. Until recently, this document was published as guidance, however this has now been formalised into a recognised IEC standard, and we are already seeing companies include this as a contractual requirement within their supply chains in order to provide the assurances as to product supportability.

In order to put the standard into context it can be applied to the standard “Plan, Do, Check, Act” Continuous Improvement cycle, however in this case the “Do” can be interchanged with “Design”, emphasising the adaptable element, allowing pro-active measures to be implemented to suit the application and support demands.

Whilst the process can be implemented at any stage of the lifecycle, the greatest benefits can be realised by adopting this technique at the very outset of development, once the material details is known. This way, the plan can be updated as the design matures. The process should also be viewed as a true cycle, meaning the plan is kept up to date alongside the equipment.

IEC62402 provides a firm foundation for product support, it creates a base that ensures that plans are in place to identify and mitigate risk when parts, spares, equipment, skills (people), and software etc become (or are becoming) obsolete can help address the needs to extend service life, but also ensure that new technology adoption is supported, and the can achieve its intended service life.

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