Electronic Parts Obsolescence Management: Best Practices

Electronic Parts Obsolescence Management: Best Practices

Our overview of how to stay on top of electronic component obsolescence to keep your production line humming.
Luke Crihfield

Electronic components are becoming obsolete in shorter and shorter cycle times, and unprepared companies find themselves stuck in reactive mode when parts are deprecated. These days, the average life cycle of an IC is under two years. When you’re not proactive about designing out obsolete parts, you’ll be stuck with a lower-performing, harder-to-source BOM that will cause your production line and customers problems.

In this article, we’ll cover the basics of obsolescence management and provide tips on best practices for engineers, supply chain managers, and procurement professionals to stay ahead of obsolete parts and keep their businesses humming.

What is obsolescence management?

Obsolescence management is the process of identifying, managing, and mitigating the risks associated with obsolete or soon-to-be-obsolete products, components, or systems within a particular industry or organization. It involves anticipating and planning for the eventual replacement or upgrade of these items, in order to ensure the continued functionality, safety, and reliability of the overall system.

It’s particularly important for electronics manufacturers because of the speed with which components go obsolete and the extra difficulty this can impose on their supply chains.

Obsolescence can be caused by a variety of factors, including technological advancements, changes in market demand, supply chain disruptions, regulatory requirements, and the natural aging and wear-and-tear of physical equipment. Effective obsolescence management involves assessing the risks associated with each of these factors and developing strategies to minimize their impact.

Some of the key activities involved in obsolescence management include:

  • Identifying and tracking critical components and systems that are at risk of becoming obsolete – in the case of electronics, this is less often a “risk” of becoming obsolete and more often planned obsolescence on behalf of the manufacturer
  • Assessing the impact of obsolescence on the organization or system as a whole, including potential safety risks, reliability concerns, and financial impacts
  • Developing mitigation strategies, such as finding alternative sources for critical components, redesigning systems to use more readily available components, or planning for system upgrades or replacements
  • Monitoring the obsolescence landscape for emerging trends and new technologies that may impact the organization or industry

How to stay on top of parts obsolescence in electronics

Manufacturers should notify you of planned obsolescence among their components. Keep an eye out for the following types of notifications.

End of Life Obsolescence (or Product Discontinuation)

End of Life (EOL) notifications from electronic components manufacturers are important for customers to be aware of as they indicate that a particular component will soon become obsolete and will no longer be available for purchase or support. 

These notifications usually include information about the date when the component will be discontinued, recommendations for replacement components, and other important details such as lead times for orders and last-time buys. 

EOL notifications are particularly important for industries such as automotive, aerospace, and medical where long-term component availability is critical. It is important for customers to carefully review these notifications and plan accordingly to avoid any disruptions in their supply chain or product development cycle.

Product Change Notifications (PCNs)

Product Change Notifications (PCNs) are notifications issued by electronic components manufacturers to inform their customers of any changes that may affect the form, fit, or function of a particular component. 

These changes could be related to a wide range of factors, such as changes in materials, manufacturing processes, or design revisions. The purpose of PCNs is to allow customers to prepare for any impact that these changes may have on their product designs or supply chains. PCNs typically include information such as the nature of the change, the expected timeline for implementation, and recommendations for testing and validation of the updated components. 

By being proactive in responding to PCNs, customers can avoid potential issues and minimize any disruptions to their operations.

Last Time Buy

Last Time Buy (LTB) notifications are issued by electronic components manufacturers to notify their customers of the final opportunity to purchase a particular component before it becomes obsolete and is no longer available for purchase. 

LTB notifications typically include information such as the date when the component will no longer be available, the quantity available for purchase, and any special pricing or lead time considerations. LTB notifications are important for industries that require long-term component availability, such as aerospace, defense, and medical. 

Customers who receive LTB notifications should carefully assess their future demand for the component and purchase enough inventory to meet their needs until a suitable replacement component becomes available.

Challenges in electronic parts obsolescence management

One of the biggest challenges in electronic parts obsolescence management seems simple – getting information on when and where you’ll need to make a change. Despite the variety of obsolescence notifications above, breakdowns in communication between CMs and OEMs, and between internal procurement and engineering teams, often lead to critical functions not being aware of upcoming or even current obsolete parts in BOMs.

If you’re an OEM with a CM that does all the procurement on your behalf, then they’re the ones in constant contact with distributors and manufacturers and likely are recipients of obsolescence notifications. If they don’t pass those along in a timely manner, then you could be left scrambling when parts suddenly become hard to find.

Unfortunately, that same lack of communication can happen internally as well. Procurement professionals may not pass information about part depreciation along to their engineering teams, or design engineers may unknowingly (or knowingly) spec obsolete components into their BOMs. 

In both of these cases, communication is the crux of the challenge. That’s where having an excellent BOM management software comes in handy. The key component obsolescence management tool isn’t a fancy piece of software that tracks obsolescence for every part; that information is readily available in the notifications from manufacturers that we described and is included in datasheets and component search engines.

The trick is making sure that everyone that needs to see the information has access to it well before the component is obsolete. Communication features like tags and externally sharable BOMs make it easy to stay on top of critical obsolescence dates and have BOM revisions ready when the time comes.

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