Obsolescence Management of Electronic Components Throughout Product Lifetime

Created: April 30, 2018
Updated: May 20, 2020

Cartoon-like drawing of electronic

I know what you’re thinking. Why can’t my manager automate a process for obsolescence management of electronic components? It would be nice to have one database compatible with each user’s software. Until then, I’ve set up weekly meetings so stakeholders can collect germane information about components into a common spreadsheet. It has been working but I would like to automate with software that all departments can use effectively.

Let’s face it, parts obsolescence happens at any place along the value chain, from protobuild to legacy production. As engineers and PCB designers are laying down components into circuits, obsolescence is not top of mind.

During planned builds throughout the life of a product, manufacturing may be focused on customer deliverables before recognizing that Bills of Material need to be scrubbed. The information could update, real-time, if sourcing information was stored and updated universally in one database. Altium Designer 18’s unified library does this very thing, within the component’s part number, with algorithms in the background to update parts’ availability.

Access Parts Information In One Place

Talk of unified databases has been around for decades. Unfortunately, we needed that time to collect information into databases, and while doing this, we found complexity that required partitioning. The world and the information at our fingertips are vast and take time to organize.

For electronic components, building schematic capture and PCB layout software required universal symbols and footprints to represent real hardware accurately. This task, alone, took decades to develop. Let alone talking about the development of Bill of Materials software.

Knowing a part is obsolete or not recommended for new design, along with suggestions for alternates, would be helpful if located in a unified library. This drives alternate part selection during design or during production build process. Each team member can see the information before using an obsolete, or not-recommended-for-new-design, part.

The software anticipates your need and provides the solution real time. As the process is integrated into the Project Directory for the board, the need for ad hoc meetings to manage component obsolescence become a thing of the past.

Transparent Updating Throughout Product Life Cycle

Little did we know that supporting life cycle of components also required access to availability. Who would have thought that vendors obsoleted parts while providing new versions that we’d have to validate into the design? Supporting a design, cradle-to-grave, included evaluating alternates for drop-ins onto existing footprints. But first, we had to find them.

Doing this for one part every now and again wasn’t a problem, but doing this for large boards created new job categories within the ranks. Watching information about the new alternate part ripple through the enterprise’s databases soon had us all chasing our tail. That’s why I get excited when I see information anticipated and provided to me within the tools I use to accomplish my role.

Screen capture of Altium ’s bill of materials tool

Real-time solutions before you anticipate a problem

Available Across Departments Within the Enterprise

Another issue we’ve run into within the enterprise, when managing components, is with information we’d like to share across departments. With the advent of powerful databases and powerful tools to drive management information systems, we’ve had digital environments that cannot talk to one another. Or, if they can, information is lost or translated into the garbage.

It is frustrating to recognize that my enterprise partner has information I could use. If only I could access it without having to run across the building to access another database. And if I do find updated information, I continue to walk the building to make sure it gets disseminated to all partners, so their databases are updated. It is better than digging through filing cabinets but come on, we’re in the digital age and I’m ready to access information automatically.

Two butterflies in separate glass jars moving toward each other

Remove barriers to obsolescence management

Today, Altium Designer has a unified library that includes parts, their electrical specifications, their footprint and other dimensional and life cycle information. With integrated and unified knowledge of a part in one place, I and my partners can make decisions together without the need for ad hoc collection spreadsheets or weekly meetings. We all know if a part has been identified as obsolete or not for new design before we see each other in the hallways.

Using Altium Designer 18 to integrate your printed circuit board design cycle includes the ability to integrate supply chain information into one library. This is where information about components that have historically been kept across several databases is now unified. Using ActiveBOM, several formats are available to export data, allow management information systems access, and use information without having to perform intermediate processing steps.

If you want to know more about obsolescence management of electronic components via unified libraries, talk to an expert at Altium today.

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