Using Obsolescence Management Tools and Software to Avoid Surprises with Obsolete Parts

Altium Designer
|  Created: November 21, 2017  |  Updated: November 6, 2020

Cartoon of plumbing leak in flooded home

Recently I helped with a plumbing problem at my mother-in-law’s house. A fixture had started to leak and water was going everywhere. As she thought about it for a while, mom realized that she had been living there for 25 years and had never replaced this fixture. The old part had now failed though, and needed to be replaced. However, trying to find a modern replacement part that would fit turned out to be an even bigger problem.

It’s one of those annoying facts of life that stuff is going to wear out and need replacing. With obsolete plumbing, the problem may not be obvious until a failure turns your laundry room into a swimming pool. With an obsolete printed circuit board electronic component, the problem may not be obvious until a new stock order is rejected due to its unavailability. Having to fix a leak was frustrating (and damp), but having your PCB assembly process grind to a halt because of an unavailable part is a major problem. You will be forced to either quickly re-design the board, or abandon it completely because the parts that you relied on are no longer available.

The key to not getting surprised like this is staying informed of the life cycle of the parts that you are using. PCB part management traditionally becomes out-of-date, and adds unnecessary difficulties in your ordering and design process; an online part management system enables communication channels for quick and easy-to-access details of part information and availability. Hopefully this will help you be better prepared so that you aren’t caught off-guard in the future by obsolete parts. Read on for discussion on obsolescence risk and component obsolescence.

Traditional Part Management Systems

In a typical printed circuit board design cycle, PCB components are often managed with the following steps:

  1. Engineering searches for the parts through online vendor catalog systems.

  2. Engineering sends a part request to purchasing for the desired component.

  3. Purchasing orders the component and maintains the part information database.

  4. The CAD department creates library parts based on the part information databases.

  5. Engineering uses the CAD library parts in their schematics.

  6. A bill of materials is created from the schematic.

This information is traditionally held in separate systems: purchasing will own the part information system while engineering will own the CAD system that creates the bill of materials. In some companies the different documents and forms are still distributed on paper, requiring more labor to incorporate them into the next system.

A pile of PCB components
Eventually, some of your PCB are going to become obsolete

Part Management Problems In The Traditional System

In a traditional part management system, where the ownership of part data is transferred from department to department, the data may not get updated in a timely manner, or it may even get lost completely. Take for example a unique connector part that you have used in an older design. When you originally specified it, the part was researched and ordered by purchasing, who then updated the part information system with the connector details. You completed the design, the parts were ordered, and everything worked as it should.

With boards being built from existing part stocks, no one noticed that the original unique connector had been superseded with an updated version by the vendor. When stock of the connector ran low, your purchasing department discovered that they were no longer able to order the original part, and they ordered the updated part instead. Unfortunately, the updated part had a slightly different footprint and wouldn’t work with your original design. Now you have a shipment of unusable parts on hand for bare boards that cannot be assembled.

Close up picture of PCB soldered on a blue circuit board
Stay ahead of the part game with software obsolescence management

Keeping Ahead Of The Game With Software Obsolescence Management

The good news is that the part management software in online bill of materials tools can provide a solution to this problem. Here are the benefits that bill of materials (BOM) tools will give you:

  • Online part research: The online BOM tools will give engineering real-time part access to search for parts among approved company vendors.

  • Online part requests: Once the part has been found, engineering will transfer the part data to purchasing through the BOM tools in the form of an online part request.

  • Online part orders: Purchasing will use the data in the online part request to order parts from the vendor.

  • Online part database: The online part data is available to everyone. CAD will use the data to build their library parts, and manufacturing will prepare for the parts that have been ordered.

  • Online part management: With the part information online, all departments will have real-time access to the data for part management.

With online BOM tools, all departments will have real-time updates from the vendors when changes are being made to parts. This will allow for final orders to be made before the part is unavailable, and giving enough time to redesign the board for any new updated parts.

Online BOM tools function as highly effective software obsolescence management, helping you stay ahead. With real-time data on the life cycles of the parts in your designs, you can avoid surprises and be prepared when parts become obsolete.

Does the management of obsolete part information with BOM management tools sound like it could help you with your part data management? Then Altium Designer’s BOM tools might be the answer that you are looking for. If so, find out more information by talking to an expert at Altium Designer.

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About Author

PCB Design Tools for Electronics Design and DFM. Information for EDA Leaders.

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