Missing parts

How to manage obsolescence in the supply chain

IEC Technical Committee 56: Dependability, recently published a second edition of IEC 62402 which establishes requirements for obsolescence management applicable to any company or organization.

parts from avionics
Parts can become missing in the supply chain (Photo:Ron Mullan)

Throughout industry, obsolescence refers to the difficulty of obtaining supplies, spares or support by different companies in the supply chain. It is very different from the consumer understanding of obsolescence which most often involves the notion of “inbuilt” or “planned obsolescence”. It implies that a product was intentionally designed not to last for a long time. This notion of obsolescence has been much criticized for encouraging over consumption, at a time when environmental concerns about waste management are reaching new highs.

The B to B definition of obsolescence concerns manufacturers who rely on various supplies or parts to build their devices, products or systems. Minimizing the risks associated with this form of obsolescence has been standardized by TC 56 in IEC 62402. The idea is for companies to plan ahead to avoid being hindered when spare parts are no longer available, for instance.  Parts can become obsolete because production has ended or because they are produced in areas of the world where availability is made difficult for a number of reasons (wars, rebellions, trade disagreements, legislative changes, environmental regulations, etc…)

Management of obsolescence contributes to the dependability of items, which is an essential requirement for international trade. It reduces costs by limiting risks and helping to smooth out problems in the supply chain.

Widely applicable standard

“The previous edition of IEC 62402 was more of a guide referring only to the obsolescence of electrical and electronic products and systems. It did not clearly specify requirements for obsolescence management. This second edition has a much broader scope than the previous standard and can be used in any industry, not only in the electrical and electronics sector,” explains TC 56 expert Graham Goring, who heads the maintenance team responsible for updating the standard. IEC 62402 is a 100-page document which specifies how to establish an obsolescence management plan, how to set up an obsolescence management infrastructure and organization inside companies, how to develop strategies to minimize obsolescence during design, etc… “We worked closely with the International Institute of Obsolescence Management (IIOM) and their members helped us get more countries on board for this new edition. It is important to understand that obsolescence should ideally be managed right from the start even before you design your product,” Goring adds.

The standard has already been adopted across various industries in many countries, stretching from Australia to Canada and including at least 12 European countries. “The US is looking at it favourably as well. Experts there would like to name it DSMS for Diminishing manufacturing sources and material shortages,” he says. Feedback since the publication of the standard in May has been positive. In Goring’s own words: “It looks like we hit the right buttons this time!”

IEC is also working on a conformity sssessment process scheme relating to obsolescence. IECQ, the IEC Quality Assessment System for Electronic Components, has set up a working group, led by Graham Goring, to explore how to widen the use of the current framework for the verification of obsolescence management to other sectors. The existing IECQ framework relating to obsolescence is currently only used in the avionics and defence industries.