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What is Obsolescence – How it Happens, its Criticality and Types

No field is untouched by Obsolescence. It has to happen sooner or later. But if it happens in the product’s useful life, then it becomes a critical issue financially as well as availability wise. This post will discuss various important aspects of Obsolescence such as What is it, How it happens, Why it is so critical and its types.

What is Obsolescence

In accordance with the International Standard IEC 62402:2007, Obsolescence is defined as the “transition from availability from the original manufacturer to unavailability”.

It affects hardware, software and support equipment and impacts all stages of life of equipment / systems. While the component obsolescence affects every industry/ product, the effect on electronic industry is considered much severe.

1 What is Obsolescence - How to deal with it

It is inevitable, may be expensive and cannot be ignored as it brings financial and availability impact on products, projects and programs throughout the product life cycle and poses a major challenge for continued life time support of the system/ product.

Why Obsolescence Happens

New technologies bring in enhanced features in components, modules, subsystems and software leading to obsolescence of earlier devices and software incompatibility on equivalent hardware platforms.

Change in regulations/ norms of Technology being used in a particular country/ region may also make a product obsolete. For Example – In India, Selling of Bharat Stage III vehicles was discontinued by the Government from 01 Apr 2017. All automobiles companies had reluctantly sold their existing BS3 stock before 31 Mar 17 as after that it was of no use (obsolete) in India.

2. How Obsolescence happens

Degradation of functional performance of a system may also lead to Obsolescence. If a system is not able to perform its intended function and it becomes a costly affair to maintain it for high/ optimum performance, then also it becomes obsolete.

Why Obsolescence is so critical now days

In the last two decades there has been a severe shortage of MIL/ Industry grade components. The shortage has been attributed to the component manufacturer venturing away from MIL/ Industry grade component view high rate of component/ technology obsolescence and venturing towards the more profitable Commercial Off The Shelf (COTS) component.

This trend is alarming as the MIL/Industry grade components are being discontinued and the commercial components are being compulsively used in electronic systems. Studies have indicated that commercial components are generally available for a period of 3 to 8 years and the decline in availability starts after 6th year, finally discontinuation in the 7th/ 8th year.

3. Life Expenctancy of Electronic Components

This poses a serious threat especially for products having larger life span, and therefore requires a focused emphasis on the Obsolescence Management throughout the lifecycle of the product. Failure to manage it will impact life cycle costs, product performance, product availability, maintainability and safety.

Types of Obsolescence

The various types of Obsolescence in an electrical/ electronic industry are: –

  • Technology Obsolescence
  • Functional Obsolescence
  • Planned Obsolescence

Technology Obsolescence

It happens when an upgraded product or a superior technology overtakes its predecessor. For example – CDs/DVDs overtaking audio/ video cassettes, smartphones overtaking old black and white cellphones, etc.

4 Technlogy obsolescence

It can also happen when supporting technologies are not available any more to for producing/ repairing a product. For example – Manufacturing a audio/ video cassette player will not be its worth in present day as its supporting technology i.e. audio/ video cassette itself has become obsolete.

Some products may also become technologically obsolete due to up-gradation in its substitutes (similar products). If a better substitute is available with more functions and price/ performance ratio, then the primary product will no longer be desired.

Technology obsolescence is often created intentionally like the competitors buying the original manufacturer and discontinuing their products for removing competition.

Types of Technology Obsolescence

There are two types of Technology Obsolescence. They are

  • Hardware Obsolescence
  • Software Obsolescence

5 Hardware Obsolescence

Hardware Obsolescence

It happens when a hardware component becomes obsolete due to upgradation/ change in technology.

Its affect may lead to partial function loss of a product or even to a full functional loss at the worst.

6 Software Obsolescence

Software Obsolescence

It, most of the times, is a catastrophic effect of Hardware Obsolescence. It happens when: –

  • There is a change of hardware in Embedded systems.
  • There is a change of software regulations.
  • Better Software is available as a substitute.
  • The requirement of user changes with time.

Functional obsolescence

It happens when a system is not able to perform its intended function any more and it becomes a costly affair to maintain it for high/ optimum performance.

7 Functional Obsolescence

The Original Manufacturers and the Maintenance/ Repair agencies normally stop supporting the products after a specified life because of reduction in its user base. Due to this, the spare parts and the skilled maintainers become sparse for the particular product. This finally leads to increase in maintenance cost and so it is better to let the product functionally obsolete than to keep it alive.

Planned obsolescence

It is deliberately designing a product not to long last. Long gone are the days of rugged products. Manufacturers now days are intentionally introducing obsolescence during the product design.

8 Planned Obsolescence

This is done to increase the long term sale of the product by reduction in time interval between repeat purchases. For example – Many mega cellphone companies can make phones that can run for years. But they do not.

That’s because if they will sell only one phone to one user in 10-15 years, then their profit is negligible. So, to earn more profit, cellphones are deliberately designed not to long last forcing you to buy another one. This trend, however being not good, is increasing on alarming rate.

Also read Reliability Engineering and Reliability fundamentals.

Ratna is a B.E (Computer Science) and has work experience in UK Mainframe IT industry. She is also an active Web Designer. She is an author, editor and core partner at Electricalfundablog.
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