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Obsolescence and why you can’t always just make more.

Can you imagine trying to repair..

Obsolescence and why you can’t always just make more.

Can you imagine trying to repair or find parts for this legacy DEC PDP-11? Chances are a manufacturer would tell you the parts are completely obsolete. (Photo Licensed under Creative Commons by Marcin Wichary — Creative Commons license applies to photo only)

When I first began my work with GDCA one of the questions I had was “Why is dealing with obsolete components not just about making more parts?”

As I have come to learn, unfortunately, obsolescence management is not just as simple as “making more parts.”

Imagine you manufacture various components.  In the 1960s, the computers you were making parts for were relatively simple, without many customers who could even afford computers; quantities were low, the manufacturing was relatively easy, and products generally lasted longer.

Let’s jump forward to today. Over time, and as technology has evolved (Moore’s Law), your fabrication company’s production has also evolved. Now with each product line, you are cranking out hundreds of thousands of parts each day. Customers who need 50 parts are not happy to hear of a 5000 part minimum order quantity (MOQ).  And besides, to some the manufacturers even a 5000 MOQ on an older part can be a distraction.

But what if you have a few customers who are running some old DEC computers; maybe for the Navy or maybe for some banks?  Each year these customers only need (maybe) 50-100 parts.  In order to support these customers, you can’t decide you’re going to just run more some off, like you could on a photocopier. You have to stop and change-up your entire production line.  Or, you have to pay to keep old production machines maintained and “active” simply to manufacture 50 parts per year.  Assuming that’s even possible, it is expensive and time consuming: a part that started out as a $0.50 part is now orders of magnitude more expensive to produce.

We all want the solutions to EOL to be as simple “just make some more,” but economics force a different reality. In order for us, as an industry, to really support our legacy systems, we are going to have to change the way we think about lifecycle. We have to face facts: Once you’re facing obsolescence you cannot just make more.

Kaye & The GDCA Team


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