Finding embedded circuit boards after the OEM has discontinued them can be challenging, especially if the board is several years old. However, there are several comprehensive steps that you can take to source the discontinued boards that could save you time and money. Specific sources have risks, so always consider your applications’ security, safety, and quality requirements when looking for a new way to source your embedded boards.
1. Go directly to the OEM
The first step you should take is to source the board directly through the OEM or franchised distributors. Occasionally, OEMs will offer another Last Time Buy, or they may have extra stock that they can offer. Some OEMs will offer a pre-stocking agreement to extend a product’s life and reboot it.
Finding a franchised distributor should always be your first choice. However, depending on the lifecycle requirements of your board, this could be a short-term solution. If the OEM or distributor can’t support the board for the entire lifecycle, or if they can’t offer another LTB or some other form of support, then you will have to find another option.
2. Find a non-franchised distributor
Non-franchised distributors are any sources that offer the board without OEM authorization. These sources include online sources such as eBay, or other unofficial suppliers, such as those offering refurbished or used boards that are still in good condition. This is a reasonably cost-effective option, though it has risks.
Firstly, no traceability will be available when sourcing an embedded board from an unauthorized source. The product could contain rogue chips or malicious contents that could cause issues in the system. The product could be mislabeled or misrepresented as new when it is not.
There is a risk associated with refurbished products as well. There is no guarantee that the product will be in good condition, how long it was used and how much it was used, and how reliable the product will be. Products sourced from non-franchised distributors will also have no warranty or support. If any issues arise, or if specific modifications need to be made to install the board, then no support will be available to resolve these complications.
When deciding whether or not to source the board through a non-franchised distributor, keep these risks in mind. These risks are unacceptable for specific applications, such as critical Defense, Aerospace, and Medical systems. However, if the risks are acceptable for the application that your board serves, then choosing a non-franchised source is often a cost-effective option available to you.
3. Consider an upgrade
When neither of the previous options is available–or the refurbished board breaks–you may want to consider if an upgrade is possible. OEMs often offer upgraded boards that may fit in with your existing systems. However, if the upgrade isn’t form, fit, and functional for your system, you could require a costly technology refresh. And sometimes, the upgrade itself isn’t within your budget.
4. Go to a Legacy Equipment Manufacturer
When you can’t source the board from a reliable, authorized source, sourcing from a non-franchised distributor is not a viable option and an upgrade is too costly, then you can work with a Legacy Equipment Manufacturer (LEM) to build a new source of supply. An LEM is a specialized manufacturer and supplier of embedded boards that supports and services these products after the OEM is no longer able to, and EOL notices have already been issued. Legacy Equipment Manufacturers build parts that are OEM authorized, warranted, and tested and will offer technical and maintenance support to the board throughout its lifecycle. This way, you have a long-term solution for your discontinued boards that is cost-effective in the long run and provides you with reliable, OEM-authorized parts.
The most important thing to do is plan. Whichever option you choose–or whatever options are available to you–remember that if the ‘solution’ won’t fit your entire lifecycle needs, you’ll have a long host of issues that are both expensive and time-consuming to deal with in the long run. Consider this all when you’re looking at the options available, determine which ones are viable and which aren’t, and then choose how you will source your discontinued embedded boards.