• Counterfeit Components: More than parts — it is about people

    Counterfeit Components: More than parts — it is about people

    With the dialog about counterfeits in the supply chain, it is easy to lose track of what counterfeits actually mean.  Yes, they will hurt your business. Yes, they can lead to heavy penalties and jail time, but counterfeits can also lead to jeopardizing lives; a risk that could otherwise have been avoided.

    I am always looking for recent numbers and reports to keep the topic fresh and moving forward. But, recently, as I researched my paper for the upcoming SMTA International conference, I’ve come across some new numbers that drives home, once again, how vulnerable everyone is to the issues around counterfeits.

    I personally take an average of 2-4 flights every month. According to the FAA, the amount of travel Americans are doing both for business and recreation is increasing. It is projected that the total number of people flying commercially on U.S. airlines will increase from 732 million to 746 million in 2013, and increase to 1.2 billion by 2032. And in 2010 the FAA estimated that some 520,000 counterfeit parts make their way into planes each year.

  • Refurbished Boards: What works today may not be reliable tomorrow

    Refurbished Boards: What works today may not be reliable tomorrow

    Saying that something is “good enough for government work” is often meant as a joke and the reference implies “mediocre work.” The irony is that “government work” is often highly sophisticated; systems are designed and engineered to operate in the most extreme environmental conditions for a very long period of time.

    I recently had the pleasure of having lunch with a talented component engineer who has spent much of his career working in the defense industry.  During the course of our discussion I learned that some aviation systems need ICs to operate in temperature extremes ranging from -55°C to 125°C; ground units often travel in harsh environmental conditions (e.g. fighting extreme heat and sand storms in deserts) while being exposed to hostile attacks; satellites traveling through orbit are exposed to protons and heavy ions from solar flares, yet must operate reliably in space.

  • ERAI Executive Conference: Gaining Momentum in the Fight against Counterfeits

    ERAI Executive Conference: Gaining Momentum in the Fight against Counterfeits

    Managing components at-risk of going EOL requires proactive planning, otherwise critical systems become increasingly at-risk for encountering counterfeits

    Managing components at-risk of going EOL requires proactive planning, otherwise critical systems become increasingly at-risk for encountering counterfeits.
    Photo by Sebastian Dooris

    Managing components at risk of going EOL requires proactive planning. If this vital step is not implemented, critical systems run into increased risk of exposure to counterfeits. Two topics that program managers never want to hear about are counterfeit components, and end-of-life (EOL).  While it is possible to come across counterfeit components on active products, this risk can generally be mitigated by implementing smart buying practices, such as purchasing from a franchised distribution line or directly from the original component manufacturer (OCM).  Unfortunately, as components go EOL, yet are still needed in critical systems, they become difficult to find and increasingly more expensive. These facts combined with often careless buying practices, leave the embedded supply chain exposed to counterfeit components. These risks only increase as systems age.

  • The Risks of EOL: Lifetime Buy in “real world” terms

    The Risks of EOL: Lifetime Buy in “real world” terms

    In the past we’ve talked about the challenges of Last-time Buy and overstock.  In Dr. Sandborn’s CALCE Obsolescence Management training, this question illustrates the challenges and risks in regards to what customers can face, at the time of EOL.  The answer might be easy if you were looking at a “bridge buy”, where you only need enough to get you to the point of a planned upgrade.  If I had to only buy shoes to get me through five years it would be challenging but I could probably come up with a pretty good estimate based on the last five years of my life.

  • The Human Factor: When losing older workers leads to obsolescence

    The Human Factor: When losing older workers leads to obsolescence

    Ask anyone who drives an older car.  As the system ages, it develops its own quirks.  You have to jiggle the shifter in park to get the keys out of the ignition.  You have to pump the gas twice before it starts up on a cold day.  The AC has to be turned off when going up a steep hill on days over 96 degrees.  A particular brand of brakes work better when driving in California, as opposed to Montana.  You know that you can get away with just 2/3rds of the thread on the bolts, but only for 6 weeks.

    In short, you know that system inside and out: all the bugs, the features, and quirks that impact operation and repair.

    Unless your mechanic is into vintage cars, though, he’s not going to relish working on an older vehicle.    A younger mechanic may tell you the car is “old” and you’re better off just getting a new one – just when the old one was about to become a “classic.”

    Not everyone, however, wants to — or can afford to — just buy a new car. The same goes for trying to sustain a legacy mission-critical system.

  • What do vintage cars and embedded boards have in common?

    What do vintage cars and embedded boards have in common?

    They both get harder to maintain as they get older, and if you don’t plan for obsolescence, they can both fail.

    It’s common sense.  As things get older, they become more expensive to maintain. For example, an antique car was state-of-the art when it first came out. It performed beautifully, and the parts were easy to find. If it had any real problems, it could be taken into the dealer for repairs. However, now that the car is a classic, it requires a lot more upkeep. In the past, it only needed to be taken in for oil changes and tune ups. Now it needs a new transmission, replacement brakes, a new timing belt and a new radiator… and as time passes, the mechanic can’t even get the parts he needs to fix it.

    As the components become harder to find, the odds that your car can even feasibly be repaired get more remote.  At first, you might scour junkyards and advertise online, looking for those crucial pieces of equipment, but eventually you will probably end up having to find someone who can reverse engineer or custom build  the needed parts for you. And now a part that may have been $300 new is going to cost you hundreds more — if not thousands.

    With each transaction, that car gets more and more expensive to fix and maintain, but some cars just can’t be replaced.

  • Does Innovation = Forced Obsolescence?

    Does Innovation = Forced Obsolescence?

    Is there a downside to new technology innovation? We all love and encourage innovation, but what is the hidden cost?

    Critical embedded applications in the Defense and Medical industry are a great example of where this question comes into play. Both these applications have people’s lives relying on them, and both require extended life cycles due to critical verification and certification requirements.

    If an OEM experiences sharp drop in demand for a particular embedded board, it doesn’t make any business sense to continue building more, and the board will likely become obsolete. Everyone understands that an OEM can’t remain competitive if they have to support every product they’ve ever developed… forever. But if that board is still being used in the defense or medical industry, suddenly the systems engineer is faced with diminishing manufacturing sources and material shortages (DMSMS) and higher risk of exposure to counterfeits if obsolete components must now be sourced.

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