Obsolescence management in safety-critical sectors

Obsolescence management involves the continuous evaluation of the life span of a component’s life cycle. Whilst, at the same time, replacing worn-out components as they get older.

In this article, we explain why it is important and how to manage component obsolescence in safety-critical industries. Such as nuclear power plants, off-shore oil platforms, chemical plants, commercial aviation, rail transport and pharmaceutical manufacturing.

According to the International Institute of Obsolescence Management (IIOM), obsolescence is the lack of parts or services that were previously available. It could potentially occur at any point during the life cycle of the equipment.

It has a particularly large impact on the parts that need to be maintained over a number of decades. Downtime and lost productivity are two of the negative effects that obsolescence has. Alongside with, an increase in the cost of through-life support.

The Impact of Obsolescence in Safety-Critical Industries

Safety-critical industries must carefully manage obsolescence to avoid its negative impact on productivity. Upgrading components in safety-critical industries requires a great deal of paperwork and bureaucracy. This is as a result of the stringent restrictions and rules that must be adhered to.

Therefore, redesigning and requalifying processes would be required if an old component failed and no spare could be located. This can cost companies a huge amount of time and money.

Commercial Aviation: A Study in Obsolescence Management

Take, for instance, the field of commercial aviation as a point of reference. Many airlines are now using their ageing aircraft and equipment for longer to control costs and capital investments. The process of component obsolescence could be sped up as a result of this.

It's not uncommon for obsolete components to cost more than their original counterparts. However, they are considerably more cost-effective than buying a new aircraft.

Legacy Equipment in the Rapidly Evolving Pharmaceutical Industry

Another safety-critical industry, the pharmaceutical industry, is growing fast and is deploying cutting-edge technologies, from nanotechnology to 3D printing pills. However, many of the procedures used to manufacture pharmaceuticals continue to make use of legacy equipment. This indicates that mass production typically relies on procedures that are labor-intensive, inflexible, and high-risk.

Despite this, replacing equipment with newer models is complex because the sector is highly regulated. If the manufacturers keep using legacy equipment, they can avoid replacing an entire production system. Manufacturers may find it difficult to afford both financial and regulatory approval timescale costs to replace equipment. Therefore, they may only replace the failed components by sourcing an obsolete spare, making it a cheaper alternative.

A solution is at hand

Almost all industries experience inevitable component obsolescence, but that does not mean they can't contain it. Many manufacturers in safety-critical industries can’t afford to keep a stockpile of obsolete replacement parts on-site. This indicates that these businesses are unable to account for the unexpected failure of component parts. As a result of this, our recommendation is that companies rely on a reliable supplier.

Imagine, for instance, that a vital component in a plant that processes food suffers from a failure. As a result of the external temperature, the manufacturer has between 12 and 24 hours to find a replacement. After that, they would be forced to throw out the entirety of the production batch.

If manufacturers have a reliable parts supplier, they can depend on them to provide those hard-to-find obsolete parts. Additionally, the supplier can ensure quick delivery of the parts. Therefore, solving the problem as fast as possible.

Visit our Knowledge Hub if you would like additional information on how to handle obsolescence in a proactive manner.