Shaping the future of obsolescence management

“The only way to predict the future is to have the power to shape the future.” This is a famous quote from the American philosopher, Eric Hoffer.

However, this is becoming more difficult for manufacturers because of the growing problem of obsolete equipment. This is machinery that is no longer produced by the original equipment manufacturer. As a result of this, it may be difficult to locate spare parts.

Atomik Research surveyed manufacturing employees on behalf of Shire Leasing. They found that 52% of them often felt that outdated equipment was a hindrance to their work. Obsolete equipment creates issues for all kinds of manufacturing professionals at all levels. This can range from business owners to operators and maintenance engineers.

A global study by GE Digital found that 82 per cent of businesses had problems with unplanned downtime. This costs an average of $260,000 an hour across the 450 companies surveyed.

What is obsolescence management?

Obsolescence management refers to the process of planning and implementing strategies to deal with end-of-life parts and systems. Essentially, it's about proactively managing the inevitable reality that things become outdated over time.

Replacing assets that have become obsolete can be challenging. Sourcing a like-for-like replacement part, right down to the serial number, might not be possible if the equipment is no longer manufactured. On the other hand, replacing an obsolete part with a newer model can be both costly and disruptive. As a result, it may not always be the best option to consider.

Repairs can sometimes be a more cost-effective option compared to investing in a replacement. However, it's important to note that this approach also comes with its own set of challenges.

A machine breakdown can cost four to fifteen times as much as the maintenance costs alone. This is when we include all the costly disruptive aspects. Such as production stops, wasted time and resources, and effects elsewhere in the supply chain.

Spot and manage unplanned downtime issues

So, what can manufacturers do to mitigate the effects of machine obsolescence? Another study by GE discovered an interesting idea. It revealed that only 24 percent of managers described their maintenance approach as predictive.

This suggests that many production environments rely on preventative maintenance strategies instead of predictive ones. This means that they replace and maintain assets based on a predetermined schedule. Problems here include the fact that faults may worsen or lead to failures between checks. Therefore, this leads to a reactive maintenance approach where it does not address faults until it’s too late.

Nevertheless, GE’s study points us towards a solution: predictive maintenance using digital technologies. These collect, monitor, and analyse data generated by industrial assets.

Industry 4.0 enables the possibility of predictive maintenance. Additionally, technologies like sensors can diagnose problems faster than a human engineer would. Moreover, these systems can help manufacturers predictively spot and manage issues of obsolescence in ageing plant equipment. We shall examine the process here.

Predict the future of obsolescence management

Between 2021 and 2026, the market for industrial predictive maintenance in Asia-Pacific is forecast to expand. According to Technavio, this will grow at a compound annual growth rate of more than 34 percent. Big data, artificial intelligence (AI), and the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) have been crucial in driving these developments.

Industry 4.0 sensors are attached to equipment at the device level. These sensors gather data that can support real-time adjustments.

A plant's supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) and manufacturing execution systems (MESs) receive the data feedback. This helps improve overall efficiency and productivity. Engineers can process, analyse, and visualise this data in real-time.

With this data, plant managers can perform the first steps of an effective obsolescence management strategy. These are system assessment, resource planning, and risk analysis. These steps should take into account the lifespan of all equipment and components in the production plant.

In other words, plant managers should know how old everything is and flag any signs of damage that could impact the equipment’s performance. The objective is to replace obsolete parts as they age, and before they impact productivity or cause downtime.

Creating a database is the next stage in an obsolescence management strategy. After that, it is important to review and update this information.

Easy access to data on obsolescence risks throughout a plant is crucial. One way to achieve this is by creating a spreadsheet that highlights areas of concern on the shop floor. The database can include suggestions on how to proceed with managing the risk.

How to choose the right supplier?

This leads to the final two steps in our obsolescence management strategy. First, finding the right supplier; and secondly, shopping and stocking parts.

The database should contain the contact information of a trustworthy supplier. They should specialise in obsolete automation parts. Also, suppliers should be ready to assist manufacturers when legacy components need replacement.

Above all, remember that obsolescence management is an ongoing process. The automated real-time capabilities of Industry 4.0 and sensors empower plant managers. This allows them to shape the future, as Eric Hoffer once said.

With the assistance of digitalised obsolescence management, human workers can proactively maintain obsolete equipment in their plants. This gives them the power to predict future issues and make informed decisions.

Don't let obsolete equipment dictate your production schedule. Take control and navigate the future with confidence. Choose the right supplier and contact EU Automation today to find out more about obsolescence management and obsolete parts.