Obsolete Component Sourcing

Karen Salmon MD

“It’s Obsolete” – a phrase to bring fear to any production buyer of electronic components.  With the changing market over the last few years and the pressure on profit margins at every level the larger component manufacturers have been keen to only continue manufacture of those products where it can be demonstrated that it is profitable to do so. Add to this the lifetime expectancy of some of the high value industrial, aerospace and military equipment and it is easy to see that the problem of component obsolescence can only get worse.

We are all aware that there are many pitfalls that can arise from hearing the word ‘obsolete’ from your regular component supplier. The first reaction may be to ask why you didn’t receive the EOL (end of life) or LTB (last time buy) notification. Your second reaction is probably to scour the franchise network to find residual stock or contact the OEM pleading for help locating alternative product for FFF (fit, form, function) replacements. When all these fail the only option left is to try and obtain product from the grey market. This can be a minefield and can often lead to quality problems and production hold-ups, which only make matters worse. We all know that there are many reputable suppliers but there are others that are not quite as reputable. Surprisingly it always seems to be the disreputable suppliers that have the stock.

There are several options that many companies then look at:

  • Buy stock without provenance and hope?
  • Buy stock without provenance, test it and hope?
  • Buy a “recommended” alternative and hope it works?

Commercial product users have some security in that if it does work then the chances of it being OK over 0degc to +70degC is pretty well assured. However, Industrial and Military users have the added problem that the part may well be operational at commercial temperatures but unless dc and functional testing is done over the min and max temperature range required for that specific application you will have no assurance of reliability or parametric compliance over the full temperature spectrum.

What other options are there?

  • Find the money to redesign the entire circuit using new technology parts
  • Find the money to take advantage of buying your total stock requirements at the beginning of a production run plus any liberal spares.
  • Blame somebody else for the situation.

or

  • Get the obsolete product remanufactured.

There is no doubt that the latter is an expensive option if you consider pound for pound against the cost of the original device but when compared to the cost of circuit redesign, post production problems, reliability issues, peace of mind and the security of your job then remanufacture becomes the right option. Companies like Force Technologies have evolved from distribution to understanding the requirements of customer’s needs and concerns. Buying and storing OEM die or wafers, at the lowest possible price for schedules of up to 20 years in a controlled environment, assembled and tested to insure reliability over the full schedule period is all part of the service.

Assembly and test are carried out under M38535 and DESC conditions with documentation to Mil-Std 883 with electrical and environmental test groups as required, to backup the procedures if needed to military or Space level.

Not all parts are available for re-creation replacement but it is surprising how many various basic devices can be tested to a specific OEM data sheets.

Consultation with the customer at all stages from basic Logic or Linear devices to the most complex FPGA’s can be produced to allow 100% confidence that “what is on the tin is in the tin”.