What Do You Do When Your Design Gets Set Back by a Part’s End-of-Life Notice?June 15, 2020 by Nicholas St. John
Getting an end-of-life notice on a component can be a major setback for both new and existing designs. How do you work around the inconvenience?
End-of-life (EOL) is a term that keeps me and (I presume) my fellow design engineers up at night. When choosing parts for your board, designers must consider component life cycles along with price, performance, footprint, and other specifications.
What do we do to avoid delayed product releases when we receive such notices? Let's first look to the component lifecycle for answers.
According to Rajeev Solomon et. al's article research on electronic part life cycle concepts and obsolescence forecasting, a component's lifecycle can be broken into six stages: introduction, growth, maturity, decline, phase-out, and obsolescence. Below is a graph of the lifecycle stages of electronic components.
Stages of product lifecycle charted in a standardized curve. Image (modified) used courtesy of Rajeev Solomon et. al
These stages indicate a part's journey through the manufacturing market. When it comes to the decline stage, companies usually have an EOL policy they follow, notifying customers when a part will be pulled from inventory and offering replacement options. Having replacements will allow you to seamlessly switch products without changing the layout of the PCB and/or the circuit schematic itself.
Characteristics of the six stages of component lifecycle. Image (modified) used courtesy of Rajeev Solomon et. al
Still, engineers avoid EOL issues because in some cases, a component alteration may require them to significantly alter designs. At the onset of a project, designers must have an idea of the general lifespan of a product and find parts that best fit the estimated lifecycle of this design.
Questions to Avoid Part Obsolescence
To avoid component obsolescence, designers might add these questions to their part selection process:
- Where is this product in terms of its lifecycle?
- Is it new? Old? In its prime?
- Is this a standard part?
- Are there replacements for this? Or am I buying a very specific part that is only made by one or two manufacturers?
- What is this company’s EOL policy?
- How far in advance will the company notify me when this part is in the EOL stage? A month? Two? Never? Do they usually have replacements when parts go EOL?
Methods to Manage Electronic Components Obsolescence
There are several ways engineers can side-step the pitfalls of EOL parts. One solution comes from Altium and its project partner IHS Markit.
Together, the two companies recently announced that they are providing Altium 365 Pro users with real-time EOL data and resources for the parts in their designs.
Altium 365, a cloud platform for PCB design, links to IHS Markit’s tools. IHS Markit’s Parts Intelligence says they provide data and analytics, an extensive database of electronic components—including specifications and lifecycle—and supplier details. This information allows engineers to make informed decisions on which parts will provide optimal performance, price, and lifetime for a given project.
Users can search for products based on their electronic or physical specifications, their risk of obsolescence, and compliance information.
The new feature allows designers to replace a part at the end of its life with another component, updating any other designs that may also use that EOL product. Screenshot used courtesy of Altium and IHT Markit
Designers that don't have an Altium 365 Pro subscription can take another approach to electronic component obsolescence management.
A company management plan is especially important in aerospace and automotive sectors with designs that must last significantly longer than the average product cycle. For example, Boeing explains that "60 percent of the integrated circuits currently on aerospace products will be obsolete (out of production) within five years because production cycles of today's components are far too short to support aerospace products whose useful lives exceed 30 years."
In such scenarios, many companies establish an obsolescence management board to address issues related to component EOL.
How Have Component End-of-Life Stages Affected You?
While it can be difficult to course correct a design with an end-of-life component (including the recertification process), you can often mitigate the issue altogether with thorough research at the onset of your project.
What methods do you or your company have in place to avoid time-to-market delays for product lifecycle issues? Share your experiences in the comments below.