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Posts From January, 2017

Proactive vs reactive obsolescence management 

25 January 2017 07:34:00

With industrial obsolescence speeding up, it is vital for manufacturers to have some level of obsolescence management strategy in place to mitigate the risks of obsolescence. Companies can implement strategies that are proactive, reactive or a mixture. Here, Jonathan Wilkins, marketing director of obsolete parts supplier EU Automation discusses the benefits of a proactive obsolescence management strategy for manufactures.

According to one of Aesop’s fables, one summer’s day an ant was working hard dragging food back to its nest when came across an idle grasshopper, singing to its heart’s content. The grasshopper asked the ant to stop and chat – but the ant ignored him and carried on preparing for winter. When the seasons changed, the grasshopper looked enviously upon the ant’s vast food supplies and regretted his idleness bitterly.

Grasshoppers and ants aside, we have all heard stories and anecdotes on the importance of being proactive. In fact, it is listed as the first quality in the book Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. But what exactly is proactive obsolescence management and is it the best strategy for manufacturers?

Don’t sit and wait

A proactive obsolescence management strategy means that the plant manager is monitoring the availability of parts as well as taking actions to manage obsolescence before a part is discontinued. In general, proactive obsolescence management is a good idea if the component is essential to process or production, because if the component does become obsolete, it will be difficult to replace, which in turn could cause costly downtime.

It would be challenging for any company to monitor the obsolescence status of every single item in its bill of materials, so components should be ranked in order of importance and appropriate measures put in place. Using data available from the part manufacturer or an independent database as well as looking at algorithmic andhistorical data can enable a manufacturer to predict lifecycle changes early and decide on the most appropriate solution.

Go with the flow

Reactive obsolescence management relies solely on acting once a product discontinuation notice is made public or once an obsolete component breaks down. Whether it’s due to a core component for production or a dwindling supply chain of spare parts, obsolescence can cause plant managers serious headaches. A reactive strategy leaves a smaller window for action once the discontinuation has happened.

Taking action

There are several courses of action when a component becomes obsolete. The manufacturer can source the same part using lifetime buys, although this means the spare parts must be stored and ordered in a quantity that predicts future use, which it is not always possible to do accurately. The same part can also be sourced througha supplier of obsolete industrial equipment. This way, a replacement can be delivered in record time, withminimal impact on production.

The manufacturer could also choose to redesign the product – but this is not always a practical option. If a second component goes obsolete and a second redesign is needed, this can be difficult and incredibly costly. A redesign is unlikely to be possible for a company using a reactive strategy as the window is too short.

The manufacturer could also switch to a different product with similar form, fit and function from the original supplier or a competitor. However, this requires complex analysis to guarantee the part is exactly the same in its parametric, dimensional and electrical characteristics.

A reactive strategy can make even these viable options impractical, so incorporating a proactive approach to themost important components should be considered to some extent. Staying one step ahead to ensure you are prepared for any critical component obsolescence is a good way to safeguard production, just like the proverbial ant prepared itself for the cold winter months.

The sword of Damocles gets a reboot 

06 January 2017 09:06:00

The Oculus Rift, Microsoft HoloLens and even Google Cardboard are a far stretch from the first virtual reality (VR) headset, created in 1968 by computer scientist, Ivan Sutherland. The concoction was called the sword of Damocles and, because of its formidable size and weight, had to be anchored to the ceiling so it didn’t crush the user. Almost 50 years later, we are only now seeing VR and augmented reality (AR)being used in manufacturing environments.

Here Leroy Spence, head of sales development at industrial spares supplier EU Automation, looks at how AR and VR are changing the world of manufacturing.

Like any disruptive technology with roots in the consumer market, industry viewed VR with a certain level of scepticism to begin with. Many companies questioned the practical applications of the concept, labelling it another gimmick that would not stand up to the rugged manufacturing environment. However, like Ethernet, touch screen and mobile devices proved before it, VR has real-world manufacturing potential.

New concepts and technologies are prone to hype. In 2015, Gartner's Hype Cycle saw VR emerging from the Trough of Disillusionment into the Slope of Enlightenment – this means VR started being used for real-world useful applications. In 2016, we are betting the technology will continue its ascent as more manufacturers start to take advantage of its benefits. 

Indeed, a PWC survey at the beginning of 2016 found that more than a third of the US manufacturers surveyed,already used VR technology or planned to do so in the next three years.

Virtual design

The automotive market tends to be an early adopter of disruptive technologies — including automation, robotics and now VR.

The US automotive manufacturer Ford built its own immersion lab where designers, engineers and other employees can don an Oculus Rift headset and walk around exploring the exterior and interior of its cars.

Ford uses VR to test its designs and assess how individual elements of a vehicle look, without having to build a physical car. The VR links directly with the company's computer aided design (CAD) software, so engineers can make changes and visualise results quickly and easily.

Virtual training

Another area in which manufacturers are seeing VR shine, is training. The British engineering firm, BAE Systems recently revealed that it creates virtual representations of projects, such as ships, for engineers to practice on.

BAE's virtualisation suites allow engineers to examine the virtual elements of a system, so they can analyse,design and plot where they need to make changes in the physical world. VR provides a level of test redundancy by giving engineers the chance to try out changes before they make any final alterations.

VR training programmes can simulate realistic and hazardous situations on the manufacturing floor, includingchemical spills, dangerous machinery and loud environments, without putting operators at risk. Should the unavoidable happen, employees have relatable experience and are more likely to react appropriately in an emergency.

Furthermore, VR is an effective way of teaching machine operators or maintenance technicians about a new piece of equipment on the factory floor. Visualising the inner components of devices allows companies to makedetailed maintenance plans. This process is incredibly useful for identifying obsolete components or predictingwhich parts the original equipment manufacturer will cease to support in the near future.

This allows plant managers to create an effective obsolescence management plan, which could involve stocking up on spare parts or opting for a redesign.   

Virtual factory

Perhaps one of the biggest indicators of the potential of AR and VR for industry has come from a shift in recruitment at major engineering companies. Recently, firms have been very open about actively recruiting graduates with game design degrees. Astute with VR, Android and mobile technology, this next generation of engineering recruits are helping make Industry 4.0 and Internet of Things (IoT) applications a reality.

Although VR and AR are years away from mainstream adoption in manufacturing, the technology is being put to good use by a minority of progressive companies, looking for a competitive edge. It seems VR and AR both have a prosperous future in the manufacturing industry; those willing to invest in the virtual world will be rewarded in the physical.


Michelle WinnyMichelle Winny

With a combination of news, products and feature articles, Michelle provides up-to-wire commentary on new technology and legislation. Coupled with in depth coverage for specifiers and purchasers of electronic components and equipment, Michelle brings everything within the electronics market directly to her readers.