Tackling the challenge of product obsolescence with a tool that helps engineers mitigate risk throughout the entire project lifecycle.

Obsolescence is one of the biggest problems facing the electronics industry today. Every year thousands of electronics components reach end-of-life and become obsolete – and for those companies reliant on those parts for their products this often means costly redesigns, production line delays, and time-consuming research activities to identify suitable alternatives.

With their DesignSpark community home to half a million engineers facing this very challenge, RS Components wanted to provide them with a free and easy-to-use online solution – turning to long-term technical partner Box UK to help make this happen.

The Obsolescence Manager tool we built provides engineers with the lifecycle status of the parts they use, enabling them to proactively manage obsolescence across the lifetime of their projects. Not only this, but information about up to 70 million alternative parts is available should obsolescence be an issue, and integration with the RS Online site makes it easy to buy from a selection of over 400,000 suitable products.

RS Components is supporting game-changing projects throughout the engineering community with a game-changing system of their own. If you too have a problem that needs an innovative technical solution get in touch today – and see what we can do.

A global online community

Having worked closely with RS Components since 2013, Box UK has helped the electronics giant grow DesignSpark into a vibrant, engaged community of over 500,000 engineers worldwide. To ensure that the platform continues to serve this audience successfully, however, RS Components is always searching for opportunities to help engineers perform their roles more effectively and efficiently. So when product lifecycle management emerged as a key issue from over 100,000 surveys received from their customer base over an 18-month period, RS Components decided to tackle the challenge head-on, through the development of a bespoke software tool that would sit within the DesignSpark platform.

The building blocks of innovation

The tool, Obsolescence Manager, supports engineers in navigating the product lifecycle at the crucial design stage of a project, pro-actively communicating issues around obsolescence as well as highlighting potential solutions – and it all begins with engineers creating a list of potential parts they might use.

However, as a typical RS Components customer may be running tens of thousands of these projects simultaneously, each featuring tens of thousands of components from hundreds of different manufacturers, it’s vital that the process of creating a list be as quick and simple as possible. Our development team therefore used the speedy and scalable MongoDB database system to build a repository of over 400,000 distinct products, while our user experience consultants ensured the usefulness and usability of the front-end search functionality.

Filtering through the noise

Once a list has been created, the power of Obsolescence Manager really comes to life. A dedicated area for logged-in users provides engineers with an instant snapshot of the lifecycle of their selected products, showing which are ‘active’, ‘not recommended for new designs’, ‘last time to buy’ or ‘obsolete’, as well as estimating the Years To End Of Life (YTEOL). With 22 EOL notices and 28 product change notifications issued each day, and the average integrated circuit product lifecycle currently reduced to eight years, providing this tailored view helps save engineers considerable time and effort – not to mention increasing confidence in the commercial viability of their project.

Extending this confidence across the entire project lifecycle was also of utmost important to RS Components, so further bespoke development work was undertaken to configure the tool to use the obsolescence data provided in some very clever ways. Based on three key pieces of information provided by engineers – project start date, estimated project lifetime, and volume – Obsolescence Manager will calculate a predictive lifecycle risk, showing how likely it is that all parts will last the duration of the project.

Removing roadblocks

Of course, with such a volume and variety of parts on offer, it’s inevitable that engineers will come across some problem products. However, RS Components has helped ensure that these products don’t stay a problem for long, by partnering with world-leading critical information provider IHS Markit to equip the tool with information about up to 70 million alternative parts. When integrated into the Obsolescence Manager solution, this data means that engineers won’t be brought to a standstill by EOL notices, but can instead choose from a wide range of replacements. Categorised according to their similarity with the original, these replacements range from products verified as being a virtual copy by IHS Markit’s 500 engineers through to those that match against core attributes, and are complemented by direct links to the RS Online store where available to further streamline the process and create valuable cross-selling opportunities.

Industry-wide impact

Launched to the world’s press at the renowned international Electronica trade fair, the project was delivered successfully within tightly fixed deadlines – and has already caused a stir throughout the electronics world.

In tackling a common industry challenge, Obsolescence Manager is helping its customers get their products to market faster (through a shortened design cycle), drive greater profits (through reduced manufacturing costs) and increase commercial confidence (by providing empirical data to guide decision-making). More importantly though, it’s taken a lot of the hassle out of a traditionally time-consuming and complex process, allowing engineers to focus on what they do best – creating innovative products that push the boundaries of electronic design.

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