May 16, 2020

Seven steps to obsolescence management in Industry 4.0

Jonathan Wilkins
5 min
Jonathan Wilkins, author of The Book of Obsolescence Management and director of EU Automation, shares his 7 steps to obsolescence management.

In the er...

Jonathan Wilkins, author of The Book of Obsolescence Management and director of EU Automation, shares his 7 steps to obsolescence management. 

In the era of Industry 4.0, big data and computing technologies are driving the future of manufacturing. While these innovations are extremely valuable for manufacturers, the increasing speed of technological change also means that equipment components are prone to quicker obsolescence. 

According to the definition from the International Institute of Obsolescence Management (IIOM), obsolescence is the unavailability of parts or services that were previously available, and usually occurs when the components of a system are no longer produced by the original equipment manufacturer (OEM) or when the latter is no longer in business. This means that when these components break or experience a malfunction, replacements can be hard to find.  

Obsolescence is the by-product of continuous technological advances and as such it cannot be eliminated completely, especially now that manufacturers are under more pressure than ever before to digitalise their facilities. However, plant managers shouldn’t feel forced to perform costly systems upgrades every time an obsolete component breaks. 

Obsolete doesn’t mean useless or underperforming, and sourcing a like-for-like replacement can be quick and easy with the help of a specialised supplier. Additionally, in highly regulated industries such as nuclear and pharmaceutical manufacturing, upgrades also mean realms of paperwork and red tape, making like-for-like replacements the easiest choice.  

This is the basic idea behind managing obsolescence in a manufacturing facility—maintaining systems by sourcing obsolete components in a timely and cost-efficient way. With a proactive obsolescence management plan in place, legacy equipment can be perfectly integrated into a smart factory, allowing manufacturers to digitalise their plants while saving money and reducing their environmental footprint. Let’s see how in seven simple steps. 

Step 1: System assessment

To effectively plan for the future, you’ll need to know the present state of your system by performing a comprehensive system audit. How old is your machinery and how long have its components been on the market already? 

Compare your answers with life expectancy data provided by the OEM to determine the life stage of your machines and their components, so that you can have a better idea of how long they will still serve you. Finally, make a list of components that are already obsolete or are about to be made obsolete by the OEM. 

Step 2: Resource planning  

Strategic obsolescence management requires resources. Do you have a dedicated budget for periodic upgrades and last-time purchases? Can you afford to hire an obsolescence manager to help you keep track of components life cycles and plan repairs when needed? 

Most importantly: do you have partnering agreements with a reliable automation parts supplier? When obsolete components break, knowing who to call can make the difference between hours or weeks of costly downtime. 

Step 3: Risk analysis

Critical applications, which are essential to operate the entire system, are ones you should prioritise when putting together an obsolescence plan. If a component of these applications broke down, how much would downtime cost your business? Draw up a risk assessment form to decide whether you can risk them breaking down or whether preventive maintenance is the most convenient option. 

Analyse how worn their moving parts are, and research whether they are still available from the OEM or whether there are compatible products on the market. If they’re already obsolete, contact a specialised supplier to get a quote. Since a failure of these components would impact the functionality of the overall system, timely replacement might be the way to avoid unplanned downtime. 

Step 4: Shopping and stocking

Industrial parts need to be grouped based on their risk of becoming obsolete. For components that are already obsolete, evaluate the possibility of stockpiling some spares while they’re still relatively abundant on the market. For end-of-life (EOL) components, OEMs may send a last-time buy (LTB) notice and even provide special quotes. This might be the best time to squirrel away some spares.

Don’t forget that for larger spare parts you might need to have a dedicated a space in your warehouse. This space and its correlated costs have to be accounted for in step two. 

Step 5: The right supplier

Based on your analysis of how critical a part is to your process, the speed at which it will wear and its risk of becoming obsolete, you should draw up a plan of where you can source these parts from and how quickly. 

For example, if a supplier doesn't regularly hold a specific obsolete VSD in stock, they'll have to source it from a third party, which  could be located half way around the world. Working with a specialised industrial automation parts supplier means you are safe in the knowledge that when a part does break down, you immediately know who to call to get your obsolete replacements quickly. 

Step 6: Putting together a database

All the data collected so far should be recorded and safely stored. This information is invaluable and collating it into an easy understandable format could save precious time in case of breakage.  

This doesn’t necessarily mean investing in an elaborate database. For small to medium plants, it can be enough to have a clear spreadsheet detailing the conditions of critical parts, their likelihood of breaking down, and the contact information of suppliers who have them in stock or can provide them quickly. 

Step 7: Reviewing and updating

Effective obsolescence management is a full-time job. It takes careful management to keep automated systems pitch perfect, which is the reason why larger businesses opt for hiring an obsolescence manager and sometimes even one or more last-time-buy professional purchasers who are responsible for managing EOL parts. 

However, smaller plants can go a long way by simply keeping their spreadsheets updated and organised. Make sure you subscribe to OEMs’ newsletters to be notified when parts are discontinued and last-time-buys are available. Plan regular checks to update your spreadsheets, increasing their frequency for parts that are already visibly worn. 

By incorporating obsolescence management into maintenance plans, companies can minimise the impact of breakdowns, eliminating last minute repairs costs and saving money in the long run.

For more information on manufacturing topics - please take a look at the latest edition of Manufacturing Global.

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Jun 17, 2021

Siemens: Providing the First Industrial 5G Router

3 min
Siemens’ first industrial 5G router, the Scalancer MUM856-1, is now available and will revolutionise the concept of remote control in industry

Across a number of industry sectors, there’s a growing need for both local wireless connectivity and remote access to machines and plants. In both of these cases, communication is, more often than not, over a long distance. Public wireless data networks can be used to enable this connectivity, both nationally and internationally, which makes the new 5G network mainframe an absolutely vital element of remote access and remote servicing solutions as we move into the interconnected age. 


Siemens Enables 5G IIoT

The eagerly awaited Scalance MUM856-1, Siemens’ very first industrial 5G router, is officially available to organisations. The device has the ability to connect all local industrial applications to the public 5G, 4G (LTE), and 3G (UMTS) mobile wireless networks ─ allowing companies to embrace the long-awaited Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT). 

Siemens presents its first industrial 5G router.
Siemens presents the Scalance MUM856-1.

The router can be used to remotely monitor and service plants, machines, as well as control elements and other industrial devices via a public 5G network ─ flexibly and with high data rates. Something that has been in incredibly high demand after being teased by the leading network providers for years.


Scalance MUM856-1 at a Glance


  • Scalance MUM856-1 connects local industrial applications to public 5G, 4G, and 3G mobile wireless networks
  • The router supports future-oriented applications such as remote access via public 5G networks or the connection of mobile devices such as automated guided vehicles in industry
  • A robust version in IP65 housing for use outside the control cabinet
  • Prototypes of Siemens 5G infrastructure for private networks already in use at several sites


5G Now

“To ensure the powerful connection of Ethernet-based subnetworks and automation devices, the Scalance MUM856-1 supports Release 15 of the 5G standard. The device offers high bandwidths of up to 1000 Mbps for the downlink and up to 500 Mbps for the uplink – providing high data rates for data-intensive applications such as the remote implementation of firmware updates. Thanks to IPv6 support, the devices can also be implemented in modern communication networks.


Various security functions are included to monitor data traffic and protect against unauthorised access: for example, an integrated firewall and authentication of communication devices and encryption of data transmission via VPN. If there is no available 5G network, the device switches automatically to 4G or 3G networks. The first release version of the router has an EU radio license; other versions with different licenses are in preparation. With the Sinema Remote Connect management platform for VPN connections, users can access remote plants or machines easily and securely – even if they are integrated in other networks. The software also offers easy management and autoconfiguration of the devices,” Siemens said. 


Preparing for a 5G-oriented Future

Siemens has announced that the new router can also be integrated into private 5G networks. This means that the Scalance MUM856-1 is, essentially, future-proofed when it comes to 5G adaptability; it supports future-oriented applications, including ‘mobile robots in manufacturing, autonomous vehicles in logistics or augmented reality applications for service technicians.’ 


And, for use on sites where conditions are a little harsher, Siemens has given the router robust IP65 housing ─ it’s “dust tight”, waterproof, and immersion-proofed.


The first release version of the router has an EU radio license; other versions with different licenses are in preparation. “With the Sinema Remote Connect management platform for VPN connections, users can access remote plants or machines easily and securely – even if they are integrated in other networks. The software also offers easy management and auto-configuration of the devices,” Siemens added.


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