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How can obsolescence management be radically simplified?

Turning a Herculean task into a smart process: Körber Digital is using a database solution for machine construction in order to simplify obsolescence management (OM). This is happening at just the right time because the risk that machines will become obsolescent increases dramatically in the digital supply chain. The use of the database is inexpensive, easy to use, and applicable to all areas of machine construction.

What is obsolescence management? The word itself sounds complex and the same could be said about the underlying task. Purchasing and Obsolescence Managers always have to keep an eye on innumerable supplier components that are used in older machines or are earmarked for inclusion in new machine designs. The key question here is whether the parts in question are still being manufactured and if so, for how long. If no inquiry is made, a fault in an obsolete component can quickly cause a loss of production. This has dramatic consequences for new machines in particular. Many machine constructors stockpile discontinued components as an interim solution. Over the medium and long-term, the constructors will, however, have no choice but to examine possible replacement solutions in terms of the engineering design and, in some cases, also test them. Not surprisingly, time is money here as well. The earlier a machine constructor learns about plans to discontinue a product, the more options it will have to address the problem. 

Keeping an overview

One of the reasons why this topic is becoming increasingly important is related to digitization, because the rise of the digital supply chain and related developments are causing electronic assemblies, which are relatively short-lived, to play a major role in machine construction, while mechanical components continue to do their duty for many decades. Moreover, it’s becoming harder to assess the quality of a replacement solution because components are increasingly networked with one another. In view of this situation, how can obsolescence management be systematically simplified? This question took center stage in a new development at Körber Digital, according to Product Owner Nizar Manzli. “Complex communication channels are one of the main problems in obsolescence management. Machine constructors are receiving innumerable Product Change Notifications (PCN) and some of the information is even being sent multiple times by different senders. Meanwhile, no news might be received about other changes. As a result, information is often incomplete or not available in a uniform form, making it difficult to maintain an overview. We want to radically simplify the entire process,” says Manzli. 

Simple, universal, inexpensive

The solution is easy to use, universally employable in machine construction and other sectors, and inexpensive at the same time. Körber Digital is now offering a database solution that contains standardized information about a very large number of supplier parts for machine construction. The aim is to create a kind of Wikipedia for obsolescence management. After logging on via their Web browsers, users can review the status of their parts lists. Users only have to pay a small, flat-rate monthly fee. Usage is even free of charge for the first three months. New machine design as an example: 

  • The designer loads an entire parts list into the database along with the latest safety standards. Alternatively, the designer can enter the number for an individual part. The system then checks the delivery and discontinuation status of each part. All of the information is clearly structured against a color background. If an entry is incorrect, the system will search for a similar item and present the presumably correct manufacturer part number as an option.
  • The database suggests alternatives if a certain part is deliverable for only a limited time or not at all (EOL – end-of-life). If the delivery status changes, the database will automatically send a corresponding message to the user, if desired. 
  • Körber Digital is systematically completing the database. The system will ultimately have a very comprehensive parts database that will contain all the OM information from the major machine construction suppliers. 

In other words, Machine Constructors will no longer have to ask suppliers about individual parts or obtain individual PCNs. Notifications will not be missed and the entire OM process for new machine designs will go much faster. The designers will simply upload their parts lists and check possible alternatives — that’s it. This will reduce the risk of having obsolete components in new machine designs and series-produced machines. Moreover, fewer replacement parts will need to be kept on hand during ongoing operations.

Co-Creation within the Körber Group

This Digital Supply Chain Solution is currently under development and the initial version is now available. It has been developed in a Co-Creation process involving Machine Constructors from the Körber Group as well as several IoT experts from Körber Digital. An important role was played by the empirical knowledge of the Körber companies Seidenader, represented by Lukas Jakob, and Hauni Maschinenbau GmbH, whose experts Simon Sengelmann, Markus Seguin, and Christian Ignatzek concentrated on the obsolescence management. “Our machines are used for decades. At the same time, they include more and more electronic components that have much shorter lifecycles,” explains Ignatzek, who most recently initiated the development of the VDMA specification 24903 for the standardization of OM communication and also served as chairman during the specification’s creation. “Until now, we had to ask dozens of suppliers about availability in order to safeguard our spare parts business and new machine designs. These inquiries had to be conducted manually, which involved very high personnel expenses and substantial delay. We have now solved these problems. We will use the newly available tool from the very start.”

Are you interested in this system and would you like to learn about its costs and benefits for your company for yourself? We will gladly provide you with advice concerning this new solution for obsolescence management.

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