Parts obsolescence: it's the problem with COTS that just won't go away

By John Keller
Posted by John Keller

Few things have given commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) technology a bad name in military systems more often than obsolete electronic parts . These are the chips, diodes, connectors, and other components that generally do not have long shelf lives in commercial electronics, but which when designed into military systems can cause big and continuing headaches.

The reason parts obsolescence is so anathema to military systems designers is lack of long-term support that the defense industry culturally has relied on for decades. While desktop computers easily can go out of date every few years, military systems often must function for decades and even longer.

Historically, military systems designers relied heavily on a procurement system with long-term spare parts availability, as well as detailed traceability that enabled engineers not only to keep track of where to find spare parts, but also to track the reliability and quality of available spare parts. They gave barely a thought to obsolescence management .

No so with COTS parts, for which manufacturers often end-of-life manufacturing lines and parts types with little or no warning to the systems designers who depend on them. What this phenomenon has caused is an across-the-board rethinking of all notions of system sustainment, repair, and technology upgrades.

Obsolescence management in the COTS era constantly requires systems designers to rethink how they will repair and upgrade technology over the long term, and so exchanging ideas, successes, mistakes, and lessons learned has taken on profound importance.

The opportunity for systems designers to compare notes and learn from one another will present itself in a presentation by Jeff Hanser, chief technology officer for Resource Analysis Corp. in San Diego, at the Military & Aerospace Electronics Forum conference and trade show at 1:30 p.m. Thursday, 2 June at the San Diego Convention Center .

Hanser and other panelists will discuss the challenges of obsolescence management related to off-the-shelf parts, as well as possible solutions for managing obsolescence through open systems. Those attending can ask questions, offer their own solutions, and learn from one another during an anticipated lively question and answer period.

Register to attend the Military & Aerospace Electronics Forum online at www.pennwellregistration.com/online/LoginServlet?confId=362 , by fax at 918-831-9161 with a downloadable .pdf , or by post with the downloadable .pdf to Military & Aerospace Electronics Forum/Avionics USA Conference & Exhibition Registration, P.O. Box 973059, Dallas, TX 75397-3059.

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The Mil & Aero Bloggers

John Keller is editor-in-chief of Military & Aerospace Electronics magazine, which provides extensive coverage and analysis of enabling electronic and optoelectronic technologies in military, space, and commercial aviation applications. A member of the Military & Aerospace Electronics staff since the magazine's founding in 1989, Mr. Keller took over as chief editor in 1995.

Ernesto Burden is the publisher of PennWell’s Aerospace & Defense Media Group, including Military & Aerospace Electronics, Avionics Intelligence and Avionics Europe.  He’s a father of four, a runner, and an avid digital media enthusiast with a deep background in the intersection of media publishing, digital technology, and social media. He can be reached at ernestob@pennwell.com and on Twitter @aero_ernesto.

Courtney E. Howard, as executive editor, enjoys writing about all things electronics and avionics in PennWell’s burgeoning Aerospace and Defense Group, which encompasses Military & Aerospace Electronics, Avionics Intelligence, the Avionics Europe conference, and much more. She’s also a self-proclaimed social-media maven, mil-aero nerd, and avid avionics geek. Connect with Courtney at Courtney@Pennwell.com, @coho on Twitter, and on LinkedIn.

Mil & Aero Magazine

February 2014
Volume 25, Issue 2
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