Any spare part will inevitably become obsolete. This fact is not influenced by how you manage your inventory or how well you train your team. Technology changes, designs change, equipment changes, processes change — these are things you really cannot expect to influence to any great extent. What you can influence, however, is how you plan for and respond to obsolescence, whenever and however that occurs.

There are many labels used to describe obsolescence and how the obsolescence comes to be. For example, sometimes the phrase “commercially obsolete” is used to mean that the item is no longer sold. Or a part could be described as “technically obsolete,” meaning it has been superseded by newer technology. Whether this makes the item obsolete in any operational sense depends on whether you can still acquire the item when you need it.

For all practical intents and purposes, however, there are just two mechanisms that lead to obsolescence: vendor-led and owner-led.

Vendor-led obsolescence

Vendor-led obsolescence occurs when the vendor or original equipment manufacturer (OEM) no longer sells the item as a new part. The vendor may or may not have an alternative item that can take the place of the old item but will most likely have a different description and part number. They may even have an alternative that closely matches the item but use of that part will require some re-engineering to fit.

Owner-led obsolescence

Owner-led obsolescence occurs when your company decides to replace the equipment on which the item is used. This means you will no longer need to keep the item in your inventory and may be left with unneeded stock that you will describe as “obsolete.”

When spare parts are created within a management system, few people will be thinking about future obsolescence. The same is true during the useful life of the part. The result is companies are either “caught short” and don’t have the parts they need or end up disposing for zero value parts they bought and never really needed. This is why it is important for companies to build awareness of the potential obsolescence and establish practices for managing that obsolescence.

Action requires time, discipline

Once the inevitability of spare parts obsolescence is accepted, the logic of managing this situation proactively is evident. Understanding the nature of the part and the way in which obsolescence comes about helps you be better prepared to manage the impact of obsolescence on your company. In some situations, the goal is to maximize the availability during the remaining life of the equipment. In other situations, it is minimizing the cash spent on parts that will never be used.

In any case, determining the Last-Time-Buy and End-Of-Life plan requires consideration of a range of factors, the data for which is relatively simple to determine. It also requires some time and discipline. Taking the time to manage spare parts obsolescence proactively can save companies significant sums in both procurement spending and maintaining equipment availability.  NP