Obsolescence Not Scary Enough?

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Obsolescence not scary enough?

If you ever wanted to envision a collective shoulder shrug, there may be no better way than to read this: Many of today’s manufacturing plant process automation systems could suddenly fail with costly consequences.

Across the industry, companies are familiar with the threat of obsolescence. Few are prepared for it. While sound reasons for this exist, such as budget, one rather fuzzy and unspoken one may be at work.

Could it be the threat obsolescence just isn’t scary enough? After all, the way you feel about something can profoundly influence your perception of risk. If you don’t really perceive that obsolescence will cause imminent harm, a shoulder shrug may be all you can muster.

When people calculate risk, they rely more on feeling than fact (Source: Peters, Burraston, and Mertz; OSU). It’s hard to take action and prepare for a risk if we don’t feel it’s imminent.

Risk perception disconnection.

There’s also a gap in the way we perceive risk, according to risk-perception consultant and author David Ropeik. “We are often more afraid of some risks than evidence says we need to be,” Ropeik says, “and we are just as often not as afraid of some risks as the evidence says we ought to be.”

Should you be afraid of obsolescence? In 1990, the average lifespan for automation hardware and software was 12 years. By 2012, the lifespan was seven years and declining. That seems reasonably scary.

Process manufacturers certainly recognize the reality of obsolescence. According to a 2010 study from ARC Advisory Group, more than 90 percent of process manufacturers said they use automation beyond the manufacturer’s obsolescence date.

ARC research also discovered that 58 percent of process manufacturers say they don’t have a formal plan for managing their equipment’s lifecycle.

Closing the gap between awareness and action.

If you are concerned about obsolescence but not sure where to turn, the first thing to do is analyze your situation.

Bring in a trusted outside resource like Repete that offers objective input. A good firm will possess the following characteristics:

  • Knowledge of your component lifecycles
  • An understanding of how component lifecycle will affect or change the support provided
  • A thorough understanding of regulatory risks
  • Incremental solutions, from stabilization through complete system replacement, based on risk and requirements.
  • A solid understanding of your future requirements as they relate to expansion
  • An intelligent approach to managing lifecycle that takes into account technology, value in relation to risk, production volume, customization, and plant location to name a few.

Broadly speaking, there are three paths to mitigating or eliminating obsolescence. The one that works for many companies is stabilization because it buys time for planning and budgeting. Stabilization can get you approximately two years of extra time, although every system is different and lifecycles will vary.

Another consideration is a system that takes you beyond stabilization and delivers a material improvement in process accuracy and efficiency. Such a system could provide a five- to seven-year lifecycle.

Finally, you could implement an automated control system solution with perpetual upgrades, eliminating the threat of obsolescence altogether while taking accuracy and efficiency to the highest possible level.

Repete’s approach to obsolescence avoidance is to:

  • Perform an analysis of your business plans and risk
  • Identify an immediate (temporary) system stabilization, if necessary
  • Work with application engineers to identify potential obsolescence and how to address that issue
  • Work with sales staff to find the most competitive solution for you, whether that means stabilization and/or an upgrade
  • Identify the upside of obsolescence adjustment – through long-term business planning and operations planning

Ready to stabilize or overhaul?  Contact Repete – let’s get the conversation started.

Not ready to stabilize or overhaul?  Try mitigating risk in three ways. Conduct consistent preventive maintenance.  Know ahead of time where to find support and parts – and how fast both will arrive – in the event of system failure. Lastly, continually assess risk.

It is true that change requires capital. But it also pays to be prepared.