Obsolescence problems continue to increase ownership costs, affecting the avionics systems and the test equipment used by military and civil operators, as well as their suppliers. It was a frequent topic of discussion at the Avionics Maintenance Conference (AMC) held in April in Atlanta. To help control the costs and to prevent or reduce the impact of the problem, obsolescence management programs are often established. The old saying in the medical profession, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, is also true of obsolescence management.
Controlling diet, regular exercise and annual health checks are essential for a healthy life. The same is true for obsolescence management. It involves controlling your design, actively identifying and implementing solutions, and conducting periodic health checks--which means reviewing parts lists to identify current obsolete items and predicting when other items will become obsolete.
Planning ahead, managers can implement low-cost solutions, such as alternate or substitute cataloged parts, as a bridge until systems are upgraded for safety, reliability, performance or capability reasons. Not all parts can be easily substituted; application specific integrated circuits (ASICs), system-on-chips (SoCs) or hybrids require more extensive part engineering solutions.
Because budget constraints may minimize the ability to do system upgrades, existing hardware will be operating much longer than planned. In 1960, if the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) knew the B-52 would have to fly for more than 90 years, what would they have done to minimize the impact of obsolescence? DoD has implemented a standard approach that is applicable to civil operators. It establishes a team of users, suppliers and support organizations that invest in and implement an obsolescence management program. This program consists of four basic steps: identify problems, research solutions, implement solutions, and mitigate the risk of future problems.
To identify problems, a health check should be conducted for both commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) and custom-developed avionics. Component engineers, as well as logistics analysts on the team, need to know the equipment's configuration, from the end items down to the individual piece parts. This parts list also will be needed because of configuration control requirements for the lead-free electronics initiatives.
Ideally, COTS original equipment manufacturers will either conduct the health checks and provide the results when the product is delivered or create a partnership to allow the operators to conduct the health checks themselves. These scenarios are ideal because the operators now will have the data needed to verify when a technology upgrade is needed. For customized avionics, a detailed parts list is mandatory. Because of intellectual property rights for ASICs and SoCs, detailed design data needed for health checks may not be available. Therefore, holding the data in escrow is an option that could prevent future obsolescence impacts. In all cases health checks alone are not enough. To obtain a return on investment (ROI) operators must analyze the problems and implement solutions.
How do you know if an ounce of obsolescence management is equal to a pound of cure? By monitoring solution implementation data and conducting a business case analysis (BCA). To facilitate the BCA, ARINC in 1999 developed a report for the Defense Microelectronics Activity (DMEA), covering obsolescence cost metrics. The report provides industry and DoD average nonrecurring engineering (NRE) cost data for the most common solutions. Under the auspices of the Office of the Secretary of Defense, ARINC, together with the Defense Logistics Agency, DMEA and other members of the DoD DMSMS Center of Excellence, is updating the data. (DMSMS stands for diminishing manufacturing sources and material shortages.)
The update will include clearer guidance, additional categories of solutions, and current solution costs. The guidance emphasizes that actual data should be used first, average redesign costs do not include system-level qualification or flight tests, and finished goods and cataloged aftermarket or emulation costs should use the NRE data associated with substitution. Additional categories will include hybrid and ASIC redesign.
The goal is to emphasize that users of the data understand that there are many variables involved in selecting the most cost-effective solution and, if significant program decisions are to be made, program-specific cost tradeoff studies should be conducted. Ultimately the data will help to determine the ROI and validate when it is correct to implement a system upgrade and when it is not correct to do so.
Walter Tomczykowski is a director in the Air Force Weapons System Division at ARINC Engineering Services LLC.