How proactive life cycle management fuels business success

Lifecycle management

When you’re choosing an electronics supplier for heavy-duty equipment, it’s easy to evaluate your options based solely on price and availability. While these factors are clearly important, there’s another you should consider that’s just as — if not more — critical. We’re talking about proactive life cycle management.

The concept of life cycle management is nothing new. But original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) may not realize just how much a supplier with a proactive approach to life cycle management can help their bottom line. In fact, proactively managing life cycle can have a positive impact on OEMs in three major ways:

  • Aids selection of the right technologies up front.
  • Helps ensure electronic solutions are relevant long term, thus reducing development costs over the lifetime of the machine.
  • Avoids costs associated with major redesigns by choosing components that help manage against obsolescence.

Starting strong

Let’s start with the first way proactive life cycle management benefits OEMs — ensuring the right technologies are chosen up front.

"Good suppliers will help you choose parts that are high runners, meaning they’re broadly used in the industry and easy to sustain," says Ken Andres, Electronic Design Technical Manager at John Deere Electronic Solutions. “Long-term viability in the market is the biggest thing, as far as obsolescence."

As a part gets adopted as a high runner, there’s a higher business case to support it, Andres says.

In addition to choosing a high runner, a component should also be selected when it is in the early stages of its life cycle. It’s best to avoid implementing a component that is toward the end, or even the middle, of its life. Doing so immediately limits the life span of a product design since you’ll be searching for replacement components sooner than you’d have to with a newer, more viable component.

Making an effort to incorporate the right electronics at the beginning of the product life cycle will also help you prevent premature and expensive redesigns. A product overhaul is more difficult to avoid when its components are not carefully considered during the initial design stage. Package miniaturization and improvements in fabrication processes or component protections are examples of technology innovations that can impact designs. If a component reaches obsolescence, there might not be a suitable replacement, and the entire product could need to be redesigned to accommodate new components.

Managing against obsolescence from the very beginning of a product’s life is the best way to ensure a successful, long-term product.

What you should expect from your component supplier

While there are many factors to balance in your component selection, you don’t have to navigate the process alone. Choosing a supplier that is dedicated to helping you proactively manage the life cycle of electronic products is key to a successful long-term user experience.

Finding a partner that will help you manage the life cycle of your components will allow you to focus your resources on next generation features, rather than on legacy products. Your supplier should also be flexible and willing to support high-mix, low-volume manufacturing. This adaptability is crucial in delivering expanded life cycle capabilities.

"A great partner is one that is willing to provide you with what you need," says Andres, "and do so with the best service possible."

Document everything

Documentation is key when it comes to life cycle management. John Deere Electronic Solutions (JDES) has specialized tools to fully record design analysis, specific calculations, rationale, limitations, schematics, PCB files, and much more. This information is essential to finding replacements for obsolescence issues.

"Proper documentation helps guide you through understanding why the design choices were made, allowing for an easy redesign," says Andres.

Andres says knowing the calculations and initial design reasoning for a component that became obsolete helps in identifying a replacement. The foundation of this analysis process is based on engineering principles and the laws of physics, which historically, remain constant.

JDES utilizes a product management system to keep this extensive documentation accessible, even after a product is no longer being produced. Comprehensive records are the framework for making fundamental design decisions in the future. These records also ensure engineers who are not involved with the original design have the information necessary to maintain future designs.

Going beyond typical production

JDES supports products as they go out of production to service only volume, or are ready to be obsoleted. Until those decisions are final, OEMs may feel the need to predict exactly what they will need and will buy up a quantity of old components, or do a last-time production run.

"When you’re trying to predict how many products you’ll need in a last-time buy, it’s a bit of a guessing game," says Andres. "If you’re wrong and you run out, you have no capability of buying more. Our viewpoint is to build products, even in a low volume, so you don’t have to predict how many you’ll need."

As an alternative to last-time buys, JDES offers low-volume manufacturing for products past normal production. Manufacturing products in low volume eliminates the need for unreliable last-time buys and allows OEMs to get the exact quantity they need.

Since it’s more expensive to redesign a product after it becomes obsolete, JDES works with OEMs to make smaller changes throughout a product’s life cycle. Small incremental design improvements for obsolescence help guard against greater redesign expenses.

Monitoring industry trends and regulations

Planning requires looking toward the future, and that’s just as important in life cycle management. JDES actively monitors industry trends to better serve OEMs as they navigate various changes and guidelines.

"We have to, in life cycle management, be looking at the future," says Andres. "We're watching different initiatives as well as governmental and economic compliance requirements. You have to recognize where the industry is going and determine how to plan ahead."

JDES isn’t just watching trends — it’s testing them in its material science laboratory. The laboratory is used to test new technologies and how products will be developed and manufactured to support those technologies. These design experiments are able to validate both current and future design processes.

In addition to their own testing, JDES participates in industry consortiums where they partner with several suppliers and manufacturers. These groups produce an accurate snapshot of the industry and the direction it is headed, in terms of new technologies.

Setting and meeting standards

All industries adhere to certain standards and best practices. When it comes to electronic components, AEC-Q qualification requirements are an important standard for measuring quality.

"AEC-Q is a standard that requires different testing for components and the suppliers of those components," says Andres. "This standard set of testing practices gives manufacturers a higher confidence in the parts used and ensures a more reliable design."

JDES selects components that meet AEC-Q standards and, in turn, produces highly durable and reliable products.

Making connections for the future

A partner in managing the life cycle of your products should be constantly building and maintaining strong relationships with suppliers. All parties — manufacturers, life cycle managers, and suppliers — should prioritize future technologies and work together to incorporate them into product design.

"John Deere Electronic Solutions has key suppliers with whom we build lasting relationships," says Andres. "They understand we intend to use their components not just presently but in the future, as well. We look at their long-term viability and choose partners that are used across the industry."

By helping OEMs choose viable partners who are leaders in the industry, Andres says JDES customers will have more success extending the life of their products. Additionally, a strong partner will assist you in developing relevant new products as the industry changes and grows.

Choosing a partner with expertise in life cycle management delivers cost savings and extends the life of electronics to match that of your equipment. While it requires more planning and coordination upfront, life cycle management will help you craft a more precise budget, design more consistent products, and increase the profitability of your overall operation.

Interested in learning more about how John Deere Electronic Solutions can assist you in proactive life cycle management? Visit electronicsolutions.deere.com to get started.