One of the big problems that the industry faces sooner or later is the obsolescence of the control systems it has. Hence, the management of obsolescence has to occupy a prominent place in the company’s roadmap. It is a matter of periodically evaluating the risks and impacts of said obsolescence and planning and implementing the necessary strategies to reduce the risks to a minimum.

The industry is facing two real moments when obsolescence is already a fact. On the one hand, the first occurs when the elements are no longer available from suppliers, but the manufacturer is still able to solve this deficiency through repair and an in-house solution to the problem. The second moment occurs when the parts are completely obsolete and are no longer compatible with the system.

One of the most important values ??of a control system is its reliability. Control systems can function without requiring intervention for a considerable time, however, this can cause problems that may not be detectable at first. If a problem occurs and the affected part has become obsolete, it is not always easy to repair or find a replacement.

Relatively short-lived systems that are easily updated and replaced and often do not reach the stage where obsolescence becomes an issue, but for reliable (and expensive) major cost control systems, it is a problem that grows over time and that can leave the company out of the game.

In any case, the risks related to the obsolescence of the control systems can be considerably reduced through effective management. The rigorous control of obsolescence does not have to entail a significant economic cost, but rather, on the contrary, a saving in it. Thus, preventing major problems from occurring, reducing downtime if breakdowns do occur and lengthening the life of your equipment, means that you do not have to update the entire system sooner than is really necessary.

Control system in an electric plant
Control system in an electric plant

There are five steps that must be followed for adequate control to occur in the industry, as we will see below.


Planning for the possible appearance of obsolescence has to be done from the beginning. It is best if obsolescence management is integrated into the project plan when systems are designed, even though it is frequently updated with operating systems. In any case, it is convenient to develop a plan to address obsolescence problems, define the scope and objectives, and assign resources, roles and responsibilities. The information and decisions for each of the steps in obsolescence management must be recorded and the plan must be approved and reviewed regularly by senior management. In this sense, it is necessary to try to be inflexible regarding the fulfillment of the route to follow.

List the materials

It is necessary to be very clear about the components that will be under the control of obsolescence. It is important to consider both pieces of company hardware and software components. All the information of the parts must be recorded, as well as the quantities and locations where they are located.

Having a comprehensive bill of materials provides numerous benefits to overall control system management, enabling more effective parts management, knowledge and skills management, and better-informed decisions for investments in upgrades and upgrades.

Assessment of risks and impact of obsolescence

From the beginning, all the components must be evaluated to know the potential impact that the absence of each one would cause. That is where the security, operational and performance implications come in, as well as the ease and impact of using a substitute.

Employ strategies

The strategies must be accompanied by priorities, in which the components with the highest risk are marked to be addressed first. There are two main strategies that can be employed: a reactive obsolescence strategy (which reacts to problems when they occur) and a proactive obsolescence strategy (develop and implement a plan in advance).

The reactive strategy can be carried out when the risks of obsolescence are lower, the component is reliable or the costs of a proactive strategy are unaffordable. A reactive strategy could involve a partial search for second- and third-hand suppliers, cannibalization of other systems, or design review. While a reactive strategy does not involve upfront costs, there can be significant costs as a result of an unplanned outage or obtaining replacement parts, and an estimate of these costs should be considered as part of the planning process.

A proactive strategy will reduce the likelihood of obsolescence occurring or lessen the impact when it occurs. It is recommended for higher risk components, especially when there are security considerations or when a proactive strategy is clearly profitable. A proactive strategy could involve close monitoring of obsolescence that can lead to planned system upgrades or lifetime parts purchases. A proactive strategy will have associated costs and these should be estimated when budgets are made to ensure sufficient funding for subsequent implementation.

Review and monitoring

Obsolescence strategies and their numbers should be reviewed periodically. Changing conditions can lead to changes in strategies, such as parts not being unexpectedly available, or manufacturers announcing outdated dates. Figures should also be updated when new systems are installed or planned updates are completed.

The obsolescence management process must be monitored to ensure continued effectiveness. The indicators can be measured for the number of cases of obsolescence, use of resources, number of successful corrective actions and lost obsolescence problems. That valuable information can be used to demonstrate the effectiveness of the obsolescence management process and to ensure continued investment.


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