Manufacturing / Production Technology, Hardware & Services

Forget ML, AI and Industry 4.0 – obsolescence should be your focus

26 February 2021 Manufacturing / Production Technology, Hardware & Services

The world entered a new era of accelerated transformation in the last eighteen months that will continue to evolve and press forward for years to come. Most businesses are playing catch-up trying to make sense of a new timeline where the ten years that had been set aside for careful planning and implementation of what was coming up next no longer exists. The next is happening now and, regardless of your industry or seniority, the status quo has shifted and you better face it.

Back in 2019, I was invited to attend a pompous meeting in London at the Brazilian Embassy along with selected leading names from the oil and energy industry, to get an update on what was going to happen in the following decade. I could soon spot all the buzzwords coming up on PowerPoint slides from the different companies presenting: decommissioning, decarbonisation, zero emissions, transition to green energy. Throughout the morning and most of the afternoon, we heard that most of these changes would kick in between 2030-35. And I recall a Shell executive pointing out that the business had explicitly concluded that the current income streams were needed to provide the capital required for the transition to take place in due course.

Whomever you talk to in the energy industry in 2021 would tell you to forget about that timeline. Change has come and the transition is happening much faster than anticipated, with big businesses scrambling to find the capital to fund all that is required.

I could go on all day talking about how the pandemic and the impact it had on market demand and consumer behaviour messed up the timeline of transport, automotive, defence, manufacturing and so on. For instance, carrier planes that were due to be retired in 2017 are now required to remain in service at least until 2029. Projects in wind power involving upgrades of wind farms have been scrapped and new installations have drawn huge competition from up and coming brands with operators tending to favour smaller turbines – for being efficient and cheaper to run – and choosing to buy from multiple suppliers instead of just one company.

Machine learning (ML), AI and Industry 4.0 knock at the door. Still, the biggest change yet to be fully appreciated by business leaders is how electronics effectively became the brain of every industrial asset and all infrastructure equipment in operation in recent years, and therefore what is required to deal with breakdowns and obsolescence.

For instance, I lost count of the many rail connections that I have working in operations and maintenance who struggle with their CME – chief mechanical engineer – who, like the role suggests, is usually a mechanically-biased individual who may have a less than ideal approach when it comes to the handling of electronic failures. And you guessed right: less ideal means neither green nor cheap solutions, as illustrated in this video:*mar21-abi

Many decision-makers only realise the problem at hand and regret not following the tag #RepairDontWaste on LinkedIn in times like this, resulting in comments like, "We did not anticipate that the equipment would become obsolete so quickly!" or, "Spare circuit boards started to take weeks then months to arrive. Then we were told that they would no longer be supplied. We were quoted seven-figure prices to upgrade our assembly line."

By deferring the responsibility to the original equipment supplier and other third parties, you are bound to be caught off guard soon or later. And the risk exposure from insisting on this strategy is about to get exponentially higher; there is a widespread component shortage increasing lead times, and technology providers are dropping support for many products in order to remain viable.

Last month, a wind turbine multinational in the US had to ship a bunch of expensive controller cards used in inverters and speed governing systems to its workshop in Brazil for repair as new replacement cards are not due back in stock for another six months. Good job that the local team had an electronic diagnostic equipment BoardMaster from ABI in the shop, ready to help the technicians locate the fault and repair the cards, which happened in record time.

Poor decision-making when it comes to setting maintenance and repair strategies are often linked to ‘fake news’ and myths such as:

• A repaired electronic card (PCB/PCBA) will never be as good as a new one.

• The manufacturer told us that special software was required to troubleshoot the card.

• Troubleshooting down to the component level is impossible or would take too long.

• Dedicated test and repair equipment is prohibitively expensive.

The mentality here needs to change, and fast. The longer you take to embrace the new strategies for in-house fault analysis, maintenance, and obsolescence planning of your key electronic circuits and assets, the more expensive it will get to keep them going.

Hundreds of leading organisations have found in recent years that the belief in these myths was hindering their results and compromising the operation – from GE Renewable to Collins Aerospace, where the latter reduced troubleshooting times on avionics circuit cards from 50 hours to 10 minutes.

Then there is Lego in Mexico, where controller cards from 600+ plastic moulding machines worth tens of thousands of dollars each have been mapped and are now repaired in-house. In the US, an army engineer saved a mobile shelter unit worth 10 million dollars from being decommissioned by repairing its HVAC circuit board that was deemed ‘irreparable’ by the OEM.

In the rail arena, companies like Alstom, CAF, Bombardier and operators like Irish Rail, SFMTA, TCDD and so many others have discovered the benefits of investing in the right tool and skill development programme to shield the business against parts shortages and accelerated obsolescence.

Some of their stories, and the technology that is driving several top-shelf global sustainability projects, were the subject of a YouTube series called ABI Labs. The series gives an in-depth review of the key tests and techniques available in the British-made BoardMaster hardware and software platform from ABI Electronics to handle predictive as well as corrective maintenance of critical electronics without wasting time or money.

The ABI BoardMaster 19-inch rack universal diagnostic system is a uniquely versatile, self-contained and easy-to-use test system. It offers the most comprehensive set of test instruments for fault-finding on almost any kind of PCB. As the product of choice for companies operating in rail transport, aerospace, military, automotive, telecoms and a range of other industrial sectors, the BoardMaster is ABI Electronics’ top of the range solution that saves customers time and money, and increases asset availability and reliability. With the full range of instruments and a variety of test methods guaranteeing the best possible fault coverage, the BoardMaster 19-inch rack provides the ultimate in diagnostic tools.

The BoardMaster 19-inch rack comes complete with ABI's multi-licence and user-friendly SYSTEM 8 Ultimate Software preinstalled. Customers are guaranteed to receive free software updates for life and will not be charged for additional seats or maintenance fees. The powerful yet easy-to-use software includes user access management, ABI's exclusive TestFlow Manager, as well as a wealth of customisation options.


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