Your next equipment delivery will be made up of obsolete parts without you knowing it. Here’s what you have to do.
In February 2021, Willian Santos of ABI Electronics wrote an article urging industry leaders to come to their senses about the value of repair in the face of staggering obsolescence. The COVID-19 pandemic made it undeniable that a radical change in industries such as defence, aerospace, automotive, and rail had to happen – and fast – largely due to OEM-driven obsolescence of the systems and machinery required to keep planes, trains, wind turbines and solar inverters, robotic equipment and general critical infrastructure in operation. Two and a half years later, many industry-leading companies are still oblivious to the fact that their much-needed obsolescence solution is right under their nose – Repair, Don’t Waste.
The world is now beginning to feel the effects of what Willian predicted in his article of the not-so-distant past. Companies in complete denial of the obsolescence issues hurtling towards them are now scrambling for a retrospective solution to the problem that is now at their door, rather than heeding the warning and preparing their business for significant lack of OEM support. The lack of understanding of the importance of electronics in industry – increased digitalisation means that electronics are the ‘brain’ of every industrial asset – causes management not to understand the potential that PCB repair can have: freedom from OEM’s, mitigation of obsolescence, reduction of machine downtime, and reduction of cost in comparison to replacement.
Despite many still ignoring repair as a viable obsolescence solution, we have seen increased investments in in-house repair facilities from multiple global brands. Lack of OEM support is pushing industry giants to adopt their own repair and maintenance processes to counterbalance obsolescence – one rail provider was told that their new trains to be introduced in 2024 were leaving the assembly line in 2023 with important electronic braking system being made obsolete already. Businesses should not have to contend with such poor support from their suppliers though as repairing PCBs in-house using standardised troubleshooting equipment, in-depth training and observing industrial repair standards ensure that end-users oversee their own fate. With digitalisation and robotics taking over many roles within manufacturing and maintenance, it is crucial that the operator can support these vital systems for years to come to ensure the health and continuity of their business.
Another driver propelling industry demand forward is the pressure for energy transition, in the form of electric vehicles and renewable energy. Before 2020, it was popular opinion that decarbonisation would be a slow process of 10-15 years. In 2021, and even more so today, it became apparent that this was no longer the case. Demand for change in the industry is ploughing ahead at full speed with little to no thought about how these new products can be designed for longevity and therefore circularity. Electric vehicles and their chargers, solar panel and wind turbines, all have a given ‘lifespan’ by their manufacturer – when a component on a PCB fails within this lifespan, the board is discarded and replaced – if you can wait up to 52 weeks for a new part, that is. This given lifespan has also raised questions in the industry of just how sustainable our new technologies are – talks of renewable energy recycling are already underway. In circular economy models and popular slogans, direct use of the word ‘repair’ is often left out in favour of recycling as if recycling will solve a whole host of environmental evils.
We cannot recycle our way out of obsolescence though. Obsolescence must be managed firstly through repairing products and systems that already exist and secondly, through designing new innovative products to be repaired and reused again and again to ensure the beginning of a long, circular lifecycle. This applies to all electronics but especially industrial electronics which are often forgotten about, despite contributing considerable amounts of E-waste to the world’s fastest-growing waste stream.