SGER GOALI: Collaborative Research: Forecasting and Proactive Management of Obsolescence for Sustainment-Dominated Systems

(NSF Grant No. DMI-0438522, DMI-0438266, Oct 2004 – Sept 2006)

[Introduction to the Problem] | [Project Publications and Presentations] | [Team] [Links]

Introduction to the Problem

In the normal course of product development, it often becomes necessary to change the design of products and systems consistent with shifts in demand and with changes in the availability of the materials and components from which they are made.  When the constituents of the system are technological in nature, the short product life cycle associated with fast moving technology changes becomes both a problem and an opportunity for manufacturers and systems integrators.

For most high-volume, consumer oriented products and systems; the rapid rate of technology change translates into a critical need to stay on the leading edge of technology.  These product sectors must adapt the newest materials, parts, and processes in order to prevent loss of their market share to competitors.  For leaders, updating the design of a product or system is a question of balancing the risks of investing resources in new, potentially immature technologies against potential functional or performance gains that could differentiate them from their competitors in the market.  Examples of leading-edge products that race to adapt to the newest technology are high-volume consumer oriented electronics, e.g., mobile phones.

There are however, significant product sectors that are challenged to quickly adopt leading edge technology.  Examples include: airplanes, ships, traffic lights, computer networks for air traffic control and power grid management, and industrial equipment.  These product sectors often “lag” the technology wave because of the high costs and/or long times associated with technology insertion/design refresh.  Many of these product sectors involve “safety critical” systems where lengthy and expensive cycles of qualification/certification may be required even for minor design changes and where systems are fielded (and must be maintained) for long periods of time (often 20 years or more).  These product sectors also share the common attribute of being “sustainment-dominated”, i.e., usually their long-term sustainment (life cycle) costs dwarf original procurement costs.

In this project, sustainment refers to all activities necessary to:

·         keep an existing system operational (able to successfully complete its intended purpose),

·        continue to manufacture and field versions of the system that satisfy the original requirements, and

·         manufacture and field revised versions of the system that satisfy evolving requirements.

This usage of the term “sustainment,” in this project, although used in a different context, is consistent with the Brundtland Report definition [1]: “Development that meets the needs of present generations without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”.  In the case considered in this proposal, “present and future generations” refers to the users and maintainers of a system.

A significant (perhaps the most critical) problem facing many “high-tech” sustainment-dominated systems is technology obsolescence, with no technology typifying the problem more clearly than electronic part obsolescence.  In the past decade, technology has advanced very rapidly causing such components to have a shortened procurement life span.  Industry experts estimate that over 200,000 components from over 100 manufacturers became obsolete in 2003 alone, [2].  Newer and better technologies are being introduced frequently, rendering components obsolete.  Yet, low-volume products and systems such as ships, submarines and aircraft can be in use for decades.  Being proactive about obsolescence is critical to maintaining fully capable products, systems and satisfied customers.  Moreover, engineering designs that have anticipated and managed obsolescence are essential to minimizing the environmental impact from discontinued use of components, products, or systems.

Nearly 100% of the research support for addressing obsolescence comes from the Department of Defense (DoD) today.  The DoD also budgets significant funds within new and existing programs to manage obsolescence, e.g., the projected obsolescence budget for the F-22 is in excess of one billion dollars [3], and the current estimated cost to the DoD of managing and mitigating obsolescence is $10 billion dollars/year [4].  It should be carefully pointed out, however, that this is all reactive money spent to resolve the problems after they occur.  Even the Air Force Research Laboratories’ Electronic Part Obsolescence Initiative [5] and the DMSMS Knowledge Sharing Portal [6], which are considered at the leading edge of obsolescence research, are only focused on minimizing the costs of obsolescence mitigation, i.e., minimizing the cost of resolving the problem after it has occurred.

Ultimately much larger savings are possible if methods of forecasting obsolescence and performing obsolescence driven life cycle planning of products were developed and applied, [7], [8].  There exists a significant opportunity to begin to address this problem at a more fundamental and proactive level, however, the risks and longer payoff times associated with devoting research resources at this level are significant.  Sustainment problems are going to get worse (much worse), not better in the future and are going to become significant life cycle cost drivers in numerous product sectors.  The key is learning to design for the inevitability of obsolescence – we are focused on product sectors that, by definition, do not control critical portions of their technology supply chain and never will control them (e.g., the proposed work does not immediately target Dell who can influence Intel, rather, this work is targeted at Boeing who cannot and never will influence Intel).  The broader impacts of research in obsolescence go well beyond electronic parts.  Solutions could contribute to fundamental technology insertion decision making for long-life sustainment-dominated systems in general as well as shorter-life high technology products such as computer hardware and software.

[1]   Brundtland Commission, “Our Common Future,” World Commission on Environment and Development, 1987

[2]   Texas Instruments , “Obsolescence Policy Gains Period of Grace,” ElectronicsTalk, August 19, 2003,

[3]   Tepp, B., “Managing the Risk of Parts Obsolescence,” COTS Journal, p. 69, September/October 1999.

[4]   Payne, E., Keynote address at 2006 DoD DMSMS Conference, July 12, 2006.

[5]   Bumbalough, A., “USAF manufacturing technology’s initiative on electronics parts obsolescence management,” in Proceedings of 44th International SAMPE Symposium, pp. 2044-2051, May 1999.

[6]   DMSMS Knowledge Sharing Portal,

[7]   Sandborn, P., "Beyond Reactive Thinking – We Should be Developing Pro-Active Approaches to Obsolescence Management Too!," DMSMS Center of Excellence Newsletter, Vol. 2, Issue 3, pp. 4 and 9, July 2004.

[8]   Josias, C., Terpenny, J.P., and McLean, K., “Component Obsolescence Risk Assessment,” in Proceedings of the 2004 Industrial Engineering Research Conference (IERC), Houston, Texas, May 15 – 19, 2004, CD-Rom Session 32C Manufacturing  Optimization.


Project Publications and Presentations

2005 NSF-DMII Grantees Conference Poster - January 2005

P. Sandborn, F. Mauro, and R. Knox, "A Data Mining Based Approach to Electronic Part Obsolescence Forecasting," Proceedings of the DMSMS Conference, Nashville, TN, April 2005.

P. Singh and P. Sandborn, "Obsolescence Driven Design Refresh Planning for Sustainment-Dominated Systems," The Engineering Economist, Vol. 51, No. 2, pp. 115-139, April-June 2006.

P. Sandborn and J. Terpenny, "Forecasting and Proactive Management of Obsolescence for Sustainment-Dominated Systems," Proceedings of the DMII Grantees Conference, St. Louis, MO, July 2006.

2006 NSF-DMII Grantees Conference Poster - July 2006



The University of Maryland and Virginia Tech are jointly collaborating with industry partner PartMiner Information Services, to explore how existing academic and industrial resources can be combined to significantly impact proactive obsolescence forecasting and management.   

  University of Maryland
CALCE Electronic Products and Systems Center
Electronic Products and Systems Cost Modeling Laboratory (ESCML
  Peter Sandborn
(301) 405-3167

Virginia Polytechnic Institute & State University
Systems Modeling and Realizations Technologies Laboratory (SMART)
  Janis P. Terpenny
(540) 231-9538

  PartMiner Information Services (link)   Ron Knox



Electronic part obsolescence work within the Electronic Products and Systems Cost Modeling Laboratory at the University of Maryland.


Last Updated: July 21, 2006