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4, DECEMBER 2000 707

Electronic Part Life Cycle Concepts and Obsolescence

Rajeev Solomon, Peter A. Sandborn, Member, IEEE, and Michael G. Pecht, Fellow, IEEE

Abstract—Obsolescence of electronic parts is a major contrib- technologies necessary to produce it are no longer available. The
utor to the life cycle cost of long-field life systems such as avionics. A public’s demand for products with increased warranties only
methodology to forecast life cycles of electronic parts is presented, makes the obsolescence problem worse. Therefore, unless the
in which both years to obsolescence and life cycle stages are pre-
dicted. The methodology embeds both market and technology fac- system being designed has a short life (manufacturing and field),
tors based on the dynamic assessment of sales data. The predictions or the product is the driving force behind the part’s market (e.g.,
enabled from the models developed in this paper allow engineers personnel computers driving the microprocessor market), there
to effectively manage the introduction and on- going use of long is a high likelihood of a life cycle mismatch between the parts
field-life products based on the projected life cycle of the parts in- and the product.
corporated into the products. Application of the methodology to
integrated circuits is discussed and obsolescence predictions for dy- The life cycle mismatch problem requires that during design,
namic random access memories (DRAMs) are demonstrated. The engineers be cognizant of which parts will be available and
goal is to significantly reduce design iterations, inventory expenses, which parts may be obsolete during a product’s manufacturing
sustainment costs, and overall life cycle product costs. run. This problem is prevalent in many avionics and military
Index Terms—Life cycle stages, part life cycle, parts obsoles- systems, where systems may encounter obsolescence problems
cence. before being fielded and often experience obsolescence prob-
lems during field life [2]. These problems are exacerbated by
manufacturing that may take place over long periods of time,
the high cost of system qualification or certification that make

T HE ELECTRONICS industry is one of the most dynamic

sectors of the world economy. In the United States, this in-
dustry has grown at a rate three times that of the overall economy
design refreshes using newer parts an extremely expensive un-
dertaking. However, obsolescence problems are not the sole do-
main of avionics and military systems. Consumer products, such
in the last ten years. The semiconductor industry is now number as pagers, are divided into two groups—1) cutting edge (latest
one in value-added to the U.S. economy, and the computer and and greatest technology), and 2) workhorse, minimal feature set
consumer industry segments dwarf most other market segments. products (such as the pagers used to tell restaurant patrons that
For example, Intel’s market capitalization alone was higher than their table is ready). While the first set is unlikely to ever en-
the three largest U.S. automakers combined [1]. counter obsolescence problems, the second set often does. Be-
The rapid growth of the electronics industry has spurred dra- cause OEMs require long lifetimes out of workhorse products,
matic changes in the electronic parts, which comprise the prod- critical parts often become obsolete before the last product is
ucts and systems that the public buys. Increases in speed, re- manufactured.
ductions in feature size and supply voltage, and changes in in- If a product requires a long application life, then an open
terconnection and packaging technologies are becoming events architecture, or a parts obsolescence management strategy may
that occur nearly monthly. Consequently, many of the electronic be required. Many obsolescence mitigation approaches have
parts that compose a product have a life cycle that is signifi- been proposed and are being used. These approaches include
cantly shorter than the life cycle of the product. A part becomes [3], lifetime or last time buys (buying and storing enough
obsolete when it is no longer manufactured, either because de- parts to meet the system’s forecasted lifetime requirements
mand has dropped to low enough levels that it is not practical for or requirements until a redesign is possible), part substitution
manufacturers to continue to make it, or because the materials or (using a different part with identical or similar form fit and
function), and redesign (upgrading the system to make use
of newer parts). Several other mitigation approaches are also
Manuscript received April 5, 2000; revised September 19, 2000. This paper practical in some situations: aftermarket sources (third parties
was recommended for publication by Associate Editor D. Donahoe upon that continue to provide the part after it’s manufacturer has
evaluation of the reviewers’ content. This work was supported in part by the
Physics of Failure Approach to Sustainable Electronic Systems (PASES) Con- obsoleted it), emulation (using parts with identical form fit and
tract from the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory and Wright-Patterson AFB, function that are fabricated using newer technologies), reclaim
the ManTech Sustainment Initiative, Manufacturing for Sustainment under (using parts salvaged from other products), and uprating. Up-
Contract F33615-99-2-5503, and Computer Aided Life Cycle Engineering
(CALCE) Center, University of Maryland. rating is the process of using parts outside of their manufacturer
R. Solomon is with Nortel Networks, Research Triangle Park, NC 27709 specified environmental range (usually at higher temperatures
USA. than rated by the manufacturer) [4]. Uprating is becoming a
P. A. Sandborn and M. G. Pecht are with the CALCE Electronic Products and
Systems Center, University of Maryland, College Park, MD 20742 USA. common mitigation approach because the obsolete part is often
Publisher Item Identifier S 1521-3331(00)10596-3. the “MIL-SPEC” part while the commercial version of the
1521–3331/00$10.00 © 2000 IEEE

Fig. 1. Definitions for a standardized life cycle curve for a device/technology group.  and  represent curve fitting parameters discussed in Section III.

part continues to exist. In some cases, the best obsolescence discussion summarizes the characteristics of the stages of the
mitigation approach for OEMs who need a broader environ- part life cycle.
mental range part (often automotive, avionics, and military) is
to “uprate” the commercial version of the part. A. Introduction Stage
Earlier works have concentrated on understanding the The introduction stage in the part life cycle is usually char-
product life cycle in terms of factors including product life acterized by high production costs driven by recently incurred
cycle stages, product life, extension of product life, and product design costs and low yield, frequent modifications, low or un-
marketing issues [5]. The factor of obsolescence is not dwelt predictable production volumes, and lack of specialized produc-
upon, but in the case of products, obsolescence may not be tion equipment. Marketing costs, at this stage, may also be high.
an issue depending on what the definition of a product is. For Early adopter customers who buy a part in its introductory stage
example, if a company’s product is a sub-assembly, then ob- tend to value performance over price.
solescence of that product, which may be due to obsolescence
of a critical part, may affect the end-product life. Between
B. Growth Stage
part obsolescence and product obsolescence, part obsolescence
needs more critical attention as the root of obsolescence at any The growth stage is characterized by the part’s market accep-
product level, is the obsolescence of a part. tance. Increased sales during this stage may justify the develop-
This paper reviews life cycle stages and then presents a ment and use of specialized equipment for production, which in
methodology for forecasting the years to obsolescence for elec- turn improves economies of scale of production. Mass produc-
tronic parts. The prediction of obsolescence enables engineers tion, mass distribution, and mass marketing often bring about
to more effectively manage the introduction and on-going use price reductions. This stage often consists of the largest number
of long field-life products based on the projected life cycle of of competitors, as opportunity-seeking firms are attracted by the
the parts. The obsolescence prediction methodology is a critical part’s profit potential and, strategic acquisitions and mergers
element within risk-informed parts selection and management have not yet taken place.
processes [6].
C. Maturity Stage
II. LIFE CYCLE STAGES The maturity stage of the part life cycle is characterized by
Most electronic parts pass through several life cycle stages high-volume sales. Competitors with lower cost of production
corresponding to changes in part sales. Fig. 1 is a representative may enter the market, or domestic competitors may shift pro-
life cycle curve of units shipped per time, which depicts the six duction facilities to less expensive locations to enable them to
common life cycle part stages: introduction, growth, maturity lower manufacturing costs. The 16 M DRAM is an example of
(saturation), decline, and phase-out [7].1 We include an addi- a mature part.
tional category called Obsolescence. Table I and the proceeding
D. Decline Stage
The decline stage is characterized by decreasing demand and
additional phases have been proposed [8], including: introduction
pending (prior to introduction), and splitting the obsolescence stage into last generally decreasing profit margin. Toward the end of the de-
shipment and discontinued or purged. cline stage, only a few specialized manufacturers remain in the


Fig. 2. Life cycle forecasting methodology.

market. TTL logic ICs are examples of parts that have been sues a discontinuance notice to customers, provides a last-time
available very late in this stage due to continued sales in the buy date, and suggests alternative parts or aftermarket manufac-
black and white television market. turers. As an example, on September 2, 1999 Texas Instruments
(TI), Standard Linear and Logic Group announced the discon-
E. Phase-out Stage tinuance of ULN2803A, a Darlington Transistor Array. TI stated
that the product would be discontinued on September 2, 2000
Phase-out occurs when the manufacturer sets a date when [10] with the last (and noncancelable) order date being March
production of the part will stop. Generally, the manufacturer is- 2, 2000.


F. Discontinuance and Obsolescence A false start typically suggests that a part starts out with a
strong period of growth only to stall because of one or more of
Discontinuance occurs when the manufacturer stops produc-
the following factors:
tion of the part. The part may still be available in the market if
the production line or part stocks were bought by an aftermarket 1) introduction of a superior competing part;
source. 2) improvement of a competing part;
A part is obsolete when the technology that defines the 3) identification of a problem associated with the part;
part is no longer implemented. Thus, obsolescence occurs 4) failure to reach the critical mass that allows economies of
at a technology level, while discontinuance occurs at a part scale to be realized;
number or manufacturer specific level. Diode transistor logic 5) lack of a unique and compelling application for the part.
(DTL) and resistor transistor logic (RTL) parts are examples of Niche parts generally have some unique applications and thus
obsoleted part technologies. National Semiconductor’s military hold at a constant but relatively low sales level. An example is
Quad SPST JFET Analog Switch in a ceramic DIP package GaAs ICs, which found a niche market in telecommunications,
is a discontinued part. The last time buy date for this part military, and space applications.
was December 7, 1999 [11]. A nonmilitary part of the same Decline can often be delayed or reversed by revitalizing the
functionality and technology remains available from National original part. Defining new market segments, new applications,
Semiconductor. In this case, the military part is discontinued, or creating a new image for the part, and thereby increasing the
but the technology is not obsolete. demand can cause revitalization.

G. Special Cases of the Life Cycle Curve III. LIFE CYCLE FORECASTING METHODOLOGY
Not all parts conform to the six life cycle stages presented in The traditional method of life cycle forecasting is the “score-
Fig. 1. Some parts undergo a false start and die out, or may be card” approach, in which the life cycle stage of the part is deter-
associated with a niche market. Some parts may also be revi- mined from an array of technological attributes. Each attribute is
talized after the decline stage. Other possibilities can also arise given a life cycle code ranging from one through six, and a cor-
due to various economic, social, and environmental conditions. responding weight. The overall stage for the part is determined


by computing a simple weighted average of the life cycle codes on unquantifiable, technological attributes such as technology
for the attributes. The disadvantages of this approach are that complexity and soft market attributes such as usage. This ap-
it does not capture market trends accurately, because it relies proach also makes the erroneous assumption that all ICs follow

Fig. 3. Life cycle curve of a 16 M DRAM. The dashed line marks the current date assumed for this example analysis. Data obtained from Cahner’s In-Stat Group

the same life cycle curve,2 makes the erroneous assumption that Step 2: Identify Part Primary and Secondary Attributes: A
all life cycle stages are of the same length, and does not give a primary attribute is a characteristic that defines a device/tech-
measure of confidence in the forecasting. nology group. For example, the primary attribute for a memory
Another approach includes an “Availability Factor” method, device is memory density. A secondary attribute is a charac-
which projects a “safe” usage window for a part. This approach teristic of the device/technology group that can modify the
uses market and technology factors to predict the obsolescence range for years to obsolescence and/or life cycle stage of a
of devices with similar technology and market characteristics. device/technology group. For example, the secondary attributes
This approach does not use the “life cycle curve” for the device, for a memory device include package style and supply voltage.
and cannot be used to determine the life cycle stage of the part. Table II presents listings of primary and secondary attributes
This paper describes a fundamentally different approach to for major device classes. The primary and secondary attributes
predicting life cycle stage and years to obsolescence based on displayed in Table II are tracked by market research organiza-
modeling the life cycle curve for both devices and technology tions, to help semiconductor manufacturers decide when to enter
attributes. Fig. 2 outlines the methodology for life cycle fore- or leave a particular market.
casting. Step 3: Determine Number of Sources: Determine the
Step 1: Identify Device/Technology Group: A device/tech- number of sources for the device. If no sources can be found,
nology group is a family of devices that share common tech- the device is either already obsolete or has not yet been
nological and functional characteristics, but may be produced manufactured.
by different manufacturers. For example, a device/technology Step 4: Obtain Sales Data of Primary Attribute of De-
group is the set of all 16 M, 5 V, SOP, EDO (technology charac- vice/Technology Group: Sales data is a direct indicator of the
teristics) DRAMs (device functional characteristic) regardless life cycle of the device/technology group. The sales data may
of its manufacturer (Samsung, Micron, or Hyundai). be in the form of number of units shipped, or if unit-sales
data is not available, sales in market dollars or percentage
market share may be used, if the total market does not increase
2For example, consider the vastly different life cycle curves of the 741 op-amp appreciably over time. The sales data is available from market
and a DRAM. If only a life cycle stage is given as a prediction, an engineer who research organizations.
is selecting a part may be misled by a DRAM in a “mature” stage that has only Step 5: Construct Life Cycle Profile and Determine Life Cycle
two years until end of life, compared to a mature op-amp that has ten years
until end of life. Hence knowledge of the complete life cycle is required when Profile Parameters: Life cycle curves depict the number of
selecting a part. units shipped, although sales of a device/technology group

Fig. 4. Mean versus DRAM memory size; Curve fit is based on the trend equation  = 1991:8M where  is the year of peak sales and M is the
corresponding memory size. Data obtained from Cahner’s In-Stat Group [12].

Fig. 5. Standard deviation versus DRAM size; Curve fit is based on the trend equation  = 3 :1 M where  is the standard deviation and M is the
corresponding memory size. Data obtained from Cahner’s In-Stat Group [12].

may be used if necessary. Each life cycle phase is defined the present date, Fig. 1. This ordered pair gives the number
in terms of its distance from the mean measured in of years from the present to the beginning and end of the
standard deviations when the life cycle curve is fit with window of obsolescence.
a Gaussian form. The zone of obsolescence is defined as The life cycle profile is constructed by fitting the sales data
the ordered pair: , where is of the primary attribute, a characteristic that is unique to, or

Fig. 6. Zone of obsolescence and life cycles for a 16 M DRAM. Data obtained from Cahner’s In-Stat Group [12].


defines, the device/technology group, to a life cycle forecasting TABLE IV

distribution. Fig. 3 shows the life cycle curve of a 16 M DRAM. CASE STUDY: MODIFIED ZONE OF OBSOLESCENCE OF A 16 M,
Gaussian distributions have been used by the Electronic In-
dustries Association (EIA) as their standardized product life
cycle (PLC) curve, and hence are well known and familiar to
equipment suppliers [7]. The equation of the life cycle curve is


where gives values for the sales revenue of the device/tech-

nology group (or number of units shipped, or the percentage
market demand), is the year, and is defined by the mean
, which denotes the point in time of the sales-peak of the curve
and the standard deviation . The factor is the sales peak, the
number of units shipped, or the percentage demand.

Fig. 7. Life cycle profile of a 16 M DRAM. The decrease in decline period from 2.7 to 1.3 years due to effect of secondary attributes. Data obtained from Cahner’s
In-Stat Group [12].

Trend equations are relationships of life cycle profile param- attributes are denoted by , with and denoting the mean
eters ( and for Gaussian distributions) with the primary at- and standard deviation of the secondary attribute. The ordered
tribute. Fig. 4 shows a sample trend curve for versus DRAM pair that is the smallest in numeric value among
memory size. If the year of peak sales and the year of intro- the remaining ordered pairs obtained from the condi-
duction are known, the time interval between them is defined to tions given in Table III is the modified zone of obsolescence.
be , the standard deviation of a Gaussian distribution. Hence, Table IV depicts the application of the algorithm presented in
can be computed and used as a first order estimate for fore- Table III to evaluate the zone of obsolescence (the span of time
casting. Fig. 5 shows a sample trend curve for versus DRAM during which the part is vulnerable to obsolescence) of a 16 M,
memory size trend. EDO, 5 V, SOP DRAM. Fig. 7 shows the shift in the life cycle
Step 6: Determine the Zone of Obsolescence from the Life profile of the 16 M DRAM resulting from the two secondary
Cycle Profile of the Primary Attribute: The zone of obsoles- attributes.
cence refers to a period of time in which the device/technology
group has high probability of being obsoleted. The zone of obso-
lescence is given by the ordered pair: IV. DISCUSSION
where is the present date. For the 16 M DRAM shown in Fig. 6,
the zone of obsolescence is 2.7 to 4.3 years. There are some market factors that are manufacturer and ap-
Life cycle stages are determined by dividing the life cycle plication-specific, which should be considered as an additional
curve for the primary attribute into introduction risk assessment associated with using a part. Any end-applica-
, growth , maturity , decline tion that experiences growth encourages demand for the parts
, and phase out , Fig. 1. Fig. 6 that go into its manufacture, which may result in a component
depicts the life cycle stage and years to obsolescence of a 16 M market risk. For example, a strong growth in the demand for
DRAM. cellular phones has led to strong growth in the flash memory
Step 7: Modify the Zone of Obsolescence based on Secondary and EEPROM markets. The manufacturers having significant
Attribute(s): The life cycle profile of the device/technology market share and profitability have a reduced probability of
group may require modification by secondary attributes. If the leaving the market. For example, it is highly improbable that
years to obsolescence for any of the secondary attributes fall Intel will quit the microprocessor market, as it controls over
within the life span ( years) of the main attribute, the years 80% market share, and microprocessors represent Intel’s core
to obsolescence for the generic device will be modified. The competency. The number of sources device/technology group
algorithm is summarized in Table III, where the secondary may be a risk factor especially when looking at alternatives.

1) Many sources do not necessarily infer health (for ex- cence issue. Aftermarket sources continue to manufacture the
ample: the 256 K 5 V, DIP asynchronous SRAM is cur- device long after the original manufacturers have obsoleted the
rently manufactured by 9 manufacturers; however the de- actual device/technology groups. Equipment suppliers often
vice/technology group is being obsoleted by manufac- build “special” relationships with aftermarket sources, sunset
turers who are replacing the device with SRAMs of the distributors, and GEM3 sources (such as Sarnoff) to ensure
same functionality, but in newer package styles and lower continued availability.
2) Only a few sources may suggest that the manufacturers REFERENCES
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Engineers must be aware of the part life cycles, otherwise, an
engineer can end up with a product, whose parts are not avail- Rajeev Solomon received the B.S. degree in power engineering from Jadarpur
University, India, the M.S. degree in mechanical engineering from Villanova
able, which cannot perform as intended, cannot be assembled, University, Villanova, PA, and the Ph.D. degree in mechanical engineering from
and cannot be maintained without high life cycle costs. While the University of Maryland, College Park.
technological advances continue to fuel product development, He is a Dependability Engineer with Nortel Networks, Research Triangle
Park, NC. Before joining Nortel he was a Research Assistant at the CALCE
engineering decisions regarding when and how a new part will Electronic Products and Systems Center, University of Maryland. While at
be used, and the associated risks traded-off with a new part and CALCE, his work mainly focused on life cycle mismatch assessment and
technology, differentiates the winning from the losing products. obsolescence management of electronic components.
The life cycle forecasting model presented in this paper:
1) captures market trends by identifying a set of quantifiable
market and technological attributes (such as memory den- Peter A. Sandborn (M’87) received the B.S. degree in engineering physics
sity, device supply voltage, memory device type, package from the University of Colorado, Boulder, in 1982, and the M.S. degree in elec-
trical science and Ph.D. degree in electrical engineering, both from the Univer-
style) that govern the growth and demise of device/tech- sity of Michigan, Ann Arbor, in 1983 and 1987, respectively.
nology groups; He is an Associate Professor and the Research Director of the CALCE Elec-
2) computes both years to obsolescence and life cycle stage, tronic Products and Systems Center (EPSC), University of Maryland, College
Park, where his interests include technology tradeoff analysis for electronic
based on statistical analysis of sales data for the market packaging, system life cycle economics, electronic part selection and manage-
and technology attributes for the device/technology ment, and design tool development. Prior to joining the University of Maryland,
group; he was a founder and Chief Technical Officer of Savantage, Austin, TX, and a
Senior Member of Technical Staff at the Microelectronics and Computer Tech-
3) computes an overall risk factor associated with a spe- nology Corporation, Austin. He is the author of over 70 technical publications
cific part number by implementing market factors, such and one book on multichip module design.
as component risk, manufacturer market share, and part Dr. Sandborn is an Associate Editor of the IEEE TRANSACTIONS ON
life cycle information.
3GEM is the acronym for Generalized Emulation of Microcircuits. Emulation
The impact of the aftermarket is not accounted for in
is an obsolescence mitigation strategy, where the unavailable electronic parts are
the life cycle curve approach. However, this is more of a remanufactured using information gathered from sources such as data sheets,
“sourcing/availability” issue than a device/technology obsoles- and test vectors.

Michael G. Pecht (F’92) received the B.S. degree in acoustics, the M.S. degree
in electrical engineering, and the M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in engineering me-
chanics, all from the University of Wisconsin, Madison.
He is the Director of the CALCE Electronic Products and Systems Center,
University of Maryland, College Park, and a Full Professor with a three-way
joint appointment in mechanical engineering, engineering research, and sys-
tems research. He has written 11 books on electronics products development.
He is Chief Editor of Microelectronics Reliability. He serves as a consultant for
various companies, providing expertise in strategic planning, test, and risk as-
sessment of electronic products and systems. He is on the Advisory Board of
the Journal of Electronics Manufacturing.
Dr. Pecht is an ASME Fellow and a Westinghouse Fellow. He served as Chief
Editor of the IEEE TRANSACTIONS ON RELIABILITY for eight years and on the
Advisory Board of IEEE Spectrum. He is an Associate Editor for the IEEE
on the Board of Advisors for various companies and consults for the U.S. gov-
ernment, providing expertise in strategic planning in the area of electronics prod-
ucts development and marketing.