Technical obsolescence refers to the state when a technology or product becomes outdated or irrelevant due to the emergence of newer, more advanced alternatives. In today's fast-paced world, technological advancements occur at an unprecedented rate, rendering once cutting-edge devices obsolete in a short span. The rapid evolution of technology often leads to shorter product lifecycles, creating a challenge for consumers and industries alike. Technical obsolescence impacts various sectors, from consumer electronics to industrial machinery, as companies and individuals must continually adapt to stay relevant. It highlights the need for continuous innovation, adaptability, and strategic planning to navigate the ever-changing landscape of technology and avoid being left behind.
Paul Hi, John. Thanks very much for your time today on this podcast. I'm really looking forward to this. We're going to be talking about technical obsolescence.
John Yeah, looking forward to it.
Paul You know, looking at your website, so you're working with defence, medical, aviation, rail space, you know, automotive as well. And so if you could tell us a little bit about Winslow Adaptics?
John We're involved in in a market that has traditionally been involved with solving obsolescence so as you mentioned the kind of sectors that we're involved in.
You know these are not kind of markets wherein your smartphone lives. These are markets which perhaps are not as Internet connected and they don't have so many risks in that term.
"But there is a complete infrastructure which is dedicated as we are to solving the problems along the maybe 10, 20, 30, even 50 year lifespans on these pieces of equipment. And that's what we do. We've kind of built a business around solving obsolescence problems. So we are always competing with design engineers to do a re-design of their own product."
But what happens when, let's say, in a situation where a chip is not available? So they think, well, we redesigned the board for the new chip. The problem that's going to occur there is that if they have stock of half-build or they have other components, you know, just in time, ready to be built. They’re going to have to scrap some of that equipment. So that's one thing, the scrappage.
And secondly, there’s this problem downstream with repair and overhaul that actually, suddenly, it’s a different board. So they've got two different versions of the board, this one won’t work with that one. And this component, obviously the original component that caused the redesign is not available. So the first version of boards can no longer be repaired.
So what we're doing, essentially by providing an adapted solution is giving this solution, we'll go into the past and into the future.
"So we go into the past and repair it or overhaul it. We go into the future and do the same thing when the time comes with the future modules. Without actually having this sort of further obsolescence problem made out of a redesign."
Paul So presume you have a customer, a potential customer could come to you and say, “John give me some advice. What's the best thing to do here? Should we do a redesign or can you breathe new life into this with what’s currently there today? And you could do the cost-benefit analysis for me.
John There were times when redesign is, I don’t want to say that that's a bad solution. There are times when redesign is the right thing to do.
I was having a conversation with somebody I know who was involved in obsolescence in the train, the railway industry. So we're talking rolling stock here and he was saying to me that they have contracts that maybe last… So this is a manufacturer has a maintenance contract that lasts for a period of time. And throughout that time, they might have an approximate period of time when they do a redesign. Like you’ve probably seen them in the trains. We have a lot of trains. So we have refurbished trains that come from somewhere else. So quite often, halfway through this lifespan of the rolling stock, there's a sort of redesign. So what we've seen recently is USB sockets creeping into trains. You know, Wi-Fi has appeared, digital communications have appeared the top telling you where the train is going.
"A lot of things that are done perhaps mid time through the life of the rolling stock so it's a good place to redesign. But at the same time, the other 15 years I decided that redesign. It's a constant obsolescence to be dealt with."
Paul Just give us a typical scenario, the customer then, somebody who might come to this problem might have and how you have helped them in the past.
John Sure. So, a typical thing for us would be we have an Adaptics program, which is something where a customer would come up to us and say that this chip that I've been using in this assembly, whatever it is or some electronic assembly, this chip no longer available. It could be that it's obsolete, so it's permanently not available. Yeah, and it could be that it's temporarily obsolete. So it's got a diminished supply maybe for 52 weeks like the semiconductor crisis that we had, which to many companies will be as good as obsolete.
So they will come to us and we would say, we would scour the market, we would find you know, honestly without being too complex, we would find a similar chip of some kind, maybe a different footprint, maybe a slightly different technology and we would design an adapter which would mean that that chip would actually work on the old board.
"we would find a similar chip of some kind, maybe a different footprint, maybe a slightly different technology and we would design an adapter which would mean that that chip would actually work on the old board."
John And the key thing here is, it would work on the old board, and the one previous to that, the board in the future. This is compatibility forwards and backwards, which really means that people are not are not wasting and not scrapping stock and we're keeping the repair and remanufacture process is going in the future as well.
Paul The main thing that is driving this for you is what has always been driving is that these products are becoming older and can be less efficient. Are all the drivers for the business changing as we go into the 21st century? It's all about ESG, isn’t it? And it's all about reducing impact on the environment?
John Yeah, I mean, we've seen a huge change here because what we've been doing really, what Winslow has been doing for the last nearly 50 years was always just the right thing to do for us, which was, you know, making components available for people to continue to improve the longevity of the product. What we kind of realised, the way the world has turned, is that actually, that's the only way that we should be working. We should be doing this. Whether we're making smartphones or making radar, you know, we should be making that kit last as long as possible.
Paul I think that circular economy really fits. You're fixing things, you're making them last longer, you're breathing new life into them. So obviously, then that means those resources don’t come out of the ground, energy doesn’t get used in making that stuff again.
John You know, where we find the biggest problem with this kind of service that we offer, that people are still putting their heads in sand, if you like. So they’re still thinking, it probably won’t happen to me. I’ll probably be okay and have it will probably be back on stock by the time I need it. Really what we're suggesting is people just face it, face the reality. Be prepared for that reality even if it doesn't happen because it's all easier to do it when there's no pressure. So yeah. Talk to us. Talk to people like us before you actually hit that problem. That's an important message, I think. Think about it first.
"You know, where we find the biggest problem with this kind of service that we offer, that people are still putting their heads in sand, if you like. So they’re still thinking, it probably won’t happen to me. I’ll probably be okay and have it will probably be back on stock by the time I need it. "
Paul So to what extent can your customers get a good understanding of when things are going to fail? Is that part of the specifications?
John I think certain elements of obsolescence are predictable. So you know you see a chip company, an integrated chip manufacturer is taken over by another one. What’s going to happen? There's going to be a rationalisation of the ranges of one or the other or both of those two companies. They wouldn’t have come together if there wasn't some kind of sort of cooperation potentially between the two, so you can expect some obsolescence there. You can expect technology changes along the way. You know, perhaps less so in critical environments than in smartphones, but it does. So you can see where the new technology comes along, maybe the old stuff is going to get obsolete when new manufacturing techniques come along, maybe others are going to go obsolete. We're seeing now at the moment in 2023 that the chip crisis where people is saying it’s coming to an end. People are saying that the actual chip sales are going to go down this year.
Now that in itself is another opportunity for obsolescence to creep in because you know what the chip manufacturer is going to be looking for if profitable lines. And the ones that sell 300 components, somebody making some weird old thing from the 1980s, they're not going to be there, you know? So you can see there's a predictability about the patterns that are occurring in the semiconductor industry. So be aware of those. There are even software programmes out there, there are many different software programmes out there that might uncompile information of last time buy dates and so on for semiconductors.
So there are ways, things people can do to mitigate that risk before the inevitable happens and they get stuck without chips. You know, what's interesting? I've done a spring to early summer period of exhibitions around the country. And I found that everybody who was involved in electronics in some way, whether it's procurement, design, you know or project managing have all been really excited, genuinely excited to speak to us about what we're doing because whether they have a need for the moment they support the principle. Like, they can see the reasons why we're doing what we do and why we might, at some point in time in the future, be able to help them.
Paul I understand that you’re also involved with the International Institute of Offsets Management, have I got that right?
John Now, what these are, these are professionals that are involved in industry, in very often, primes in the sectors that you mentioned. So these are the top tier people and they're all involved in in coming together, a networking together to sort of discuss the solutions and problems that they’ve had. But also there’s qualifications, there's a structure of members, meetings and we’re having a conference in October in 2023. So it’s this great opportunity to learn from others rather than making your own mistakes and the systems that they put into place, more particularly, as I was talking earlier on about monitoring upcoming obsolescence and dealing with it in a structured, predictable way. There’s a system whereby they can come along, if they're interested to come to a meeting, free of charge. The first meeting is free. There are lots of different ways to join, and obviously as I mentioned, the conference that's going on. So lots of things I can do. They can go and find a website which is iiom.org which is their website.
John Or hopefully, we can share or they can get in touch with me on LinkedIn or whatever and I can share details with them.
Paul I was thinking, you know, if somebody's watching this, how can they think to themselves, how can I give John a call because we haven't checked our end of life or end of support or grievance on our kit, how would we do that? Could they come to you and find out about that?
John Sure they can. You know, one of the great things about this obsolescence community that we work in, is everybody is keen to share information. We’re not in competition with each other. So there is good information sharing sort of situation. And if people come to me and they want to know something, I can’t help them with or I don't know necessarily know the answer, I will know somebody who does. I can.
"one of the great things about this obsolescence community that we work in, is everybody is keen to share information. We’re not in competition with each other."
John So I would encourage people, if they’re interested to find out more, to get in touch with me, and I'll find them the answer.
Paul Brilliant. Sound excellent. Just to get back to those original reasons - efficiency, increased risk, security risk, lack of competitiveness, increased maintenance costs and lack of compatibility with other systems means that this needs to be something that every company, every IT, every electronics company really needs to have on its radar in some shape or form. And is there a document that would have within the IT department that is likely the end of life document or the end of service document or the upgrade document?
John There is you know there is within this sort of training. From the IOM, the Institute and there are obsolescence management plans, sort of most engineering companies, there's some kind of quality standard that's been established with decades. You know, the obsolescence standard is something newer. And it's something that, perhaps, less companies have but it’s something they really should have. We're talking earlier a little bit about ESG. It links in to the ESG Systems, principles of the corporate in particular. So it's just about longevity and about doing the right thing by the world.
Paul So an obsolescence management plan could a be really key document that organisations could go look for. Say, OK, what kit we’ve got? How old is it? What we're going to do with it? What's the life expectancy? How can we make it last longer? And if they haven’t got one, maybe you have got to prepare it for them?
"an obsolescence management plan could a be really key document that organisations could go look for."
John Yeah, I think so. It's a great, clear opportunity at the moment because lots of people are looking for jobs following the great reset, if you like, if that's the thing. They're looking for jobs that support more sustainability and just general interest in the welfare of the world and obsolescence is a great place for that. You know, there's an opportunity for them to grow. It's a growing market. It's a great opportunity for new people to come into the industry and really take it on and bring us some enthusiasm. I think that would be great.
Paul Is it an area of industry, of expertise that is getting missed by a good number of companies?
John I think it is. I think you know obviously lots of people have had a difficult time like it's not been an easy place to be in electronics or in manufacturing for that matter over the last three years. And I think that that puts everybody in a position where they’re on the back foot. Maybe staffing has been reduced. Maybe they’re not in the best position to be planning upfront. So I think there is a possibility that there's more people or more companies in that situation than you would expect.
Paul Right. They could use this service. Brilliant. So just give us your contact details then please, John. Your website address or e-mail
John OK so yeah, website is winslowadaptics.com W-I-N-S-L-O-W adaptics.com
Paul Brilliant. And if anyone wants to contact you directly?
John They can have my e-mail address if they want. firstname.lastname@example.org.
Paul That’s been really insightful, really helpful to speak with you, John, about this. To learn more about it. And just want to thank you again for your time in this podcast.
John Thank you very much, Paul. See you later.