Managing obsolescence

A STRATEGIC approach is needed to managing obsolescence in rolling stock, Stuart Broadbent, Obsolescence Director at Alstom and UK Chair of the International Institute of Obsolescence Management, told the Golden Spanners conference.

There are two types of obsolescence. Functional obsolescence means an item works in principle but something about is has changed – for example, in the case of Radio Electronic Token Block signalling where the radio frequency used in England and Wales was handed over to digital television. Technical obsolescence occurs where more technologically advanced components have become available, meaning the original supplier may no longer provide parts or support their use, although third parties may still offer them.

Electronics has changed the way we think about obsolescence. Today the electronics market is driven by consumer goods, and rail and similar industrial sectors have next to no influence in component lifecycles. The challenge arises with the different lifecycles involved – rolling stock has a 30- to 40-year lifecycle, whereas on-train equipment typically has a shorter lifecycle of 10-15 years and components as little as three to five years. Electronic component manufacturers are continually innovating to match consumer product lifecycles of two to three years, but for rail every new microprocessor means revalidation of the equipment or system.

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