Being proactive 04 July 2019

There are many factors that could deem industrial equipment obsolete. If this happens, companies could face critical failure. OE explores whether a proactive approach to obsolescence might be the answer

Half of UK industry has no plan in place for its obsolete equipment and risks critical failure on a daily basis. That is according to a report compiled by Eriks UK & Ireland in September 2018, following research with the Institution of Engineering and Technology.

The survey ( found that 67% of engineers described more than half of their equipment as being 10+ years old; 38% of engineers said serious downtime incidents of more than one to two days occur due to ageing equipment ‘a few times every year’; and 62% have never undertaken an obsolescence audit.

Furthermore, the report warns that 54% of industry does not coordinate factory store inventory based on the criticality of that equipment, and 68% do not know delivery times for spares of critical or obsolete equipment.

“This report is not designed to highlight the fact that UK industry is using ageing equipment,” says Tom Boswell, reliability engineering manager at Eriks UK & Ireland. “Older equipment is often extremely well-built and continues to perform well in the field, but it does require special planning; specifically the supply of spares and coordination with the factory store. We hope this report will encourage those working in factories and industrial sites to take a more proactive approach to obsolescence and the issues of maintaining an ageing asset base.”


Arolite delivers a combination of services to all areas of supply and support, and throughout the lifecycle of all types of commercial catering equipment. Operations director David Khanna says that, with new regulations, technologies and changes regularly being introduced across all industries at an increasing pace, it can be difficult to monitor and understand obsolescence risk, and to translate those risks into a meaningful plan of action to mitigate any implications and protect assets.

To do this, “you need the most effective management process possible”, he says, because, when effective, this process can safeguard against potentially costly delays in responding to obsolescence risk factors. Firstly, it is important to gather a detailed database of all units on the estate, so that operators and managers can reference and analyse the implications of any internal or external changes that may affect the equipment employed.

“There could be many factors that may deem equipment obsolete, including software changes, discontinued support from manufacturers, parts availability, and regulation changes, that make the equipment unserviceable,” says Khanna. “Thousands of assets could become instantly at risk, and you need an easily accessible way to identify them, quickly.”

It is also crucial to monitor and track the environment being operated in: “Your database needs to be accompanied by relevant industry data and expert knowledge on past, present and potential future conditions to support you with advice on the best steps to take,” he explains. “Keep an eye out on the macro-economic factors affecting your industry. Techniques such as the PESTLE (political, economic, social, technology, legal and environmental) analysis framework can assist in analysing factors that could have a profound effect on your obsolescence risk.

“Technological obsolescence, for example, happens at such a fast rate that it can be hard to keep up, but by combining the data, expertise and analysis tools outlined you can quickly realise and be ahead of potential new technologies that are available to you, and those which are becoming obsolete.”

Once the above has been completed, a risk assessment register should be produced. This will help operators and managers in identifying the type and severity of risk, likelihood of it occurring, and the actions that can and should be taken to mitigate organisational risk. This should also be reviewed periodically. “This supports the resource and procurement strategy, by identifying the assets with the highest risk of obsolescence according to the risk register and other relevant data sources,” adds Khanna. “You can then prioritise asset replacement and technological innovation (where appropriate) by acting on those that have the highest risk of obsolescence, allowing strategic investment and maintenance of competitive edge in your marketplace.”


Jonathan Wilkins, marketing director at EU Automation, and author of the Book of Obsolescence Management, echoes Khanna. He says that through extensive planning and risk analysis, obsolescence management can keep industrial systems running efficiently and in line with national or international standards.

“Dealing with obsolescence is all about meticulous planning,” says Wilkins. “Obsolescence doesn’t have to be a logistical nightmare and can be used to your advantage. Perhaps the greatest advantage of taking a proactive approach to obsolescence management is the potential for cost saving. Supplementing a system with a like-for-like replacement, instead of commissioning an upgrade, not only saves on maintenance costs, but also minimises downtime.

“It is impossible to stop things becoming obsolete, but it is possible to mitigate the risks to production when they do. The basis of obsolescence management relies on lifecycle forecasting and other analysis to identify the impact of obsolescence to a system through all stages of the product’s lifecycle. Companies that invest in obsolescence management tend to find different methods that suit them.”

Such methods, he says, can include using an obsolescence manager or third-party specialist, purchasing a computerised maintenance management system or asset management system, or simply using spreadsheets to keep records of product lifecycles. “By taking the time to assess systems and predict what components may need replacing, you can stay ahead of the game and have a solution ready at all times. This will reduce downtime, save money and uphold your company’s reputation,” Wilkins adds.


Condition monitoring technology can also play a role in helping companies overcome the risk of critical failure presented by aging assets. Indeed, Lee McFarlane, technical director for asset management at AVT Reliability, argues that a “consistent and thorough” condition-based monitoring (CBM) programme “is the most effective way of maximising the lifespan of equipment”.

“Step changes in condition monitoring technology mean that even the smallest operator can now unlock the benefits of Industry 4.0 to identify early indicators of potential failure, such as vibration fatigue, excess heat, bearing failure and inadequate lubrication,” he says. “They can then take pre-emptive action to prevent some of the most common root causes of unscheduled downtime that make ageing assets such a costly burden to companies.”

Advanced CBM technology can offer a host of services, including vibration data and oil analysis, as well as wireless data collection, making it safe and easy to collect even from large, moving or hard to access assets. Multiple web connectivity options and access to diverse data in one place, on one screen, means that continuous monitoring, asset management, failure detection and troubleshooting can become one seamless operation, he adds.

One example is web-hosted condition monitoring system, Machine Sentry, which features an automatic diagnostic assistant (ADA). This algorithm can automatically detect and report on common conditions, from misalignment to soft foot. It can also analyse the data instantly and suggest what action maintenance engineers should take to confirm precisely what the problem is, and remedy it.

“The expense of replacing aging and inefficient assets is simply not within the reach of many companies,” adds McFarlane. “But the scalability and long-term cost-efficiency of digital CBM technology presents a genuine opportunity to optimise efficiency and maximise value.”

These are just some of the processes, plans and technologies that maintenance personnel and managers can put in place to mitigate obsolescence. It will never go away but taking a proactive approach can help in the long run, as Arolite’s Khanna concludes: “Obsolescence is inevitable; fail to plan strategically for it and you risk encountering unwelcome and unforeseen expenses down the road that may put your business at undue risk.”

CASE STUDY: Overcoming obsolescence in industrial automation
A customer of Alpha Automation and Controls decided to upgrade its industrial automation system to eliminate hardware and software obsolescence in 2018. Alpha is a systems integrator specialising in the provision of end-to-end industrial automation solutions to organisations in the pharmaceutical, food and beverage and manufacturing industries.

The company approached Alpha and asked it to recommend a new industrial automation system that would minimise the risk of operational downtime, increase cyber security, deliver high availability, and offer comprehensive vendor system support. The customer also needed its new system to offer full scalability, enabling it to increase production and expand operations.

The current system was built around Wonderware System Platform 2012, a real-time operations control platform, and Microsoft Server 2008, but both were now in the mature period of their lifecycles. In addition to this, the server hardware – which consisted of 14 thick client computers – had been in operation for five years and was approaching the end of its natural life.

Alpha recommended upgrading to Wonderware System Platform 2017, an all-new operating system for industrial applications that provides configuration, deployment, security and data connectivity, allowing users to build a model of their physical equipment and industrial systems and make the design and maintenance of these systems more efficient and flexible.

Before beginning the upgrade, Alpha set up a full simulation of the customer’s existing plant, where it was able to carry out the upgrade virtually, before testing. Once proven to work successfully, back-ups of all the customer’s applications were carried out to keep them protected in the event of any disruption and the upgrade carried out.

Alpha installed Dell VRTX servers and changed all the customer’s PCs from thick clients to thin clients – lightweight terminals with no operating systems and moving parts that are optimised for establishing remote application connections to centralised remote desktop servers. It then deployed the latest anti-virus software and recommended installing Wonderware Historian 2017, a real-time database for historical information that enables personnel to quickly generate the information they need to make important decisions as soon as a problem is identified, or an opportunity uncovered.

Alpha ops director William Fitzgerald says: “Since upgrading, our customer has already enjoyed several benefits, including better system reliability, increased levels of technical support from both Alpha and Wonderware, and increased security patching levels across all its equipment.” The entire changeover is reported to have taken just four hours.

Political factors determine the extent to which government and government policy may impact on an organisation or industry. This may include political policy, trade, and taxation policies.

Economic factors impact on the economy, which directly impacts on the organisation and its profitability. Factors can include raw material costs, interest rates, and employment/unemployment rates.

Social factors focus on the social environment and identify emerging trends. Factors are said to include changing demographics and education levels.

Technological factors consider the rate of technological innovation and development that could affect a market or industry. These factors could include changes in digital technology, automation, and R&D.

Legal factors should also be understood by a company. It must also be aware of any change in legislation and the impact this may have on business operations. Factors include employment legislation and health and safety. (Political factors cross over with legal factors, but political factors are led by government policy, whereas legal factors must be complied with).

Environmental factors relate to the influence of the surrounding environment and the impact of ecological aspects. Factors may include carbon footprint, waste disposal and sustainability.

Adam Offord

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