You’ve finally got your supply chain under some semblance of control and one of your suppliers alerts you that it is discontinuing a part that is critical to your product. In some cases, this means your supplier has a newer, better part; in other cases, it means (in your supplier’s eyes) that part has reached the end of its useful life.
End-of-life (EOL) is becoming an increasing problem in industries that are responding to various environmental mandates. In electronics, many manufacturers have had to phase lead out of their devices because lead is one of the materials banned under the European Union’s Restriction on Hazardous Substances (RoHS). Some component makers have continued to produce both leaded and unleaded version of their devices; others have transferred exclusively to lead-free and have declared their leaded parts as EOL.
For replacement purposes, EOL parts may be hard to get. The lifespan of many products in automotive and industrial electronics may be as long as 30 years. An unleaded replacement part may be incompatible with the leaded solders used 30 years ago. In the electronics industry, leaded EOL parts are still available in the market through three primary sources: authorized distributors, the open market, and manufacturers that will produce EOL parts to order.
If you end up sourcing through the open market:
• Require a paper or electronic trail identifying the source of the material you’re buying
• If this is unavailable, contact the original manufacturer and ask for a photo of the part or label for comparison purposes
• Visually inspect, functionally test or deconstruct a sample of the part to make sure it’s undamaged and authentic. Make your purchase contingent upon the outcome