Life cycle management: The COTS perspective

Improve application stability and predictability with a comprehensive life cycle management plan implemented at the beginning of product development.

1Application stability and predictability are essential for deployed COTS-based mission-critical military systems, which tend to have an in-service life long far longer than the typical commercial production period of some of the system's key components. To ensure that a system design can be supported for the full duration of the long life cycles demanded by these programs, system designers need to be familiar with the their life cycle management plan options, both from their COTS vendor partners and services they can develop themselves internally. Key life cycle management services include ongoing review of product configuration changes and component obsolescence, a quarterly Bill of Materials (BOM) health check, and a longevity of repair plan. A closer examination of the volume production phase, the post-production phase, and component storage and handling is vital when deciding which road to obsolescence management best meets a company's life cycle management needs.

A comprehensive strategy is the key to safeguarding programs and mitigating the challenges associated with COTS technology deployed in long-term mission-critical systems. In addition to reducing risk, life cycle management services cut costs by ensuring timely purchase and banking of End-Of-Life () components and greatly reducing the logistical burden. Without these services, the system designer must maintain ongoing visibility at a piece/part level with multiple OEMs, some of whom might not have had a process for providing proprietary data about component life cycles. Today, leading suppliers enable many of these services to be accessed via a dedicated website that provides 24/7 delivery of life cycle management information such as product health reports and baseline configuration data packages. Even better, Web-based life cycle management services enable system designers to easily and quickly access, approve, or reject engineering change proposals via the Internet.

The wide range of life cycle services to consider includes updates and reporting on product configuration changes and component issues. System designers also need control over product configuration changes and visibility into component obsolescence issues. Variant creation enables assembly and release of a unique production build package. Working with their vendors, system designers can develop plans to ensure longevity of supply that extends the product build capability beyond the standard production period. Similarly, a longevity of repair plan extends the product repair capability beyond the standard repair period. Component storage and handling provides the option of storing selected components at the COTS vendor’s facility for future builds or repairs.

Configuration changes and component obsolescence issues during a product’s volume production phase need to be well understood. Program authorities must be able to determine the timing of a lock-down on a specific configuration or know when to migrate to a newer one. Having the ability to approve or reject a COTS vendor’s engineering change proposals could be critical to meet specific program requirements and to avoid costly requalification activities. Life cycle management services that are of great value during the volume production phase include visibility service and control service. And the post-production phase and component storage and handling are key considerations as well when implementing an effective life cycle management strategy (Table 1).

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Table 1: Effective life cycle management services encompass the volume production phase, post-production phase, and component storage and handling.
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The volume production phase

Visibility services expose both Major (Class I) and Minor (Class II) Engineering Change Orders (ECOs) that are applied to the product by the COTS vendor during the active service period. Included in a visibility service process is a quarterly Bill of Materials (BOM) health check that highlights current component obsolescence (at the integrated circuit, or IC level) and identifies risk mitigation strategies.

A control service provides system designers with control over their product’s configuration, including the authority to approve or reject all Major (Class I) and Minor (Class II) ECOs that are proposed by the COTS vendor during the contracted service period. Included in control service is a quarterly BOM health analysis report that details current and predicted component obsolescence (at the integrated circuit, or IC level), provides component Last-Time Buy (LTB) information, and identifies risk mitigation strategies. Such a service can also provide a product baseline configuration data package and a complete revision and ECO history.

The post-production phase

The natural course of events is that the volume production phase of a product will eventually end because of a high level of component obsolescence or diminishing customer demand. Before this happens, the COTS vendor should announce a LTB opportunity for a product. Two life cycle management services that should be in place to support the post-production phase of a product’s life include a Longevity of Supply (LOS) service and a Longevity of Repair (LOR) service.

LOS service

The LOS service is ideal for system designers who have a long production run and who are not in a position to requalify a new configuration or take immediate advantage of newer products via technology insertion. An effective LOS plan secures the continued manufacturing capability for a given product and ensures that the tools, test equipment, and expertise will be in place for continued builds and repairs after the last order date has expired. It provides system designers with continued control over a product’s configuration, including the authority to approve or reject all Major (Class I) and Minor (Class II) ECOs that are proposed by the COTS vendor during the contracted service period. LOS should include a quarterly BOM health analysis report that details current and predicted component obsolescence (at the integrated circuit, or IC level), component LTB information, and risk mitigation strategy identification. LOS should also provide a product baseline configuration data package and complete revision and ECO history.

When used properly, LOS guides system designers to purchase obsolete components to meet build requirements, as detailed in the quarterly BOM health analysis reports. The COTS vendor should assign new part numbers to identify customer-owned inventory and update the manufacturing BOM via an engineering change order.

LOR service

LOR is an ideal option for system designers who have a long in-service horizon and want to repair fielded circuit card assemblies past their COTS vendor’s standard repair horizon. LOR service secures the continued repair capability for a given product and ensures the tools, test equipment, and expertise will be in place for continued repairs after the established last repair date. It provides system designers with continued control over a product’s configuration, including the authority to approve or reject all Major (Class I) and Minor (Class II) ECOs that are proposed by the COTS vendor during the contracted service period. A quarterly BOM health analysis should report current and predicted component obsolescence (at the integrated circuit, or IC level), provide component LTB information, and identify appropriate risk mitigation strategies. The LOR service also should provide a product baseline configuration data package and complete revision and ECO history. As in the LOS service, the quarterly BOM health analysis reports will provide guidance to the system designer for purchasing obsolete components to meet repair requirements.

Component storage and handling

Another key element for an effective life cycle management plan is component storage and handling. It can be very efficient and helpful for components to be stored for the system designer at the COTS vendor’s facility. Storing the inventory of components at the COTS vendor’s site can facilitate timely builds and repairs. Proper storage and handling should include segregating the system designer’s inventory in a secure area of the COTS vendor’s warehouse. These valuable components should be kept in nitrogen-purged, evacuated bags to protect components from moisture, oxidation, and electrostatic discharge, and there should be a plan for periodic bag inspection to ensure they remain intact. And, at least once annually, the bags should be opened so that a physical count of the material can be performed to ensure that all inventory is accounted for.

An example of a comprehensive life cycle management service is Curtiss-Wright’s Continuum Life cycle Services. It is an interactive, Web-based system that provides the information the customer needs to make informed decisions. This service can be tailored to the needs of each individual program and is designed to identify and reduce the risks of COTS component obsolescence, provide control over product configuration changes when required, and extend the availability of product builds and repairs to meet program demands. It includes ongoing reports to provide actionable advanced data that enables decisions to be made in a timely fashion. In the event that a silicon vendor announces a last-time buy, this keeps the system designer informed so that the organizations can work together to conduct the appropriate purchases to enable long-term repair to systems and guarantee repair for the program’s specified timeframe.

Winning the battle against obsolescence

Winning the fight against obsolescence, while obtaining the full performance and economic benefits of using COTS electronics, requires a comprehenensive life cycle management plan. A successful strategy should include an ongoing review of product configuration changes and component obsolescence, a quarterly BOM health check, and a longevity of repair plan. The result, especially if your life cycle management plan is put in place at the front-end of your program development cycle, will be application stability and predictability. Early adoption of these services is economic, in that it enables the costs to be more effectively amortized over the program’s overall budget. Proactive life cycle management, especially in today’s budget environment, enables deployed systems to stay in service, an increasingly attractive option compared to the high cost of system redesign.

Mark Grovak is the Avionics Business Development Manager at , responsible for its avionics strategy. He has been involved in logistics support as a U.S. Navy Supply Corps officer and in establishing and managing repair depots. Contact him at Mgrovak@curtisswright.com.

Curtiss-Wright Controls Defense Solutions 613-254-5112 www.cwcdefense.com