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‘New old’ stock: an oxymoron that can save you money

12 September 2011

Over the past couple of months DPA has been looking at ways in which users of automation equipment can extend the life of their valuable assets through careful maintenance or even re-manufacture. Here, Jonathan Wilkins shows us how to keep one step ahead of obsolescence

The retail and auction industries use the phrase ‘new old stock’ to refer to a stocked item which is out of production or discontinued. It’s a concept that could be applied as accurately to obsolete equipment - or original parts for obsolete equipment - in the industrial automation sector. When an engineer contacts a distributor to obtain an obsolete component there are three options: obtaining one from ‘new old stock’, buying a refurbished part or repairing the original.

Before you start your search, you should also make sure that you actually do require an obsolete part. If you have a legacy manufacturing system, it’s sometimes easier to buy the same components, but not essential. If it isn’t essential, and an alternative can be used without replacing the entire system, this will be a cheaper and quicker option.

If an obsolete component is required, a good distributor with a large stock holding may have the part in its warehouse, or it may be in stock at one of the its partner warehouses. Partner warehouses may belong to the component manufacturer or be set up in partnership with a manufacturer. So if the client is after an obsolete drive, for example, a good distributor will have multiple methods of locating one.

The recommendation is: choose a distributor who isn’t tied to just one manufacturer. This is analogous to choosing a financial adviser who is ‘whole of market’, as opposed to one who can only recommend products from certain financial institutions. I’ve seen instances where an engineer who is chasing an obsolete part has ended up buying an entirely new system simply because their distributor couldn’t supply a part that was easy to find elsewhere.

A good distributor will be able to bring a level of automation knowledge to the party that will make finding the obsolete part or a compatible alternative easier. For example, let’s say you are looking for an obsolete product from a particular brand. Often multiple brands will use the same factory to produce identical components that are simply badged with a different logo.

As a result you may well be able to swap in a part branded by manufacturer ‘A’ as an identical, like-for-like, replacement for a part from manufacturer ‘B’. Of course, you can only do this if you know that it’s possible, and which brands share production facilities or designs in this way.

If the part from stock cannot be found, the next step is to attempt to refurbish or re-manufacture the part. Some of our partner companies own the intellectual property of components that became obsolete decades ago. Often this is still true, even if the original manufacturer has long since ceased trading. In these instances re-manufacture is a real, though costly, possibility.

If you are buying a refurbished part from a distributor, it is important to make sure that it’s fully tested and covered by a warranty. You should also take steps to ensure you aren’t buying an imitation or ‘grey’ market component. A good distributor would never be party to this but be wary -  it will be your facility that will suffer as a result.

One final consideration should be whether or not you are actually allowed to fit an obsolete part and, again, your distributor should be able to help you with this. For instance if you need to replace an electric motor, you must remember that you now have to comply with new EU regulations on minimum efficiency standards (see the DPA website for more information on this subject).

The regulations apply to all new motors, even in maintenance and retrofit applications. However, existing stock in a manufacturer or distributor’s warehouse can still be sold, as long as it was placed on the market before the EU’s June 15 2011 cut-off date. Rewinding, repair and refurbishment is also still permitted without complying. What this all means is that an obsolete part can be found, no matter how energy inefficient, but a new motor couldn’t be matched to your old specifications unless they were originally compliant with the regulations. 

So, while ‘new old stock’ is figuratively an oxymoron, it might literally save you a fortune in unnecessary capital investment; my recommendation is that you seek a reliable and knowledgeable distributor to help you achieve these ends.

Jonathan Wilkins is with component supply chain specialist European Automation

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