Last summer, I watched as the “telephone company” (whatever that term means now) replaced all the poles on our street, over a month-long period. This carefully choreographed procedure was itself interesting, and had more interleaved steps than I expected. When I asked the crew chief why they were replacing the poles, he replied, “it's on our schedule to replace these poles every 25 years, as preventive maintenance.”
My first reaction was “wow!” The underlying assumption with which the phone company operated caused me to stop and think. After all, in our industry, with its incredible pace of new products and developments, and overall obsolescence, planning ahead 25 years might as well be “never”.
Of course, it wasn't always this way, nor is it uniformly this way throughout our entire industry. Last weekend, I was reading some industry literature, and found out that there is an A/D converter that was introduced 25 years ago as the first “complete” A/D (how you assess “complete”, of course, depends on your perspective), yet is still available for new orders. The Analog Devices AD574, a modest-speed, 12-bit successive-approximation unit, has been improved over the years, of course, and is now available in SMT as well as original DIP; it is also now available in faster speed and better performance grades. And while the converter is relatively power-hungry compared to newer parts, that virtue may not be a critical factor if you have an older PCB which needs a replacement converter which is drop-in form, fit, and functionally equivalent, or need to build a replacement board for existing equipment.
This longevity is in sharp contrast to the consumer-product mindset that is now dominating and driving our industry. Yet the volume and glamour of the consumer market hides an important reality: there are many market segments where the product volumes are lower, the in-service lifetimes are longer, and availability of repair parts and assemblies is expected. “Just throw it out and get a new one” is not an acceptable solution for many industrial, medical, instrumentation, aerospace, and even home applications, for many reasons which our readers know for themselves.
It's nice to know that some components and systems have a viable design-in life of more than just a year or two. And it is more than nice: it's important that vendors, OEMs, and designers recognize that many important markets are not like the fast-paced consumer world, and make the appropriate commitment. As our industry goes to shorter end-product cycles and faster part obsolescence, our own pride in our products diminishes, and the public's view of the value of what we provide also dims.