Editor's comment: Flying off the shelf?

Whilst researching material for a commercial off-the-shelf products (COTS) article, I was struck by the parallels with one of my pet hates: the decline of the high street shop.

One major obsolescence challenge facing our industry is a move towards placing more global contracts with broad-line component distributors. Engineering and procurement functions are specialised disciplines and similar to that of a Formula One racing team in that they need the highest levels of expertise and reliability, yet have the lowest production volumes. It’s a bit like a Formula One team placing its annual tyre contract with Kwik Fit.

But if obsolescence is a major concern, why consider using COTS in the first place? Military components are in production for decades, so obsolescence is rarely an issue. However, thanks to Moore’s Law most of today’s commercial parts are in production for far less. COTS are popular because they provide access to low-cost alternatives to full mil-spec parts. They haven’t been specifically designed for this industry, but go some way to reducing time to market and production costs.

Whilst performing a great job in providing worldwide coverage for products in production, broad-line distributors lack the specialist knowledge or flexibility to identify and source alternatives to obsolete components, leaving manufacturers vulnerable to the risk of unresolved obsolescence issues.

This kind of rationalisation limits the aerospace industry’s choice, whereas for me it mirrors the steady erosion of our local shops and market traders in offering home grown produce.

Demand for low cost convenience shopping means a boom in ‘out of town’ supermarkets that suck the lifeblood from its centre. Maybe I’m taking the COTS analogy too far here, but are the odds stacking up against small specialist component suppliers in the same way the major supermarket shelves are stacking up against the small independent traders?

Mike Richardson, editor


Aerospace Media

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