VITA 53 standardizes obsolescence data gathering on COTS products

Many defense industry engineers would agree that assembly-level information pertaining to COTS systems is vital in managing the life cycle and staving off obsolescence. However, while traditional Diminishing Manufacturing Sources and Material Shortages (DMSMS) tools provide data about circuit card components like integrated circuit capacitors or connectors, insight into COTS designs at the assembly level is not always available. Prior to VITA 53, a lack of any kind (component or COTS) of insight into COTS product life cycles and support options made proactive planning and budgeting for technology refreshes impossible.

Thus, COTS product experts at Naval Surface Warfare Center (NSWC) Crane decided to address this problem by creating a DMSMS process focused on COTS products. As a part of that process, Crane developed the predecessor to the questionnaire that is now included in VITA 53 (Commercial Technology Market Surveillance).

The goal of VITA 53, therefore, is to establish a standard practice for government/industry exchange of this COTS assembly life-cycle data, similar to what already exists at the piece part level in commercially available DMSMS tools. Specifically, the questions standardized in VITA 53 are relevant to COTS offerings such as VPX circuit cards instead of piece parts.

In addition to the information gathering provided by the VITA 53 questionnaire on DMSMS issues, VITA 53 also helps COTS suppliers deal with DMSMS inquiries by giving them a core set of questions they can expect to be asked by their customers (either system integrators or end users).

Some of VITA 53’s questions capture the following dates on COTS products. (For EOP and EOS, suppliers can make estimations if no definitive dates are available.):

1. Start of Production (SOP)

2. End of Production (EOP)

3. End of Support (EOS)

4. Last Time Buy

The VITA 53 questionnaire also poses questions about product cost, Mean Time Between Failure (MTBF) rate, recommended replacement part, aftermarket suppliers and repair facilities, and distributors.

Once VITA 53 is standardized, it is expected that the questionnaire will become the standard method for gathering DMSMS data on COTS products.

Using DMSMS tools

After VITA 53’s standardization, the next step will be to incorporate VITA 53 data into commercial DMSMS tools. Government/industry cooperation will be needed to provide a pool of VITA 53 data for tool vendors to draw upon, as is currently the case for piece parts.

Case management approach

Once obsolescence issues are identified using the product life-cycle questions posed by VITA 53, case management is used to solve those obsolescence issues. During this process, a case manager (often a logistician or engineer working to maintain the overall system) investigates possible solutions to an obsolescence problem and performs a Business Case Analysis (BCA) on each potential solution to determine the one with the lowest cost. Usually, the lowest-cost product that meets the requirements of the system is selected. For COTS-based systems, data collected using the questions in VITA 53 will be a critical input to the case management process, and the questions in VITA 53 regarding support options will provide vital leads for the case managers as they search for the best solution for their system.

Latest VITA 53 developments, status

VITA 53 became a working group within the VITA Standards Organization at the September 2006 meeting. The newest part of VITA 53 is a section on firmware upgrades and engineering design changes, which contains two questions aimed at identifying these types of changes. Two other questions in this section capture data on potential solutions, asking about a firmware freeze option and firmware upgrade ability. The VITA 53 working group has released the draft to working group ballot, which should be completed this Spring. VITA 53 will also seek ANSI approval later this year.

Steve Cecil is an electronics engineer at NSWC Crane and is chairperson of VITA 53. For more information on VITA 53, contact Steve at