Forward Vision Analytics

Managing Product Lifecycles for A Smooth Evolution

Product Lifecycles | FEIG ELECTRONICS

We’ve all heard the adage; the only constant in business is change.  Market leading companies embrace change as a catalyst for innovation, growth and improvement.   Yet, unexpected change can be quite disruptive to a business.  One can appreciate that it is not change that is disruptive so much as the unexpected.

The fact of the matter is that change has been constant in the RFID market.   New transponders with greater capabilities, higher capacity, improved sensitivity and even environmental sensing are being introduced; protocol standards such as ISO18000-3 Mode 3 and GEN2 V2 are released, and application standards such as EMVco is mandated for use in contactless NFC payment.  As a technology partner to our customers, our mission is to keep them abreast and our products current to the latest innovations.

FEIG understands both the necessity to keep pace with the industry and the impact a product change can have. Our products are designed into a wide variety of RFID enabled devices that are tested and certified by regulatory agencies.  An engineering change to such a product affects every department and aspect in the business.  It’s a serious matter that can never be undertaken lightly.

Businesses manage change better given sufficient time, understanding and communication.  As an OEM provider, FEIG Electronics, Inc. prides itself on the formal process it uses to manage a product’s life cycle.  It begins with providing timely correspondence and an open transparent dialog concerning the product road map; a road map that is carefully planned and implemented using a methodical approach and skillful execution with the goal to better serve our customers.

Look closely at the product platforms and family similarities begin to emerge.  The HF and UHF proximity modules are mechanically identical in size, connectors, wiring patterns, right down to the mounting holes.  HF and UHF mid-range and long-range interrogators mirror the same approach.  Further, unseen from physical attributes, every FEIG product uses the same software API to configure and control the device.  A one-time software integration task avails use of the entire range of products.

Product obsolescence is not necessarily the end of the road; rather it is a smooth transition to the next generation products where the road continues. It is planned with equal care and diligence with an obligation to our customers that includes:

 

  • Providing an extended notification period, often a year in advance of the end of life.
  • Coordination with a new product introduction that considers form, fit function, backward compatibility and additional new features and capabilities.
  • Availability to pre-production engineering samples of the new item to evaluate and test compatibility
  • A last opportunity to purchase and blanket the affected product for continuity during transition.

 

FEIG’s product plan in action:

Launched as a new product in 2009, the FEIG CPR44 HF Proximity Reader module quickly gained a foothold in transit, ticketing, encoding and NFC applications. More than 50,000 units were produced and installed throughout the world as a best in class product with 400mW of RF output power, variants supporting an internal antenna or external antenna port, USB or RS-232 interface and offered with or without security access module support.

In February 2016, FEIG was informed of an unexpected component discontinuation of the double-stacked SAM socket used on the module that would compromise a continuing source of supply.   It’s worth nothing here that manufacturing is entirely performed and completely integrated within an 80,000 square foot facility in Weilburg, Germany.  There is no outsourcing, production is 100% controlled and performed in-house, including PCB manufacturing and FEIG has direct, long-established relationships with component suppliers.  This is a distinct advantage over others that rely on outsourcing and contract manufacturing.

To address the issue a product change would be undertaken to redesign the module to use four, single SAM sockets.  As a consequence of the redesign the CPR44 Proximity Reader module would be discontinued and replaced by a new, next generation product.

Throughout a product’s active status, feature requests gathered from customers, prospects, sales people, marketing staff and technical support representatives funnel to product line managers.  FEIG utilizes degreed engineers in the role that coordinate with hardware and software designers in a creative process that incorporates as many of these requests as possible into the design of a future product; in this example the CPR74.

The CPR74 incorporates all the features of the CPR44 in addition to a second, multiplexed antenna port.  The CPR74 module will support ISO14443, NFC Peer to Peer mode, ISO15693, and ISO18000-3 Mode 3.  In addition, its external antenna will be pre-tested for EMVCo Level 1 compliance. (the standard defines the size and distance of the tag detection area required of a contactless reader used in payment applications)

The CPR44 prematurely reached its end-of-life out necessity to address the unexpected.   But consider the yearlong timeline of the process…

  • Customers of record were formally notified in writing three months in advance of a last opportunity to order the affected product.
    • This notice provided sufficient time to discuss and plan their own ECN process in regard to demand, costs, and alternatives to gauge the estimate for their last order.
  • Simultaneously, customers of record were made aware of the new product introduction proposed as a migration path alternative.
  • Within weeks of the official announcement meetings with the customers were arranged to discuss and formulate a transition plan.
    • Client’s were formally presented detailed information of the new device with the electronically formatted drawings of the new product for CAD purpose along with a mechanical sample of the new board.
    • A pre-production engineering sample of the new device would be provided free-of-charge two month’s in advance of the production.
    • Use of the same API throughout all FEIG products avoids software modification when transitioning to the new product.
  • Production release of the CPR74 will begin in January 2017.
    • Six months advance notice of a product launch
  • Manufacturing of the CPR44 will continue until March 31, 2017.
    • Nine months advance notice to the actual end of life.

We understand that our customers rely on us for consistent availability of quality RFID products, and we work to minimize any disruptions in your installed or planned systems with the focus on compatibility going forward.

At FEIG, we take seriously your trust in our industry-leading products and service. To that end, we make a point to share our long-term product roadmap with customers, providing an extended notification period when a product change is necessary, and we never leave a customer without a migration plan.

About the author

Klaus Schoeke

Vice President of Technical Sales at FEIG Electronics, Inc.


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