A week ago, I went in for my yearly physical. Although I am not a big fan of getting stuck with needles and enduring the other unpleasant aspects of the checkup, I am very grateful that my doctor does a thorough job making sure that I am healthy. He focuses on those areas of my health that need extra attention, such as my blood pressure, and continually motivates me to lose more weight and keep up my exercise regime. In short, he monitors product lifecycle—and in this case, I am the product.
Now take that thought and move it over to your PCB assemblies built by your contract manufacturer. In the same way that staying ahead of your healthcare is important, so is staying ahead of the lifecycle of your PCB components. You need to know what may be changing with these components far enough in advance so that those changes can be effectively managed without hurting the production of your PCBAs. And in cases in which a component is no longer available, you need the engineering services of your CM for end-of-life (EOL) components to plan for component obsolescence.
That is why it is critical there are engineers at your CM who specialize in working with components and do the same basic thing as my doctor—monitor the lifecycles of the components that will be used to build your PCBAs to ensure that the manufacturing of your boards stays healthy.
Like It or Not, Components Will Change
There are a number of changes that the components used for the production of your PCBA could go through. In some circumstances, a component could have its specifications updated for either performance or even its physical size.
Although these changes are usually minor, they could have an impact on your design. The more likely changes that will affect your board are when components are in short supply, no supply, or their prices have changed. The component change that will have the greatest impact on your designs, however, will be for those parts that are no longer going to be available, known as EOL. In these cases, component vendors will sometimes replace an older component with a newer version or stop producing it altogether if it is no longer in demand.
As a design engineer, you are likely very busy developing your product. You barely have enough time to find the parts you need, let alone plan out their expected lifecycles and lead times. Here is where the component engineers at your CM can help by monitoring the health of the components that you are using and alerting you to potential problems that may be coming.
Component Engineers Keep Their Fingers On the Pulse
Just as your doctor will keep tabs on all of your vitals to monitor your health, the component engineers at your CM should do similar monitoring of the parts on your circuit board. Component engineers keep an eye on the obsolescence notifications that come from part manufacturers and distributors. They also are looking for changes in components for availability and pricing, and have the latest information on part specifications. By maintaining databases on all of this information, the engineers have a complete picture of the lifecycles of the components currently being used in production.
Quality CMs should have component engineers who are experts at predicting and reacting to lifecycle changes of the parts that are being used in your design. They do this with lifecycle analysis of all the materials used in the production of your board. In doing this, they will assign classifications to the parts you are using on your board so that you know up front how they are rated. There are three possible classifications for each component:
- Healthy lifecycle
- Not recommended for use in new designs
This information is vital to being able to accurately plan the production schedules of your boards. If you encounter a component that is not recommended for new designs or that is EOL, it could cause a number of unforeseen consequences—including completely halting the production of your product—if you’re unprepared. This is why the most critical step in planning ahead for EOL components is to partner with a CM with a staff of qualified component engineers who will identify these issues for you and ensure they don’t delay the production of your board.
Planning for EOL Components
Not all CMs offer component engineering services, so it’s important to seek one out that has this capability. Once you’ve done that, your CM can help you plan for EOL components by doing the following:
- Having qualified component engineers monitor part EOL notifications.
- Providing you with immediate alerts on EOL parts that affect the manufacturing of your products.
- Working with component brokers to arrange last-time buys to get your prototype or production units built to expected delivery dates before EOL parts become unavailable.
- Recommending pin-compatible component replacement options as well as providing design insight, test evaluation, and comparative performance for parts that are not pin-compatible alternatives.
- Assisting with PCB redesign to accommodate the necessary component replacements.
By partnering with a CM that has a qualified component engineering department, you will have the confidence of knowing that there won’t be any surprises ahead. The EOL plan that the CM has in place will already be in motion long before the parts go out of stock so that you have time to redesign and requalify your products in a timely manner. Additionally, by partnering with a CM that has long-term relationships with their component vendors and distributors, you can trust that the components that you need for your products will be there when you need them.
Trust Your CM to Help You Plan Ahead for EOL Components
Having a successful production run is dependent on having the components you need ready to go when your board is being assembled. Any issues in getting the correct components to the assembly line will cause delays and escalate costs. Having qualified and experienced component engineers guiding your board through production is the best way to ensure that your boards will be assembled correctly and on time.
Here at VSE, we have a full staff of committed component engineers that have successfully managed the parts used by our customers for many years. They are able to accurately predict component lifecycles based on current part manufacturer and distributor information. Their forward-looking abilities give us ample time to work with you on redesigns that will swap out components scheduled for obsolescence, or stick with an EOL part through a production run to take advantage of the lower prices of saturated supply chains.
Not all CMs can offer this level of accuracy, but our component engineers have years of experience doing this, and in-depth relationships with all of the major part manufacturers. This gives us the inside track on the parts we will use when assembling your boards so that we can give you the best PCBA manufacturing service possible.