I’m fairly mechanically minded and I usually don’t shy away from fixing something, except for when it comes to small engine repairs. It doesn’t matter if I’m working on a clean work-bench or have the entire garage floor dedicated to the job, I will always lose a part or a tool at some point along the way. It is not unusual at all for me to put down a washer or a bolt right in front of me, only to be unable to find it again a minute later when I need it.
Because of this unique phenomenon, I completely understand the frustration that PCB designers have when the parts they need are not available. During this time of PCB component supply chain problems due to the COVID-19 pandemic, however, the problem has gone much further than being a simple annoyance. In some cases, it has crippled the production of necessary electronics as well as delaying the development of new equipment. Here are some ideas on how you can work around the PCB component supply problems caused by the pandemic.
Changes to the PCB Component Supply Due to the Pandemic
There are always events that will have an effect on the PCB component supply chain. Since much of the supply chain depends on overseas manufacturers, it can easily be disrupted by national holidays, political unrest, materials shortages, or problems with shipping. With the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020, however, a new set of problems compounded the already complex nature of the supply chain:
- Shutdowns: Component manufacturers that are located in countries that have been shut down due to the pandemic are just now recovering as their countries open back up.
- Labor: With skilled workers being affected by the pandemic, either through illness or having to take care of family members affected by the shutdowns, many suppliers are operating with fewer employees.
- Shipping: Many PCB components get shipped on regular commercial airlines as cargo. As these flights have been canceled due to international travel restrictions, shipping availability has diminished and prices have escalated.
- Availability: With many component manufacturers shut down or running at minimum capacity, the ability to keep a healthy stock of components on hand has been greatly reduced.
Like ripples spreading throughout the pond after throwing a stone in the water, these events continue to grow and compound the problems of the PCB component supply chain. However, here are some ways that you can work through these problems in order to get your printed circuit boards built.
How You Can Work Through These Supply Chain Problems
The current problems with the PCB component supply chain may end up impacting your circuit board production, but fortunately, there is a resource available to help you through; your PCB contract manufacturer. PCB CMs usually have a staff of component engineers and purchasing agents with years of experience working with shortages and other problems of the supply chain. As such, they are best positioned to help you through these tumultuous times. Here are some points to keep in mind when you are preparing to get your printed circuit boards built:
- Trust your PCB CM: The contract manufacturer that you are working with will have a vast network of component manufacturers and distributors that they regularly work with. In addition, they have additional resources, such as component brokers that they can use. Let them do what they do best in finding the parts that you need.
- Build time into your schedule: Lead times have been adjusted to account for supply delays, as much as four weeks in some cases. Make sure that you account for these delays in your development schedule.
- Consider alternative parts: The parts that you would regularly use in your bill of materials may not be available when you need them. You can either wait or use an alternate part. Here is where you can leverage the capabilities of the component engineering staff of your PCB CM to recommend functional equivalent parts to keep your boards in production.
Your PCB contract manufacturer can do a lot for you in finding the correct parts you need to build your boards. The key is to work with the right CM that has the capabilities that you need.
Working Together with the Right PCB Contract Manufacturer
At VSE we have a team of component engineers that can analyze your bill of materials in order to find potential problems with the components that you have chosen to use. They will be looking at component lead times and pricing, as well as their life cycle status and availability. With this data, they will be able to make recommendations of alternate parts that can work for you instead of waiting on parts that are known to be in short supply. In addition, our engineering team will be reviewing your design based on performance as well as design for manufacturability (DFM) and may recommend other design and part changes if warranted.