A while back I had a faulty valve on the water line under my sink, which prevented the installation of our new dishwasher. A neighbor of mine offered to jump in and “rip that thing” out of the wall and install a new valve. I really appreciated his willingness to help, but I paid a plumber to do it instead because it required special tools and expertise to prevent any collateral damage to the pipes. There are times when it pays to use an expert to get the job done right.
You, the PCB designer, are the expert when it comes to designing a printed circuit board. But do you have all of the resources and expertise that you will need when it comes to finding the best components for the design? Some vendors may provide better quality and prices than others, while some components are changing in their status and may not be available during the life cycle of your board.
Tracking these details can add an overwhelming amount of work to the already busy schedule of a PCB designer. Fortunately, though, there are resources available that can help you with these tasks, and those experts are component engineers. Let’s take a look at how the component engineers at your PCB contract manufacturer can help you through the complexities of electronic component lifecycle management.
The Component Engineer: An Expert in Electronic Component Lifecycle Management
Component engineers are unique in that not only are they experienced with PCB design, but they also understand the details of working within the PCB component industry. They have a better understanding than most of the component manufacturing processes as well as what it takes to market and ship these parts. Component engineers have a vast network of supply chain component manufacturers, distributors, and brokers that they work with in order to find the best parts at the lowest costs. And not only do component engineers know what they are looking for, but they also know what to avoid, such as potential problem parts or vendors.
These people are trained in PCB design, and they understand the placement requirements of components in the manufacturing of a circuit board. They are uniquely qualified to not only find the right parts for a design, but also to know when to recommend alternate components or changes. They understand the potential schedule slips for substituting parts and will work at making sure that any recommendations are as equivalent as possible to avoid delays. For instance, they may recommend a part change that doesn’t fit on the board as designed but will work with the addition of an adapter or a socket.
Component engineers also understand the design engineering of circuit boards and can recommend parts that will satisfy the performance specifications of the design. In some cases, they may recommend an alternate component that has better availability or pricing even though its features make it appear as if it is an unsuitable replacement. They already know however that this recommended change can be used with little or no design modifications, and they will work with the PCB designer to incorporate the replacement part. The important thing is to build your board with the best quality of components as possible to prevent failures.
Above and Beyond: Managing the Lifecycle of your PCB Components
Component engineers daily handle requests from their own purchase teams as well as from the customers that they serve. Everything from production runs to prototypes and new product introductions will come to them for help in choosing the best components for the board. To do their job, component engineers will use online tools that help them monitor part availability, changes, compliance, shelf-life, and production lifecycles. These tools plug into component databases that contain millions of parts from thousands of manufacturers and will alert its users when product change notices (PCNs) are posted.
With the part information from these databases, the component engineers have access to all of the device specifications in order to identify equivalent and alternate components. At the same time, the component engineer will also monitor the PCNs that are directly sent by part distributors. This gives them a head start on knowing what changes may be coming to the parts they are using before the component databases in the online tools are updated.
The component engineers will also confirm the required parts from a customer’s bill of materials with the distributor. This avoids the costly errors and manufacturing delays that can happen if an incorrectly designated part of the customer’s bill of materials (BOM) is purchased. In some cases where an end of life (EOL) or obsolete (OBS) part is required for a production run, part brokers will be used for their resources instead of regular Tier 1 distributors.
How the Services of a Good PCB Contract Manufacturer will Help You
When you send in your PCB design to be manufactured, one of the first things that will happen is that it will be reviewed for manufacturability. Part of that review will be conducted by the component engineers who will look at the parts that you have specified in your BOM. If any of those components are not available, cost too much, or present other problems such as being marked for a life cycle status change to EOL or OBS, you will be notified. At this point, the component engineers can work with you to identify alternate solutions to help ensure that the parts used on your design will be available to you throughout the projected life of the product.
At VSE, our component engineers have been working with customers like you for over 30 years. They have a vast network of component manufacturers and distributors needed to get the best service on the parts that are needed. We routinely work with the vendors in our component network to get priority on “life-time-buys” on parts for our customers. This will ensure that the capital equipment that we build for them over a period of many years will have the components needed for the full life cycle of the product.