There’s a lot of concern right now about the electronic component supply shortages stemming from the global pandemic of 2020. The automobile industry is already feeling the effects of the semiconductor shortage, and many other industries are beginning to report problems. The questions on everyone’s mind now are: What is the status of component availability in production for the parts I need? How can I guard against being adversely affected by this shortage? We’ll look at these questions and address how you can keep the production of your circuit boards running without any delays.
Component Availability in Production and Supply Chain Management
Not since the civil defense efforts of the second world war has our society changed so radically in response to an emergency as it has with the COVID-19 pandemic. Many people who regularly commuted to work began working from home, and schools switched over to online formats instead of traditional in-person classes. Those spending time at home instead of traveling began relying more on electronics for work, school, and entertainment. All of this directly impacted several industries, with automobiles and electronics serving as prime examples.
As people sheltered in place at home, sales of new cars dropped off, prompting automobile makers to cut production. In response to this shift, semiconductor manufacturers switched production from older vehicle control components to newer parts supporting more consumer electronics demand. With the rapid evolution of electronics, however, the need for new components has only increased, and now the automobile industry is ramping back up. This increase has created the global electronics shortage in the supply chain that we see today.
To stay ahead of this shortage, electronics manufacturers need to be diligent in these two areas:
- Keep your finger on the supply chain’s pulse: It is essential to stay current with electronic component manufacturers, distributors, and brokers. These resources will keep you alerted to the status of critical components in your products so that you will have notice of shortages or component life-cycle changes.
- Plan ahead: Look for and avoid parts that are not recommended for new designs (NRND) or are going end of life (EOL). It is straightforward to use common parts because of their familiarity, but those may be the components that are no longer available to produce your circuit board.
Another option is to look through your design for these parts and re-engineer the circuitry to use alternatives.
Alternative Solutions with Replacement Components or Circuitry Re-Designs
Circuit board design uses a library of schematic symbols and PCB footprint models to place design components. However, if these parts are not regularly reviewed for their viability, they may become outdated without the user’s knowledge. Component manufacturers will sometimes use obsolete parts in favor of newer and better versions. As we have seen lately, some of these parts may simply be temporarily unavailable due to shortages. In either case, a thorough examination of the circuit board’s bill of materials (BOM) will catch problems like these before the board gets into production.
If a design’s part is in short supply or unavailable, there are a couple of ways to resolve the problem:
- Component replacement: Often, there is an updated functionally equivalent part that will fit the same PCB footprint making for an easy swap. This scenario is ideal as it doesn’t require any physical changes to the circuit board layout. Alternatively, the replacement part may have a slightly different package that fits the board with only minor changes to the layout.
- Circuit redesign: In the case of an alternative part not being available, the circuitry may have to be redesigned. A redesign requires more work as changes will need to be made to both the schematic and the layout, but there can be an upside. A redesign may use parts that are more readily available or newer versions with updated functionality.
Either way, you will require investigation into new components and possibly new engineering to redesign the board. Here is where using an industry expert for this job can be extremely helpful with the final result.
Finding Supply Chain Expertise that Can Help You Through this Shortage
The nuances of the electronic component’s supply chain can be intimidating. Fortunately, local PCB contract manufacturers have the experience and capabilities already in place. They regularly work with the supply chain and have a fine-tuned system to provide the best service for their clients:
- Supply chain network: A local PCB CM will have a vast network of component manufacturers, distributors, and brokers set up with whom they are familiar and work regularly. Their procurement staff’s understanding of the supply chain makes the CM the best choice for finding the best prices and part availability. Their experience also helps them to avoid supply chain problems such as counterfeit dealers and parts.
- Stocked components: A local PCB CM also has an inventory of parts they keep on hand to ensure the continued production of their clients’ products. The procurement team’s experience also helps them know which parts need to be bought in advance so that there isn’t any interruption of the circuit boards’ assembly.
- Engineering expertise: A local PCB CM will also have an engineering team on hand to assist in the research of any new components required as a replacement. They will also make recommendations for circuitry changes as needed to work around components no longer available or improve the board’s performance.
At VSE, we have the solutions you are looking for to keep your circuit board’s component needs available for production. With over 30 years of experience, our engineering and procurement teams have the best understanding of what you need for success.