When we bought our house many years ago, one of the aspects that we admired the most was all of the different light fixtures scattered throughout. Unfortunately, now that traditional incandescent bulbs are being replaced by LEDs with fewer unique sizes, it is becoming harder to find bulbs to fit the fixtures. Eventually, we will have to replace these fixtures, but in the meantime, we are stuck choosing between using unattractive bulbs that are the wrong size or stumbling around in the dark.
There’s no getting around the fact that things change with time. Whether it is the light bulbs for my house or the components used on a circuit board, they will eventually be replaced by products with updated functionality and packaging. The problem is that many circuit boards rely on the original components with which they were designed. Redesigning a PCB to accommodate an updated part can be time-consuming and costly, especially considering all of the validation that some electronics require. Here are some ideas to help you manage electronic component obsolescence so that you aren’t left stuck in the dark.
Prepare Yourself By Managing Electronic Component Obsolescence
Protecting yourself from being surprised by PCB components that have become obsolete requires good organizational skills with designs. Here are some design management techniques that can help:
- Clean schematic: PCB designs with unreadable schematics invite component management problems. Passive parts are very susceptible to this due to their size, and those that aren’t clearly marked or mismarked can easily be overlooked during a design review. Many of these parts are also in standard circuits, often copied into new designs where the problem continues to propagate itself. It is vital to ensure that the parts on your legacy designs are marked correctly and quickly identifiable.
- Detailed BOM: A bill of materials is only as good as the detail put into it. Especially on older legacy designs, essential data may be missing to help the manufacturer source the correct parts or find form, fit, and functional replacements as needed. It is a good idea to review the BOMs of your older designs to ensure that they are complete and accurate.
- Supply chain networking: Keeping in touch with the component manufacturers and distributors that supply the parts for your older legacy designs is more important now than ever due to the semiconductor shortage. Many chip manufacturers are running short on supply, and you need to know what the projections are on the parts required to build your circuit boards. Here is where a good PCB contract manufacturer can help with their contacts throughout the PCB component supply chain network.
- Monitor your parts: For circuit boards on a critical path, it is essential to use your supply chain connections to monitor the specific parts needed for your board. Your component manufacturers and distributors can alert you on part supplies so that you aren’t caught off-guard. An even better solution is to use your PCB CM to monitor these parts for you with their component purchasing team to avoid surprises.
These tips will help you with the designs you’re building currently, but you should also take care of the new designs you create. We’ll take a look at some ideas for your new designs next.
PCB Design Tips to Protect New Designs from Obsolete Part Problems
It is not unusual for design teams to plunge into a new task without considering obsolete parts, but obsolete parts can get into your new design if you aren’t careful. Here are some ways to guard against that.
PCB Design Libraries
Company libraries will become outdated with time if they are not properly maintained. The parts you have relied on repeatedly for many different designs may become obsolete without you knowing about it. While larger companies typically have PCB librarians that monitor this, smaller companies must be diligent about updating their parts when required. Using a third-party library tool can be very helpful, as those parts are constantly reviewed and updated.
As we mentioned earlier, copying circuitry carries a risk of copying over older and potentially obsolete parts. The benefits of copying circuitry are apparent when considering the savings in time and using proven design technology. But if one bad part sneaks in with the copied circuitry, it could negate all of the benefits. It is always a good idea to review your copied circuitry to ensure that the parts are current and available.
Checking the bill of materials as you design will ensure that you are using the parts you expect and help to catch any outdated library parts that came in through copied circuitry. It also will help to guard against incorrect values on your components or the wrong part altogether. Your PCB CM will also conduct a BOM review before they build the board to make sure that all of the components you need are available and at the best prices.
We’ve looked at several ways that the PCB part specialists at a contract manufacturer can help ensure that you aren’t caught using obsolete parts. Let’s look further now into how.
How the Component Experts can Help You with Your Part Management
PCB CM’s have an entire team of specialists in place with years of experience working with the parts used for printed circuit board assembly. This team includes component engineers with the expertise necessary to make alternative part or circuitry recommendations to resolve an obsolete part problem. For instance, a more complex IC with additional features may be available as a replacement for an older part with little or no modifications. Design engineers may not be aware of this, but a skilled component engineer can track parts like these down.
The component team also includes skilled purchasing agents with years of experience finding the best parts for the best prices. They are adept at working with the network of suppliers that the PCB CM has cultivated over time and software tools that analyze BOMs and alert them to life-cycle changes to components. With these assets, they can purchase parts ahead to prepare for component obsolescence and avoid potential problems with unscrupulous vendors dealing with counterfeit parts.
At VSE, our component specialists have the tools, experience, and training that we’ve just described. They understand the PCB component supply chain and find the components you need or a suitable alternative to replace an obsolete part on a legacy design.