Thankfully, the struggles of the past two years are beginning to resolve. Schools are back in session, public places are reopening, and businesses are settling into the “new normal.” But that doesn’t mean that the problems generated by the COVID-19 pandemic are entirely behind us. The medical community urges caution, and there are still supply chain problems to mitigate.
While supply chain problems are evident in most industries, it is especially noticeable in electronics production. Designers continue to face part shortages and challenges in getting circuit boards manufactured. Here we’ll outline some of the causes of these problems and the PCB supply chain best practices that will help.
Electronic Component Supply Chain Management
Recent predictions by industry experts suggest that the electronic component supply chain problems will now last into 2024. The home entertainment and game console industry has been particularly impacted. After two years, the conditions that ignited the semiconductor supply chain firestorm have been explored in great detail, so let’s review some of those key points:
- The pandemic caused a shift in semiconductor manufacturing away from previous high-volume markets such as the automotive industry to home electronics and other growing markets.
- The automotive industry rebounded sooner and in greater numbers than expected, while the home electronics market grew.
- The chip industry couldn’t rapidly switch production between different component types and technologies to cover all of the different market requirements.
- Semiconductor manufacturers were also affected by the pandemic, which caused material and labor shortages.
Chipmakers worldwide have responded heroically to the demands for increased semiconductor production by increasing production and building new foundries. However, the semiconductor industry is still faced with the need to produce new specialized parts for IoT and other burgeoning technologies while increasing production on legacy components. It takes time and money to switch chip production lines from one part to another and bring new semiconductor production facilities online. Add to that the continuing problems with clogged shipping channels and continuing COVID-19 outbreaks affecting overseas production, and it’s easy to understand the continued electronic component shortages.
To combat these problems, design engineers need to stay ahead of the shortages by following some basic steps:
- Check the parts you are using for price and availability before committing to them.
- Work with a knowledgeable partner who understands the electronic component supply chain industry.
- Look for design options to avoid unavailable parts. These options can include designing for multiple parts on a footprint if your primary part is unavailable.
- Prepare for long lead times and higher prices.
Your circuit board manufacturer can help you by validating your bill of materials while you are still in the design phase. The important thing is to give them plenty of time to review your design and suggest alternate strategies. The relationships with an assembler also take us to the next part of this discussion, the manufacturing portion of PCB supply chain management.
Electronics Manufacturing Supply Chain Management
Not only is component availability a problem in the supply chain, but manufacturing of printed circuit boards as well. The manufacturing problem is due to several conditions, from component shortages to shipping problems. To avoid getting caught by these problems, here are some manufacturing considerations to consider when you are looking for a vendor to build your products.
Don’t constrain your manufacturing to a single vendor
Relying on a single source for manufacturing can prolong production if the assembly shop has problems. Working with a single source will also constrain you to one price and schedule, and you won’t be able to change vendors if needed without affecting production quickly.
Use manufacturers that have an extensive network of partners in place
Your manufacturing partner should have multiple PCB fabrication vendors they work with to make the best choice for the technology needs of your project. They should also employ a component engineering and procurement team with access to a vast network of part manufacturers, distributors, and brokers. And lastly, your manufacturer should be able to help you with the prototype development of your design and prepare it for long-term production for other vendors.
Choose a local PCB manufacturer
There are many benefits that a local onshore electronics manufacturer can offer to their customers:
- Real-time service instead of international time differentials.
- Avoid delays due to national holiday shutdowns, civil unrest, or pandemic issues.
- Eliminating shipping congestion, tariffs, and the cost of international shipping.
- Reduce your exposure to unscrupulous manufacturers and counterfeit parts.
- A local manufacturing partner will know you, your business, and the needs of your product better, giving you the best chance for success.
Key Takeaways for PCB Supply Chain Best Practices
We’ve looked at the causes and results of PCB supply chain shortages and what that means to you in the design and manufacturing of electronics. We’ve also discussed some effective methods of avoiding the problems associated with these supply chain challenges. To summarize, here are four PCB supply chain best practices to focus on:
- Supply chain difficulties are still a problem, so be prepared for them.
- Design your electronics to avoid falling victim to unavailable or costly parts.
- Seek the help of a knowledgeable manufacturer, and engage early with them.
- Work with local onshore PCB manufacturers for the best results.