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January 31, 2023
Designing with component supply issues in mind
Designing with component supply issues in mind

When creating electronic designs, it used to be enough to consider component spacing, orientation and electrical compatibility. Engineers had become quietly comfortable in the knowledge that they could order their favourite parts and components with ease, and that their order would likely arrive the next day. Or, at least in the same week.

Now, whilst this approach may be ok for one-off prototypes or proof of concepts, it makes future proofing products and volume production very difficult. And with the market struggling to settle, the concept of designing for manufacture has been joined by the need to design for availability.

So, what can we do to navigate the changing landscape? Whilst there are no guarantees, there are some practical steps that can be taken to ensure products can be produced at scale and are suitable for repeat production runs:

  1. Design for availability
    Usually, engineers design with the right parts in mind to achieve the desired functionality. This approach has been flipped on its head and we must now take a market led approach based on what is available. This may mean that components are larger or more expensive than expected or that a redesign is needed.
  2. Identify drop-in replacements early
    In recent years, manufacturers have become more diligent at ensuring their product lines have multiple components with compatible pinouts and footprints. Identifying these early in the process is an easy win, saving time and money.
  3. Alternative components
    There are lots of components that offer the same functionality and performance. A single component swap, or a combination of components, could give you the functionality you need without compromising on quality. Of course, this could be a more expensive option, but it will keep your project on track.
  4. Manage obsolescence risk
    With a rise in demand for feature rich, cutting edge technology, the component market is continually evolving, rendering some parts and components obsolete at a lightening rate. Avoiding not recommended for new designs (NRFND) or end-of-life (EOL) components that offer a limited lifecycle will reduce the risk of a costly redesign. It’s the decisions you make now that will affect the longevity of your design and ultimately your product.
  5. Consider your feature set
    It’s worth considering your feature set and questioning what you really need. Every feature that you include in your design adds to the supply chain issue. For example, do you really need multiple USB ports, if the end user is likely to only use one? Do you need a large amount of memory, or will a smaller amount suffice? Reducing the number of unnecessary features on your product will take pressure off the supply chain and bring costs down.

Whilst many of the supply challenges are best addressed during the design process, there are also steps we can take to ensure the manufacturing process goes smoothly and prevent production runs from grinding to a halt.

  1. Plan ahead
    Where possible, forecast your usage for the next 12 months. Secure stock early to ensure you have a strong supply and don’t run out mid production.
  2. Order critical components early
    Don’t wait until you’re ready to start the build to order single source and critical components. Secure these during the design phase to ensure you have stock for early production series.
  3. Split designs
    Consider splitting your design into several parts. For example, rather than one large PCB, use several smaller PCB’s that plug together. This makes a redesign to accommodate availability a lower risk.

What used to be a minor tick box of investigating availability and second sourcing has become a critical problem. More than ever, engineers must be proactive, strategic, and flexible in their approach to electronic design to preserve the product lifecycle.

Our team of engineers have the knowledge and experience to support you through the component selection process and help you achieve optimum functionality in an unstable market. If you’d like to talk to us about how we can help, get in touch.

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