The disruption caused by the recent chip shortage wreaked havoc on engineering resources and design cycle times, which forced design teams to scrounge for components anywhere they could get them and to prioritize getting a part—any part!—over preference in some cases. Companies were caught short because they had not considered parts’ availability in their planning. That’s particularly common at the design stage, where component selection is typically driven by performance and cost.
The effects of the chip shortage reinforced the point that engineers can help prepare for future disruptions by thinking more like their supply chain counterparts in the early stages of product design. See Figure 1 for engineers’ responses to a 2022 Avnet survey on the effects and planned responses to the chip shortage.
We’re engineers at Avnet who are deeply involved in component selection and board design, and we’d like to share with you five of our top strategies for making our designs more future-ready.
Design in standard components whenever possible: Within a design, there are opportunities to use standards-based products for some of the functionality, and the designer should identify the multiple sources available for these devices and qualify several of them for future source options. It’s important to qualify these second sources during the design phase to avoid emergency situations down the road when engineering resources may no longer be available or familiar with the design uniqueness.
When you can’t avoid sole-sourced parts, pre-order some inventory: Based on the architecture you’re designing around, there are going to be times when you’re forced to use a part that is only available from a single supplier, which naturally increases the risk of supply chain issues. In this case, you should work with the supplier well in advance of a purchase order to ensure that you have a quantity on hand for pre-production. For at least the initial build, you should consider placing a pre-order for the parts. (You should also do this with any parts that have long lead times.) This way, you’ll have parts on the shelf when you need them. You—or your finance manager—may think you don’t want an inventory of components on the books. But spending a few thousand dollars on parts in advance is going to help you avoid potential headaches and delays down the road.
Place multiple footprints on the board: Many parts come in multiple packages. You can hedge your bets by placing footprints for different package types on your board. One strategy is to design a dual footprint, in which a smaller package is placed inside of a larger one. Or when you have the available PCB real estate, you can place different package sizes side-by-side. When it comes time to build the board, you’ll have the flexibility to use whatever package size is available at the time and avoid the need to do a costly design spin.
Consider buying a module: Engineers today are buying off-the-shelf modules to use in their designs instead of ground-up development, with the advantage of quicker time to market and the ability to customize performance and configurations for a particular application. Examples of industry-standard modules include SMARC and OSM, while board-level SBC solutions include Pico-ITX and mini-ITX. From a supply perspective, an obvious benefit is that you’ll need to source only one component instead of hundreds of individual components. Some modules that provide the same functionality are offered in a standard size by multiple suppliers, allowing you to plug any one of them into your socket.
Pick the right partners: Smart companies are strengthening their reliance on strategic collaborations with partners, including manufacturers and distributors. These partnerships can help improve supply chain visibility and manage disruptions. Because distributors have a broad market view and up-to-date information on product pipelines and availability, they are a key source of information for design engineers. They can also provide services such as a BOM risk evaluation, offering recommendations on alternatives for vulnerable parts. In short, a good distribution partner can help you manage everyday fluctuations and respond to the unexpected, so you’re free to focus on what you do best—great design
Avnet | www.avnet.com
PUBLISHED IN CIRCUIT CELLAR MAGAZINE • SEPTEMBER #398 – Get a PDF of the issueSponsor this Article
Vito Savino is the data center and wireline segment leader for ABB Power Conversion, where he works with data center and telecommunications customers to provide advanced solutions for their dynamic power challenges.