Have you purchased any electronics components lately? Have you tried and failed to do so lately? Allocation is the word of the day and substitutions are your friend. Many, many parts are in short supply, or unavailable with extraordinarily long lead times.
Sure, that happens every now and then in this industry. It's a periodic nuisance, but what should you do for the long term? This looks to be a pretty extreme allocation cycle, and I have a feeling that the industry will be different when we come out of it.
Here at Screaming Circuits, we're getting some interesting stories from component suppliers that might help. What we're hearing is that many passive manufacturers will be trying to move their customers to smaller sizes. They want to consolidate on as few packages as is possible. That means we may be seeing the end of 1206, 0805 and maybe even 0603 form factors for many passive values.
It kind of makes sense. Right now, there might be several dozen different varieties of 0.1 uF, 16 volt capacitor. Does the industry need that? And if there isn't enough fab capacity to make all of the variations, why not consolidate and run more of fewer variations? It won't surprise me if we start seeing fewer voltage ranges as well. In most cases, a 16 volt part will be just fine if you're calling for a 6 or 10 volt part.
The chip industry has been doing this for a while. Many of the newer components just come in BGA or QFN packages. Fewer and few leading edge parts come in large thru-hole or SOIC packages. Consider using smaller components, like standardizing on 0402 parts. It can be a pain to use smaller parts, but any potential for future proofing your design now can prevent delays or otherwise unnecessary redesign cycles. You might just be able shrink your board size and save some money on the board fab too.
Keep approved substitutions close by, and look for newer chips that are more likely to stay in production. For microcontrollers, pick parts that have multiple memory capacity or speed range variants all in the same package.
Here are five things you can do to minimize the component disruption to your design and manufacturing program.
1. Check your components for availability before getting your boards assembled.
Select components in the early part of the design phase, or add them in as you go. At the very least, select them all before layout.
2. Select alternates before sending your files.
Put approved alternates in your bill of materials (BOM). If any components may go out of stock, put an alternate part number or two in the BOM to prevent delays while waiting for substitution approval.
3. Be flexible with the component values.
If the exact value doesn’t matter, let your supplier know. That may be the difference between on time and frustratingly late.
4. Consider a minor redesign for the long term.
A number of components vendors claim that larger packages will be in the shortest supply and will be the last to come back in stock. Over time, some of the larger form factors will likely be phased out. This advice holds for chips too.
5. When your manufacturing partners contacts you — respond ASAP.
Don't add extra days into the build schedule by making your assembly house guess. Be ready to jump in and give the information needed to keep your job running. If the shop runs overnight, be willing to take a call in the middle of the night. Let them know that you’ll be available and give them a cell phone number.
Us in the manufacturing world can't make these component shortages go away, but by working together engineers and assemblers can keep the disruption to a minimum. We want nothing more than to see working boards in your hands when you need them.