Top 10 tips: Creativity in the electronics industry supply chain can help counter chip shortages

Author : Dunstan Power | Director | ByteSnap Design

01 July 2022

Supply chain elipse
Supply chain elipse

Thanks to Brexit, the COVID-19 pandemic & now the Russia-Ukraine war, the risks & shortfalls in our global supply chains have come front & centre for most companies over the last 2 years, especially for the electronics industry. To recognise World Supply Chain Day on 21 April, Dunstan Power, Director at embedded electronics consultancy, ByteSnap Design has 10 tips for design engineers to help keep their projects on track & minimise the effects of supply chain disruptions…

A version of this viewpoint was originally featured in EPDT's H2 2022 Electronics Distribution supplement, included in the July 2022 issue of EPDT magazine [read the digital issue]. And sign up to receive your own copy each month.

Supply chains are increasingly recognised as a key component to business survival, success and growth, ByteSnap found in its recent electronics industry survey, Thriving in the Face of Change, which revealed that the sector was one of the worst hit by supply chain disruptions. 82% of the companies surveyed had been adversely affected by supply chain challenges...

1) Order quantities as soon as the project schematic is completed  

Despite the pandemic, 60% of ByteSnap’s survey respondents saw an increase in demand for their products or services; 9% experienced no change and 31% witnessed a decrease. To accommodate increasing demand for electronics products and services, smart designers and manufacturers need to stay ahead with supply already in stock or en route, to match demand.

Materials requirements planning (MRP) is a system for calculating the materials and components needed to manufacture a product. It is made up of three steps:

•  taking inventory of the materials and components on hand

•  identifying which additional ones are needed

•  and then scheduling their production or purchase

This is crucial to ensure you have exactly what is needed, when you need it and at the lowest possible cost. MRP is key to improving the efficiency, flexibility and profitability of manufacturing operations.

2) Minimise risk exposure

Sustainable supply chains are important, so reducing the number of different components and reusing parts, when possible, can help make your manufacturing process more efficient if there are any parts that become unavailable for some reason.

World Supply Chain Day
World Supply Chain Day

During the first COVID lockdown, 18% of the electronics sector was concerned about supply chain disruption, according to ByteSnap’s survey. This has translated into 45% of companies holding more stock in-house, rather than relying on the just-in-time (JIT) model, and 26% now auditing their supply chains more closely. While 10% of respondents in 2020 were considering using more domestic suppliers, the survey revealed that less than 11% actually moved part of their supply chain to the UK.

3) Improve scalability & defend against obsolescence

Think about system design techniques, like microservices or distributed compute, across the whole product ecosystem to improve scalability and defend against obsolescence.

Microservices are a way of breaking large software projects into loosely coupled modules, which communicate with each other. This enables changes and redeployment of technology, giving you a more innovative, nimble approach to design, build and manage the project; which, in turn, brings the potential to speed development lifecycles.

4) Replace single chips with discrete components

Before integrated circuits (ICs), all capacitors, inductors, diodes and other input systems were individual and discrete circuits. So, if you can’t use a chip, consider using a few standard discrete components instead, which can be integrated into the same chip to reduce power consumption.

5) Choose devices which have footprint-compatible alternatives

Footprint or pin compatible devices allow for the use of the same PCB (printed circuit board) without any electrical issues or risks. You can reduce risk during the early design stage by considering dual-footprint devices and pin-to-pin alternates that meet your system requirements. Manufacturers often have handy cross-reference tools, which makes finding pin compatible alternatives, for parts like ADCs (analogue-to-digital converters) and DACs (digital-to-analogue converters), much easier.

6) Design firmware to be as hardware abstracted as possible

Hardware abstractions are sets of routines in software that provide programs with access to hardware resources through programming interfaces. By designing the firmware with a hardware abstraction layer (HAL), you can improve portability and adaptability to different chips, as your design allows for a computer operating system (OS) to interact with the device at a general, abstract level rather than a specific, detailed hardware level, if needed.

7) Reserve data within communications protocols & storage space in the firmware upgrade processes

This will enable you to account for wider support changes in the future and reduce the risk of requiring a complete new updated system design for new generations of your products.

8) Port the application as early as possible

To make your design as painless as possible, port the application using reference hardware with the same chips as you are intending to use in production. By porting early, problems may come to the surface before the target design is finalised, and can then be easily rectified.

9) Connect with your contract manufacturers early

They may have access to search the semiconductor global supply chain and evaluate parts availability or potential shortages before you design in key components.

10) Engage hardware & software expertise under one roof

This may seem obvious, but having everything you need in one place makes it far easier than going to separate providers. Having to manage different companies can lead to delays while determining who is responsible for a resolution and getting this implemented. Delays affect business downtime and/or time-to-market. By engaging a company that has both hardware and software design experience, such as ByteSnap, you can ensure the best possible result, in the quickest time.

Conclusion

More companies are now realising the consequences of disruptions in supply chains, and how imperative it is that they become more sustainable, as well as having processes in place to avoid downtime. On this year’s World Supply Chain Day, consider how essential supply chains are to all our lives. Think about how the supply chain sector has evolved and what it now means to businesses globally. And ask yourself the question: “Is my supply chain is one that could withstand another pandemic, or not...?”


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