If 2020 was defined by managing the business through the pandemic, then 2021 is the year defined by components shortages. In more than three decades of being an electronics engineer, I have never seen a shortage so broad and extensive as the current situation. This problem is global and it’s not going away soon. So as engineers, we have to respond and adapt.
There isn’t going to be a single solution. Products and manufacturing facilities are complex, so the best, or rather ‘least worst’ option, will be specific in each case.
One of the first reactions is to look to the grey market to supply the components. Whilst there are many credible suppliers out there, the risk of fraudulent and poor quality components is real and often very difficult to identify. If this option is taken, manufacturers must allow for verifying the alternatives and being aware that some problems may arise with the product. In some sectors such as medical, going to the grey market may not be possible.
With a good understanding of the circuit operation, alternative components can often be identified. In some cases, these can be simple drop in replacements, but sometimes more extensive changes are needed. The business case and decision making around this requires open communication between the factory, engineers and business managers.
At Partner Electronics we are assisting our clients with this challenging journey and we’re evolving our design processes to improve the resilience of our designs to component supply issues.