We all know the electronics industry has been facing a severe shortage of semiconductors due to the pandemic. Supply chain disruptions and unbalanced demand & supply are creating problems not only with chips but also with non-semiconductor devices like connectors, passive components, or even raw PCB materials.
Plants are running at full capacity but can't keep up with demand. The silicon crisis is really hurting our digital world today! For each electronics project, there is a high risk of failure if the company does not have its own vast stock of parts and long-term contracts with semiconductor vendors. Unfortunately, the latter is rarely the case if you are a startup or actively growing business. But, as with any other disaster, surviving requires learning to live in new circumstances.
So, what can companies do to overcome this semiconductor shortage crisis?
- Firstly, they need to be aware of the problem and plan for it. They should try to build up their inventory as much as possible so that they have a buffer in case of any unforeseen problems.
- Secondly, they need to be flexible in their designs. They should try to use alternative components where possible, and be prepared to change their designs if necessary.
- Thirdly, they have to build good relationships with their suppliers. This will help them to get priority when orders are placed, and also to get better prices.
- Fourthly, they need to be prepared to pay higher prices for components. This is an unavoidable evil in the current market, and there's no way around it unless you include it in your business model.
- Fifthly, all decisions, from the selection of electronic components to the purchase, must be made as seamlessly and quickly as possible because the market situation changes daily. It's a good idea to keep electronics engineers and PCB designers in the loop with purchasing managers to get the fastest reaction time.
- Finally, they must have contingency plans in place. They should have alternative suppliers lined up, and be prepared to switch if necessary.
And here are some technical hints for fellow engineers:
- Try using more “standard” parts and be ready to return to proven old-school designs like building an ideal diode on discrete parts instead of scarce specialized integrated circuits.
- Avoid "automotive" versions of parts unless necessary. The reason is simple: they're in high demand among vehicle manufacturers and tend to fly off the shelves quickly and unexpectedly.
- If PCB space permits, footprints for several alternative components can be stacked to get more freedom in procurement and assembly.
- For example, SOT-23-style surface-mount transistors can be replaced with various SOT-89 packages or even through-hole TO-92 types in a pinch. Many MOSFETs in QFN-8-style packages have SOIC-8 counterparts with an identical pinout that stacks easily.
- Research the market for cross-vendor pin-pin compatible devices. This feature is rarely advertised due to intellectual property concerns, but many such parts exist on the market among voltage regulators, supervisors, amplifiers, switches, and of course memory products. Double-check the datasheets to make sure that other characteristics match your design.
- Use FPGAs and CPLDs instead of ASICs and other highly specialized logic chips whenever possible. This will give you more design flexibility and make it easier to find compatible parts.
In short, the semiconductor shortage is a problem that is here to stay for the foreseeable future. But with careful planning and some creativity, it is possible to overcome these difficulties and continue building the electronics that we all rely on.
We're excited to have you check out our blog and hope that you find it useful. We at Embedity have a wide network of electronic component suppliers and will be delighted to assist you with the procurement of your project.
Email us today to learn more about our services and how we could help to bring your electronics product to life!