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Anyone who calls themselves a “geek” has probably uttered those famous words from Star Trek's opening:
“Space: the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Its five-year mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations. To boldly go where no man has gone before!”
Most PCB designers would agree that we know precisely how Captain James T. Kirk felt because we often feel the same way when starting a new design. We are launching into something that we ultimately don't know how it will turn out. We don't know the difficulties we'll face or problems we’ll need to fix. While we can control the design process and use our skills to make reasonable decisions, there are often huge hazards awaiting us in the "unknown." One worsening problem for all designers is component procurement.
Every component has both static and dynamic information: static is the parametric information, schematic symbol or footprint; dynamic data is the sourcing. Actually, it is incredibly dynamic and constantly changing, which can cause significant problems in your design. Component availability is so volatile that it changes by the hour.
It doesn’t make it any easier to select components at the beginning of a project as you don’t know what final components will ultimately end up in your design. From the start of a design until you eventually drag it across the finish line, significant problems can occur and it’s anybody’s guess what might happen.
One of the standard rules in design and engineering is not to make assumptions as this introduces a tremendous amount of risk into the design process. But, it seems this is what’s happening when we select specific components in this current environment.
Causes of Component Shortages
If we were using the defense readiness condition (DEFCON) alert state to illustrate the component shortage’s seriousness and severity, we would easily be sitting at a DEFCON 2. Component shortages are now impacting the electronics industry in a significant way. I have seen reports that several automobile manufacturers have temporarily shut down because of substantial component shortages. I see it as the perfect storm, where it’s not caused by one particular reason, but a combination of situations. This was a hot topic at the end of 2019, yet here we are again. I don’t think we fully recovered from the initial component shortage as the root causes still exist and have become even more severe.
Impact of the COVID Pandemic
The pandemic’s impact caused a worldwide slowdown of the electronics industry as the massive industrial machine came to a halt. It affected the supply change on multiple levels—not just with manufacturers and suppliers, but it went so deep that even the mining of raw materials was halted. Nothing like this had ever happened before, and the industry was not ready. Everyone wanted to see the industry re-open, but in some ways, this has actually further complicated the issues, and it remains to be seen how the electronics industry will operate in the post-COVID economy.
To read this entire article, which appeared in the April 2021 issue of SMT007 Magazine, click here.