PCB Assembly Services - Screaming Circuits: Life in the Supply Chain Lane


Life in the Supply Chain Lane

Sometimes the (seemingly) simplest of projects come with the same problems you'd expect to find in the most complex projects.

At various times in my 15 years here (That seems like a long time. I think I’d feel better calling it out in hex) ...in my 0x0E years here, I have spent differing amounts of time designing my own electronics. Lately, as in pandemic-year, I’ve barely opened my CAD software. That bums me out for a couple of reasons. One, I miss designing things and two, I end up losing some touch with the world that electronics engineers live in.

Some years, going that long without designing and then trying to get something built doesn’t really hurt. I know our systems and processes better than I know the back of my hand. This year, though, I can’t say that - largely due to the extreme disruption in the supply chain. It’s “only parts”, some might say. True, but you can’t put parts on boards (which is what we do) without parts.

Last Friday, my friend Max contacted me for some help getting a few boards built. Helping someone else isn’t as good as designing something myself, but it’s a start in the right direction. The design is one of those that is very simple and also very complex. It only has six bill of materials (BOM) line items in total, with only three of those needing to be placed by our machines. Those three line items are comprised of 45 RGB LEDs, 45 surface mount capacitors and one surface mount resistor. Pretty easy, or so I thought.

Max sent me the Gerber files, the BOM and a Centroid file (also known as a pick and place or XLRS file). Easy. I entered the assembly parameters and the fab specifications without trouble. Well, mostly without trouble. Max needs 100 boards built, which makes it an ideal candidate for our Short-Run Production service level, allowing for some cost savings. However, for Short-Run production, we need boards smaller than 16 square inches panelized and switching between individually routed and panelized isn’t the easiest thing to do on our website right now.

Fortunately, we’ll be making that easier around the end of June with an upcoming website update and if you are using our Full-Proto service, you don’t need to panelize your boards.

Back to parts… I uploaded his bill of materials and our parts quoter couldn’t find any of his three parts in stock. Ugh. I went to Digi-Key, found alternates that appeared to be in stock and re-uploaded the BOM. 

Still not in stock! But I just checked! That is the perfect example of what all of us (you, me, other manufacturers, everyone) is dealing with when trying to source parts these days. It’s a mess and it won’t be getting better for a while.

On my next try, our automated system found two of the three parts. I’ll have to give the last one to our purchasing folks to find. Automated systems are great when the world around is cooperating, but whatever that endeavor, sometimes actual human beings need to step in.

Electronics design and manufacturing is complicated at best and complicated at worst. Just don’t be hesitant to use both automated tools and humans to help you get the job done.

BOM line itemsIs it hard to order assembly online? There’s one way to find out. Go to Screamingcircuits.com and get a project quote. Maybe even place the order.

Duane Benson


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