Weekend Wisdom - Living With our Supply Chain
Unless you've been sequestered in your home for the last few years, you've been bombarded with messages about the broken supply chain. Everything is in short supply, it's a crisis, it's unprecedented, and I just don't know what to do with myself... Something like that.
I started writing about the current "supply chain crisis" back in 2018. You can go back further in the archives and see articles from other supply chain crises pretty much back to the beginning of this blog. What that says to me is that maybe we should all stop looking at this as a crisis type event and start thinking of it as just another part of the design process. Designing a new electronic circuit can be a difficult process. There are a lot of unknowns. Sometimes a designer doesn't even know if it's possible when first given an assignment. That's what design is about: creating something where nothing but unknowns existed before.
Someone explain to me how the current supply chain challenges are any different than any other part of the process. You try something and if it doesn't work (or can't be found) you try something else. In fact, the more difficult things are, the more we are inspired or driven toward innovation and creativity. The future of new and exciting advancements in technology depends on things being difficult.
Start with some logic and the separation of knowns and unknowns. For example:
Known: It is a known that any given component might go out of stock at any point in the design or manufacturing cycle. You might pick a specific microcontroller (MCU) during design phase only to find that production quantities are 52 weeks out. That would be sad.
Mitigation: Design with substitutions in mind. If you're working with MCUs, pick parts with many variants available. Go beyond drop in form fit and function equivalents and understand that you may need to switch to something close, but not exact. Design your firmware so that it can recognize the MCU differences and adapt without your intervention. Set up your documentation, programming, service and other processes with part variations in mind. You may even need to put a few extra footprints on the PCB to be used in case an alternate has a different footprint.
Supply instability will be here with us for a while. It will get better, but then it will get worse again, etc. Designers that look at the supply chain as just another one of many design challenges will end up with products that are easier to get manufactured and maintain. We all need to innovate and adapt.
Just, please, don't mimic nor think of yourself as Sisyphus