The electronics design world is by now aware that we're in a very serious period of components shortages. The hardest hit seem to be ceramic capacitors, but other passives as well as a variety of connectors and silicon parts are also caught up in the shortage storm. Allocation and shortages hit every few years, but this one seems to be the worst in recent memory. It could be a problem until 2020 and the supply chain and world of components manufactures will likely be a different animal coming out of it.
So, you might ask, isn't that just a problem for high volume producers? No. It affects anyone regardless of volume. The exact way that it hits you and what you can do about it may differ, but it has or soon will hit all of us.
Here's five things you can do to minimize the effects. I'm going to go backwards and start with the most important thing for people who need low volumes manufactured:
1. Check the availability of all of your parts immediately before sending your bill of materials (BOM)
It's not uncommon for a part to be in stock one day and out the next. We've even seen cases where the part is in stock in the morning and out by the afternoon. In order to quote and order your parts, verify that they are in stock as the last thing you do before sending your files to your PCB assembler.
Almost every BOM we see these days has one or more parts that are out of stock. At Screaming Circuits, we send you an email about the parts being out of stock. We can't do anything else until we hear back from you. We can't build without parts and we don't know your design like you do, so we can't guess at substitutions. A last minute check by can save days of delay.
2. Put one or two alternate part numbers in your BOM, especially for passives.
As I said above, PCB assemblers don't know your project, so we can't pick a sub for you. Give us some alternates. Put them on the same line as the original part, to the right. And be sure to tell us special instructions if you've put alternates in the BOM.
3. Consider your parts values carefully. You may be able to pick something with better availability.
The 0.01 uF capacitor is the hardest hit component. It's the most commonly used bypass capacitor. Some designs need exactly that value, but many don't. It may be easier to find a 0.022 uF, a 0.0047 uF, or something else close enough. If that's the case, choose a close enough value that has better supply, or put one in as an alternate.
4. You might need a slight redesign to use a smaller package.
Since smaller packages can be used in more applications, many suppliers will be allocating more of their foundry capacity to smaller form factors like 0402 and 0201 sizes. Some component manufacturers have said they'll be permanently discontinuing anything bigger than 0402 parts except when absolutely necessary.
Stick with 0402 size passives. It may be easier to find the parts you need in that package, and those size parts will be the first ones to come back in stock.
5. If we send you a message about a part we can't find, respond as quickly as possible.
Assemblers do our best to avoid any delays in this process, but we can only do so much. Help us out by getting back to us as soon as possible, and don't be afraid to give us more than one part number to try to prevent further delays to assembly.
The good news is, we're having this problem because the design world is booming and technology is advancing. It will get better, and following these five tips can help prevent delays. Don't forget to check your parts for availability right before sending your BOM. I mean it!
Duane Benson is the Chief Technology Champion at Screaming Circuits.