Supply chains are increasingly recognised as a key component to business survival, success and growth, as ByteSnap found in its survey, Thriving in the Face of Change, which revealed that the electronics industry was one of the worst hit by supply chain disruptions. 82% of the companies surveyed had been adversely affected by supply chain challenges.
In response, ByteSnap’s team of embedded electronics engineers has put together some tips to help keep design projects on track and minimise the effects of supply chain disruptions:
1) Order quantities as soon as the project schematic is completed – despite the pandemic, 60% of ByteSnap’s survey respondents saw an increase in demand for their products or services, 9% experienced no change and 31% witnessed a decrease.
To accommodate the increasing demand for products and services, smart designers and manufacturers need to stay ahead with supply already in stock or en route, to match demand.
Materials requirements planning (MRP) is a system for calculating the materials and components needed to manufacture a product. It is made up of three steps:
- taking inventory of the materials and components on hand
- identifying which additional ones are needed
- and then scheduling their production or purchase
This is important, particularly with specialised software, to ensure you have exactly what is needed, when you need it and at the lowest possible cost. MRP is key to improving the efficiency, flexibility and profitability of manufacturing operations.
2) Minimise risk exposure – sustainable supply chains are important so reducing the number of different components and reusing parts, when possible, can make your manufacturing process more efficient if there are any parts that become unavailable for some reason.
During the first lockdown, 18% of the electronics sector was concerned about supply chain disruption, according to ByteSnap’s survey. This has translated into 45% of companies holding more stock in-house rather than just in time (JIT) and 26% now auditing their supply chains more closely. While 10% of respondents in 2020 were considering using more domestic suppliers, the survey revealed that less than 11% actually moved part of their supply chain to the UK.
3) Improve scalability and defend against obsolescence - think about system design techniques like microservices or distributed compute across the whole product ecosystem to improve scalability and defend against obsolescence.
Microservices are a way of breaking large software projects into loosely coupled modules, which communicate with each other. This enables changes and redeploying of technology and gives you a more innovative, nimble approach to design, build and manage the project; which, in turn, brings the potential to speed development life cycles.
4) Replace single chips with discrete components – before integrated circuits, all capacitors, inductors, diodes and other input systems were individual and discrete circuits. So, if you can’t use a chip, consider using a few standard discrete components instead, which can be integrated into the same chip to reduce power consumption.
5) Choose devices which have footprint-compatible alternatives – footprint or pin compatible devices allow for the use of the same PCB without any electrical issues or risks. You can reduce risk during the early design stage by considering dual-footprint devices and pin-to-pin alternates that meet your system requirements. Manufacturers often have handy cross-reference tools which makes finding pin compatible alternatives, for parts like ADCs and DACs, much easier.
6) Design firmware to be as hardware abstracted as possible - hardware abstractions are sets of routines in software that provide programs with access to hardware resources through programming interfaces. By designing the firmware with a Hardware Abstraction Layer, you can improve portability and adaptability to different chips as your design allows for a computer operating system to interact with the device at a general, abstract level rather than a specific, detailed hardware level, if needed.
7) Reserve data within communications protocols and storage space in the firmware upgrade processes – this will enable you to account for wider support changes in the future and reduce the risk of requiring a completely new update system design for new generations of your products.
8) Port the application as early as possible - to make your design as painless as possible, port the application using reference hardware with the same chips as you are intending to use in production. By porting early, problems may come to the surface before the target design is finalised and can be easily rectified.
9) Connect with your contract manufacturers early - they may have access to search the semiconductor global supply chain and evaluate parts availability or potential shortages before you design in key components.
10) Engage hardware and software expertise under one roof – this may seem obvious but having everything you need in one place makes it far easier than going to separate providers. Having to manage different companies can lead to delays whilst determining who is responsible for the resolution and getting this implemented. Delays affect business downtime and/or time to market.
By engaging a company that has both hardware and software design experience, you can ensure the best possible result, in the quickest time.
More people are now realising the consequences of disruptions in supply chains, and how imperative it is that they become more sustainable and have a process in place to avoid downtime.
Think about how the supply chain industry has evolved and what it now means to businesses globally and ask yourself the question, “Is my supply chain is one that could withstand another pandemic, or not...?”
Author details: Dunstan Power, Managing Director, ByteSnap