It has been more than 2 years since the chip shortage started due to increased demand and disturbance in the supply chain.
The question is, how to survive this?
There are two basic approaches: 1) get creative to find supply and 2) get creative and design around scarcity.
Option 1- Creativity to Finding Supply
- Talk directly to the chip manufacturer and see if you can get into a “priority program”. Certain chip vendors have this type of program. This is even possible for smaller customers who need a few hundred or a few thousand units. Also, we had cases where chips were delivered ahead of time, a few months before the promised deadline.
- If this does not work out, look for alternatives. Some vendors have a competitor cross-reference search and suggest part numbers that are potential alternatives.
- Consider using vendors like Union IC, Geehy or GigaDevice that offer a pin-to-pin replacements for many known brands.
- In many cases, however, there is no drop in alternatives, so a redesign is required. In this case, it is important to secure quantities before finishing the redesign.
- There are EMS companies who are selling excess components in stock, and this can work as a short-term patch until you get your chips or finalize the redesign.
- Use parts with similar characteristics or those from a lower range (e.g., 5% tolerance instead of 1% will do the job in many cases). Or use parts for industrial or extended range in commercial applications. Sure it is expensive but less than not producing.
- Optimize BOM: do you need both 15k and 10k resistors? Can you go maybe with 15k only as it is less used, so fewer people is looking for it? Or similar to a 100nF capacitor, would something with a different value work as a decoupling capacitor?
- SMD adapters for drop-in replacement parts – These adapters can be designed with a standard footprint on the bottom side so that these devices can act as drop-in replacements when components go out of stock. One possibility is to swap out an out-of-stock part with an alternative that has a different footprint; the 3D MID can be customized as an adapter between the two components
Option 2- Design Around Supply Limitations.
- Use components that are available on the market at the moment of starting the new design
- Order components for the prototype at the very beginning. Otherwise, doing it once the design is completed can be too late, as they may no longer be in stock.
- Engage chip manufacturers upfront to secure stocks for pilot runs and mass production
- If production qty’s are high, consider having multiple designs: g. one with STM and another with Nordic, to reduce the risk of shortage or long lead times with one vendor.
- Create “Multi-footprint” components to support alternatives if the first choice is not available
- Consider developing firmware using an operating system that enables porting from one MCU platform to the other with the least possible effort (for example, Zephyr RTOS)
- Develop firmware in a layered way so that application is separated from hardware abstraction layer and low level can be replaced in case chip needs to be replaced with an alternative.
- Many chip vendors provide forecasts about supply and lead times. Stay informed.