Parts shortages continue to wreak havoc on product design

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Electronic parts shortages caused by a combination of the global COVID-19 pandemic and ongoing economic and geopolitical turmoil are taking their toll on design engineers, who have been forced to extend design cycles, resort to other ways to source parts and pay escalating prices, according to a recent survey by electronics distributor Avnet.

The crisis threatens to outlast the COVID-19 pandemic and represents a significant challenge for more than 75% of the 530 engineers, who are Avnet customers, that the company surveyed. The dismal results paint a bleak picture for the global electronics industry, which is trying to meet strong demand for its products as electronic content continues to rise in automobiles, industrial systems, medical products and other sectors. .

Even industry veterans such as Peggy Carrieres, vice president of Global Sales Enablement and Supplier Development at Avnet, are puzzled by the length and depth of the crisis.

“It’s a cyclical business as it is,” Carrieres said. Design News in an interview last week. “We were poised for an uptick in 2020 with 5G coming online and the growth of autonomous vehicles. We are seeing more and more disruptions as demand increases and supply constraints persist.

Carrieres noted that when the pandemic hit, automotive demand initially slowed but was replaced by demand for parts of medical products such as ventilators, as well as PCs, as remote work drove up demand for parts. of computer. Pent-up demand for parts forces design engineers to readjust design cycles and, in many cases, modify part designs.

According to the survey, 93% of respondents said they were witnessing longer delivery times for parts, with the situation likely to worsen. To add insult to injury, parts prices also continue to rise, led by microcontrollers which have seen increases of over 35%. Logic and programmable parts have seen their prices increase by an average of more than 20%.


The misery of the microcontroller

Microcontrollers have been particularly affected by the shortages, according to the survey, as delivery times have in many cases stretched to 50 weeks or more. Microcontroller shortages compound another problem as engineers have to move to another part because the desired part is not available. Avnet’s Carrieres noted that microcontrollers present challenges for engineers because they cannot simply be inserted into a board design without additional hardware and software modifications, unlike less complex parts such as passives.

The survey noted that 55% of respondents said they needed to redesign the cards. Another 35% had to modify the firmware and 25% the software. As a result, 40% of respondents reported a major impact on design cycles.

Design cycles are getting longer as engineers now have to spend more time sourcing parts from multiple sources, tying up engineering work. Additionally, the use of alternative parts forces engineers to spend more time on testing, approvals and certifications. On top of that, many respondents had to modify the performance and functionality of the final product.

Material shortages

Increasing the production of parts to meet shortages is not as easy as it seems. Material shortages, coupled with shipping and logistics challenges, contribute to part shortages, as the wafers used as the basis for many parts are too scarce.

“Front-end processing used to make wafers can now take 8 to 14 weeks,” Carrieres said. “There is no more buffer stock of wafers to cut parts.”

Recent initiatives to increase domestic semiconductor production, such as Intel building two new factories in Ohio, will help, Carrieres added, but these efforts will not solve the current crisis. “It can take up to three years to bring a wafer factory online,” she noted.

Carrieres believes that while parts shortages will eventually ease as production increases, any semblance of a normal business environment where demand and supply are in balance is at least a year away.

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