Supply Chain Issues: Together We Can Figure This Out

If we’re lucky the components have left Asia and are waiting to be unloaded  to the right west coast ports. Then hopefully someone can bring them to where they need to be via trains, planes, or trucks.

Hopefully, our laminates have left Asia and are waiting to be unloaded to the right west coast ports. Then hopefully someone can bring them to where they need to be via trains, planes, or trucks.

Or hopefully they are not still sitting in China.

Or even less hopefully, they are even being fabricated at all, since China is having a whole bunch of problems of their own, not the least of which are severe power shortages.

These are the challenges we are facing here in North America.

And then we are making the issues even more challenging by not adapting to meet these challenges.

PCBs are not being put on order yet because the customers do not have the components.

The assemblers are waiting to have their entire BOM before they order the boards.

Then they (the customers)  want the boards really fast so they can move their inventory, ship assembled  products, invoice those products, and finally get paid for all that inventory they have been holding for so long.

But many times, when the CMs finally do get their complete component sets and finally do order the boards they want them expedited because they want them yesterday. But the board fabricators cannot turn around the boards quickly because they have to wait for those laminates that are on the same ships as the components!

And such is the supply chain as we know it today. It’s a chain filled with missing links that are frankly screwing everything up.

But wait, why don’t we sit down and think about this for a minute? If we work together, we can overcome many of these delays, by actually working together, by performing some of these actions concurrently rather than consecutively

Here are some pretty good ideas for overcoming some of these challenges:

  1. The OEMs should work closely with their designers and engineers to make sure they select components and laminates and other materials that are more easily acquired than the more esoteric harder to find ones.
  2. The OEMs and their engineers should be willing to accept and make intelligent substitutions when the needs arise. This is not the time to  be a stickler and wait forever for the right, precise parts that you want. If other parts or other laminates will work…use them. They have to be willing to use other parts and laminates even if they are not “specced ”in.
  3. Contract Manufacturers have to man (or woman) up when it comes to asking their customers for changes and substitutions. I know that the very idea of doing this is terrifying, but it is necessary at this time.
  4. The OEM’s and CM’s need to order the boards early, even if they do not have the complete component set. That way the PCB fabricators can order the laminate and eat up that lead time while their customers are waiting for components and then get the boards built exactly when their customers need them. That’s not hard and there is no extra cost since they will not be invoices until the boards are shipped. In fact, there can be a savings since by ordering the boards in advance, they can cut down those expedite fees.
  5. Okay this is a tough one, but we are all in this together right. The CM’s should charge their customers a small carrying fee for holding the components they have already purchased and that are sitting there while they wait for the rest of the critical components to arrive. It does not have to be an exorbitant fee, just something that will ease some of the financial burden of holding components for so long before they finally get paid for the finished product  which could be as long as half a year or more.
  6. The key here is cooperation. As the saying has been for almost two years now, say it with me: “We are all in this together.” And this means that if we are going to not only survive but even thrive in these difficult days we are going to have to work together. This means that besides the above mentioned suggestions, Designers, PCB fabricators, Assemblers and OEM’s should all be working together to find a way. This means PCB shops helping one another out with laminates, processes and equipment sharing. If for example a PCB shop cannot meet a customer’s needs then help that customer find the right solution, suggest another PCB company who can provide that solution. Doing this for one another will work in the long run and reflects the true meaning of, say it with me again. “We are all in this together!”
  7. And finally, one last thing. We should all be open and honest with one another. Telling one another what the true story is when it comes to when we will actually get the critical parts and laminates and actually be able to ship the product. This is key.

And that is pretty much the way we can all get through this. If some of you have other ideas and suggestions on how we can all work together to meet and solve these challenges, please share them. I’d love to hear from you. It’s only common sense.