Supply Chain Management: Ensure Component Availability at Design Time

December 14, 2016 Derek Jackson

supply chain management for pcb design manufacturing

Component availability can result in missed deadlines or render a design unproducible. Learn how to the supply chain management capabilities in Altium Designer can mitigate these issues. Read on to find out more.

Not having insight into component availability can result in a product being late, missing a market window, or not even producible. On top of all your other design challenges, you need to ensure you’re selecting components that are actually available when you need them. What happens when it is time for re-orders or modifications to an existing design? How do you know that you can still purchase the required components?  There are many different databases and methodologies from enterprise solutions to manual spreadsheet tracking. What if live supplier data could be directly added to your components to instantly provide this critical information?   


Holistic Data Management Perspective

According to The Aberdeen Group, 81% of the best in class companies use a centralized built and managed library system1.  If you have access to a system like this at your company, you can reference your database and make selections based on the information there.  However, many companies don’t have access to this level of enterprise-based solution. So how do you manage your component data on top of all your other design tasks? How can you determine what parts will be available for production, which parts will need to be replaced, and which parts of the existing design can be ordered and in what quantities?


Get Direct Access to Your Supply Chain

The supply chain, also known as Solutions, can be used to bring in purchase data directly into a bill of materials.  The supply data information is read directly from the distributor, so these are also referred to as Live Supplier Links.  In Altium Designer®, several suppliers are available and you can control what will be included in your search via the preferences under Data Management » Suppliers in Altium Designer.

From the list of suppliers that you have enabled a set of search results will be returned that includes component pricing, available quantities, etc... Additionally, web links to the manufacturer’s page and data sheets are included for each component link. When suitable parts are found, the Supply Link can be attached directly to the component. This link is used to pull the associated data from the supplier into the bill of materials report. Quantities and pricing can also be seen directly when inspecting the link directly.

Using the Supplier Panel to search for components will return results based on the selected suppliers and the best choice can be made by simply dragging the link to the component in your schematic. Open the Supplier Search panel from the System panel button and then Supplier Search.


Additionally, right-clicking on a component and selecting Supplier links will allow you to click Add and perform a search directly to add to the component.


Adding Live Supplier Links

There are several ways to add live supplier links to your design.  Supplier links can be added to components in the schematic library, directly to components at the schematic level, to components in a database library, or using Altium Vault®.  These different approaches are outlined in detail in the TechDoc, Live Supplier Data - Managing Supplier Links, found here.

This approach makes adding supplier data to components in your libraries a little more difficult as you need to maintain individual components with the added supplier links. It can be done and managed, but the number of components and library structure can become fairly involved.  The better approach is to add the supplier links at the schematic level in the design. This allows for more of a generalized approach, e.g., you can reuse a resistor and add configure each placed component in your design. This method still has drawbacks, as you are now out of sync with your libraries and can be more error prone. True, you can select which parameters not to update during library updates, but it puts a lot of pressure on the designer to not make mistakes.  

The best approach is to use a database library or Altium Vault. This way, you can reuse a single schematic library component to represent different components which are populated with different data and have their own component name, parameters, and company part number.  This way, you can have hundreds or even thousands of resistors and capacitors and various other components and reuse the same base graphical model. Altium Vault takes the database approach one step further by allowing revision and lifecycle management to be assigned to components and even to the supplier links. It is a separate option in Altium Designer.  Altium Content Vault is free of charge to access and place components from.


Experience an Integrated Supply Chain Solution

Using supplier links in your designs will not only enhance your design process but also with future modifications and design reuse. The supply chain management capabilities in Altium Designer help to ensure that your designs are always equipped with the right components so you’ll never miss a deadline again.

Interested in learning more about managing your supply chain in Altium Designer? Download the free white paper Design Data Management Part 2, Supply Chain today.

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About the Author

Derek Jackson

Derek brings electronic experience with over 20 years as a support EDA specialist. After earning a Certified Electronics Technician certificate, he continued on to earn a Bachelor of Engineering degree from California State Fullerton focusing in computer architecture and design. Initially supporting embedded development platforms, he began supporting EDA tools in 1997, focusing on schematic, PCB, VHDL and Spice simulation. Joining Altium in 2005 he gets a great deal of pleasure helping others succeed.

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