Electronic Components Shortages in 2019, Insights from John Watson

Judy Warner
|  Created: January 8, 2019  |  Updated: February 5, 2021

John Watson and Judy Warner

Electronic Components Shortages, or part shortages are so big that it impacts nearly every aspect of electronics design and manufacture. Lead times continue to rise no matter how fast parts are being produced. It is just not possible for production to catch up. The reality of this current shortage means it’s time to be innovative, and guest John Watson has some ideas to help including an expert tip Altium Designer users can put to good use. (Hint: ActiveBOM can help!) Listen in to get background on the electronic component shortage, what pro PCB designers are doing to address the concern proactively and stay ahead of PCB component shortages.

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Show Highlights:

Shortages first started with capacitors - specifically with multi-layer ceramic capacitors (MLCC) MLCCs  - 3 trillion created a year but the supply is still not meeting demand

This is a major crisis in the industry and its spreading

The part shortages are so big, it impacts every aspect. Shortages affecting: Board sensors, MOSFETs (metal-oxide semiconductor field-effect transistors), Resistors and Transistors. Previously unaffected supply chain areas are now being affected. 

No matter how fast these are being produced, not possible for production to catch up. 

There are three industries driving the high demand that is leading to part shortages:

  • IoT - estimated 20 billion new IoT devices in next few years

  • Mobile phone - 1.5 trillion mobile phones in next year. 1,000 capacitors in each phone. 

  • Automotive - 2,000 - 3,000 capacitors in regular / 22,000 capacitors estimated in electric car - as newer technologies are being pulled into regular automatic cars, just think of all the electronics i.e. safety features, automatic parking, etc.


New automotive organization:

AEC - Automotive Electronic Council is putting out standards that will be required for their components. Why? Because...

More rigorous components are needed in order to perform in harsh environments.

Almost 50% of those components have fallen out, or failed, to meet their tests.

On the component / part manufacturing side:

Converting lines from large components to smaller ones because not many people buying them.

Manufacturers shutting down entire lines so they can produce more popular sizes.

On the vendor side: 

Vendors have moved towards part allocation - big companies get first in line for parts.

“You can only buy parts with if you have bought with us in the past year” - this is allocation.

Once a company is in allocation, they begin to stockpile components.

What kind of lead times are most common right now: 

Short lead time - 16 weeks

Medium - 32 weeks

Long - 80 weeks 

What makes this part shortage so different? 

Mainly a market driven shortage, that cannot be pinpointed to a specific material shortage 

It’s almost an ‘emotional shortage’ where people may be hoarding more than they need. 

The extended duration of it is also unlike previous shortages. 

It’s a scenario where the market compounded onto itself with its reaction to it. 

The next big thing is Broadband Satellite. SpaceX and low flying satellites to make everybody wireless. This is huge, it’s a lot of hardware.

Hot Tip: The next big thing is Broadband Satellite. SpaceX and low flying satellites to make everybody wireless. This is huge, it’s a lot of hardware.

Component Shortage Hacks to get through the Crisis:

  • Overall, be as proactive as possible. 

  • Evaluate common design guidelines and step out of them. For example, can we change the norm values, parameters and tolerances? It doesn’t always require the most stringent guideline, there is room for adjustment, depending on the type of device and requirements. 

  • Be proactive, for example run your schematic through ActiveBOM and get flags on what components are not recommended. Don’t wait until layout, do it early on. 

  • You can also use Octopart, there are other free services. 

  • Leverage your procurement organization, give them the heads up with difficult components so they can be aware of the situation in advance. 

  • Create multiple footprints for designs. 

  • No single sourcing for components, don’t get tied into a single organization. 

Where do you source parts or find out about availability during the shortage?

  • Read the quarterly reports to get the latest, look at the numbers, watch the trend.

  • Keep aware of the issues i.e. part availability reports

  • Texas Instruments also has a lot of information. 

PCB Component Shortages and using ActiveBom:

“ActiveBOM came out just in time. It has been the go-to tool for us.”

Now we run legacy products through ActiveBOM. 

Links and Resources:

John Watson Podcast on PLM and Library management

OnTrack article about Part Shortages

Watch John Watson clips on Youtube

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Hey everyone it’s Judy. Today, you're going to enjoy learning about something that affects every PCB designer. Painful parts shortages. You'll hear from John Watson of LeGrand, who manages fifty designers globally. He's going to talk about what's driving these shortages. Why is this season of shortages and allocations so different than ones of the past? When can we expect this to end? He'll help you to navigate and give you some tips for how to succeed during this challenging time. So grab a cup of coffee, lean in, enjoy and I'll see you on the other side.

Welcome to Altium’s OnTrack Podcast where we talk to leaders about PCB design, tackling subjects ranging from schematic capture all the way to the manufacturing floor. I'm your host, Judy Warner. Please listen in every week and subscribe on iTunes, Stitcher and all your favorite podcast apps. And be sure to check out the show notes at Altium.com where you can find great resources and multiple ways to connect with us on social media. 

John, welcome back. 

Thank you.

We’re glad to have you back. 

It's a pleasure to be back with you.

Yeah, It's a pleasure to have you. So, for those of you that may have missed it, John and I did a podcast some time ago. And I will put the link in the show notes for you, in which we talked about PLMN and library management, one of my favorite ever. There's some funny things in that. So I encourage you to go watch that. But I wanted to bring John in today because he helped me actually write up an article recently in the OnTrack Newsletter, talking about all the ins and outs of the parts shortages which are a nightmare. And I asked him, and  thought he would send me a nice few paragraphs and off we'd go, and he sent me like, I don't know...

There was three thousand words [laughter].

It was very thorough, but it was really good and people reacted really positively to it. So I thought, well, we need to do this on a podcast too so I'm going to pull on your good graces yet again. 

No problem. 

So, why don't you start out by sort of giving our audience an overview of your perspective of parts shortages and which ones are particularly hard to get right now?

I think this whole problem's been hitting us for about a year now. I know it's hit my company personally, pretty hard. I think it's hit most of everybody else's companies really hard, for about a year, and about the last six months it’s really been ramped up a lot. So, a lot of the shortages were first caused by capacitors, specifically the MLCC capacitor, and it kind of started there. And that's where the brush fire started. That’s how I refer to it–and to kind of give a phrase that everyone can probably relate to; this is DEFCON 1. At this point, it is a crisis that's hitting our industry, and a major crisis, I might add. This brush fire has now kind of crossed over to other areas and other product lines and different parts, but it all started with the capacitor area basically, and that that had several reasons.

Yeah we are going to dig into that because shortage on capacitors... what world are we living in?

Yeah, who would've thunk it right?

Dorothy we are not in Kansas–I don't know… capacitors? 

Yeah, exactly. MLCC–the multi layer capacitors–there's three trillion that are produced every single year, and you would never think that, that would be what's hit the popcorn industry basically. What is common, what is mostly used, and it's that little fly in the ointment, though, that has really caused major problems for us, because now the popcorn stuff, it's hard to get, and when that happens, we’ve got major problems. So we've really had to kind of take a step back and reevaluate things, and change things and do a lot of different things which I’m looking forward to talking about here. But it has been a major problem and, I told a story at AltiumLive this year and, when I was talking about this very subject, I was telling them about the story of when I was a volunteer at a Boy Scout camp several years ago and one of the last few days that we were there, we decided to do something special for the kids. We set up a water slide. We put some straw down on this hill, and we put a piece of plastic down, and we took a hose to the top and ran the water down and all that and, the guys were going, “Hey, John test it out!” Okay, all right, fine. So I went down the water slide, and wouldn't you know it? I hit every single rock on the way down. It was just unbelievable. So, I went to a friend of mine who was actually working in the infirmary at that time and I said, “Look, look, I really messed my back up, and I need you to clean it up. Sure no problem. So, he kind of worked on me and everything else, and it was like it’s nothing–no thought about it, no worries. So, I went home a couple days later and I take my shirt off and my wife looks at it and goes, what is that?” [laughter] Oh, nothing to worry about, I explained to her the story and everything that happened, and she goes, “no, that!”  Well, what this gentleman had done, while he was cleaning me up, was that he left a message on my back, basically in iodine, he wrote, I love you. [laughter] So, I didn't just have to explain to my wife why I had scratches on my back, which was bad enough, but why I had a message that said, I love you, you know? 

How this relates to parts shortages, I can't wait to get to that point. 

The moral of the story is this: Number one is, never trust your friend with iodine and Q-tips. Number two is, you cannot prepare for something that you don't know exists, that you don't know about. And I think that in this area of the parts shortages, we have now gone so big that it has now impacted almost every company I've spoken to, every person I've spoken to. They are aware of this problem, and it is a major problem.

So what particular parts? You said it started with capacitors. So how has the wildfire spread? What other parts are we seeing now? 

We are now seeing shortages in the board sensor parts, we’re seeing shortages in MOSFETS, we’re seeing even shortages now crossing over to the resistor area, Denver transistor packages... and there's various reasons because what has happened is there’s been a domino effect, as this happened, that even the areas that were not affected, have now been affected for several reasons. 

So well, let's jump in right there. What's driving it, and what's driving this kind of fan-out thing where it's affecting all these other parts?

Basically, there's three main industries right now that are driving this whole issue. What it comes down to is, this parts shortage is being caused by supply and demand, and it's a basic economic principle. The demand now has outweighed the the supply so heavily that it is just so counterbalanced that it's unbelievable

So they can't catch up, in other words?

They can’t catch up, no matter how fast these companies who are producing these components are producing them. What has happened is, they just cannot keep up with the demand. Now the demand is coming from three main industries. Number one, the IoT industry, Internet of Things. Everybody now has a smart device. A smartphone, a smart refrigerator, a smart toaster...

Smart dog bowl! [laughter]

A smart dog bowl that tells you that your dog is now running out of water. It's estimated that they're going to be putting in twenty billion–that's with a B–twenty billion new IoT devices in the next few years into the market,

Which you've heard this number;  I've been hearing this number anyways here at Altium. But you would have thought there would have been some kind of preemptive planning?

Right, exactly. You would think that.

Maybe they did and maybe it's outstripped the planning. Who knows?

Right. I think that's what has happened, the demand got to such a high amount that they just weren’t prepared for it. So you know, now you have the smart devices. Actually, the company I work for is involved in the IoT industry. So, my big question is: What's gonna happen when the IoT, all these smart devices start communicating with one another? Let me give you an example–what happens when your smart refrigerator starts communicating with your scale, and you try to put on a dozen donuts onto your shopping list, it would be like a repeat scene from 2020 Space Odyssey! I'm sorry, Dave, I can't do that. I've been communicating–I've been talking to the scale and we've decided to put you on a diet. [laughter]. 

Or your refrigerator door won't open?

Exactly. I mean, what happens when IoT basically takes control and takes over? But twenty billion new devices? That, I will add, is a hundred percent increase from where we're at right now. One hundred percent increase in just a few years. So that's the first industry. The second industry is the mobile phone. There's estimated that they're going to be producing one point five trillion mobile phones in the next year. In each phone there's an estimated thousand capacitors. So, if if we follow the math here, follow carry the zero over. Remember we said that basically, we have three trillion capacitors to work with on our supply. Half of those have already been allocated over to the mobile phone industry. So half of them already now gone. So that's the second industry that's really hit. 

Are more people getting mobile phones? It must be that – why are we getting more phones?  I will investigate that and if I find something good on Google, I'll put it on the show notes, there must be more people getting phones. 

Let's reminisce for a few minutes. Just between you and me.


Remember the olden days when there was this thing called the landline?

Yes, the landline. And if it was really classy, you'd get the long curly cute cord so you could walk all the way from the kitchen to the dining room so you could talk in the next room.

And after, like, three calls, it all got tangled up and spun up anyway. So, yeah, those were the days, weren't they?

No one has landlines anymore. I have a mobile. Everybody's now connected to their mobile phone. Just go down to the mall and just sit at the food court and watch people. Everyone's like this, [gestures people texting]. It's amazing. But yes, do you want to know why there's gonna be one point five trillion new phones? Well, that’s why and I don't see that slowing down. I just don't. The third industry that's really impacting this part shortage is the car industry, the automotive, and this is a brand new field of science. A field of engineering that people are now getting into is this whole automotive area. And it is not just the fully self-driving cars or anything like that–it's the crossover technologies such as... 

Like the hybrids?

Not just the hybrid, but the technologies that are now being pulled over into conventional gas engine part, the automatic parking, the special things, the  bells, whistles and all this and that. The electronics and all the things like this and that, you know, it's crossed over to those things also. But there is now expected a huge increase of electric cars, hybrid cars, all these vehicles. And it is actually said that there's like two to three thousand capacitors in a conventional vehicle. Now in a fully electric vehicle, there's twenty two thousand capacitors. So you figure the influx of everybody; all the Priuses out there, which I find really interesting. I mean, they're so quiet. The creation of crew Priuses are unbelievably quiet, right? I think that it ought to be a law that if anybody's driving a Prius, they need to hang their head out the window, at least make an engine sound okay, that should be required [laughter] so at least you know they’re there. But all these vehicles are taking twenty two thousand capacitors. Okay, now, that is kind of an unusual situation also, because you have an entire industry now that has kind of flourished in just a short period of time. And then secondly, you have a standard. It's a very harsh environment.

Oh, yeah with all the heat and the vibration. 

So what has happened is, they've actually now created an entire standard board standardisation organization around this, it’s called the Automotive Electronic Counsel that is now placing out their standards that are going to be required for components. So, all these testing requirements for heat, temperature, humidity and all these different parameters. Now, all these components have to be tested under those sets. So what has happened, I understand, that almost fifty percent of those components have fallen out. Failed tests based on that standard.

Oh, wow.

So, that has now caused the industry to just go into hyperdrive. 

Okay, so let me get this straight about this new standard. So you know, we've lived off largely IPC standards. So automotive has developed these new standards that are more rigorous because of the harsh environment and half of the components that they test fall off this way?

Fall out from test anyway. So they now have to double their supply to just get what they need for the manufacturing. 

Okay, so they're losing them via destruction. Are they also simultaneously, making them more, you know, hardening them? So to speak, like radiation hardening, but hardening them for that automotive environment?

Right, they’re trying to meet that standard now, so there are additional requirements of manufacturing numbers, different steps they need to take. So that's been strictly on the supply and demand side. All that is impacting the supply and demand. Now, on the manufacturing side, what has happened, is that there has been such a knee jerk–that's the only way I could describe it–is a knee jerk reaction to this - is that these manufacturing companies now have looked; and they said, well, you know, people are not using the larger size capacitors anymore, which we're not. They sell less. Thus, what they've done is they've actually now started deprecating and obsoleting those parts...

At the same time, that...

Right, and converting those lines over to the new, more popular sizes. So this has now also impacted the whole industry. Because now, if you were using your 805 capacitor...

In what legacy design that you want to keep going. So you have to respin it?

We have to possibly re-spin it. Now you have the situation where these manufacturers have shut down entire lines so they can convert them over to the more popular sizes; usually, which are the smaller ones. And the other problem is, now the vendors have had their knee jerk reaction and what they've done is they've now gone over to, what's called allocation. So they say, well, you know, Mr Company A over here who only buys a thousand parts a year; well, we appreciate your business, but we have another company that’s buying a million. So what has happened is the big companies have got first dibs on parts, and what they've done is they've taken the small ration of components that are available, and they said, okay, you get, you get, you get some, and you get some. And what these vendors have done, they've now set up guidelines that you can only buy parts from us–and this is an actual guideline that they've put out–that said, you can only buy parts from us if you have been with us for at least the past year. So if you're a new customer; we’re not taking any new customers, and you have to have been with us for a least a year to buy components from us. That's been on the vendor side. 

That's crazy. 

So that's been the knee jerk reactions that have occurred throughout this whole thing. And what happens is basically, the few components that are out there gets allocated and dipped out to the big companies that get first in line and it just continues. Now what has happened is the companies who need these parts; once they get allocation - oh, that's a sweet place to be. Now they say, I need this many components, but I know there's a shortage, and I know that these are really valuable, and what they're doing is they're doubling and tripling their orders, and they're stockpiling. So I can just imagine some procurement guy out there who’s bought triple the amount of capacitors, hoarding them in the cellar somewhere going around, they’re mine - they’re all mine! [laughter] But this whole thing has just been a knee jerk reaction that has occurred from the industry, over to the manufacturers, over to the vendors, back to the manufacturers of the product, the OEMs. So, this has just been a snowball thing, and that's why I refer to it as a brush fire.

It sounds like a forest fire by now. 

This is now a forest fire, it was a brush fire that's turned into a blazing... 

Okay, so based on the data, which I'm sure you're looking at from vendors and from manufacturers; when’s the forest fire going to dissipate or go out or be fifty percent contained?

We hope, maybe by the end of 2019, I'm seeing some good numbers. Things have started to to reduce down lead times. We were seeing lead times–just kind of to give you some numbers–we were seeing lead times, for our short lead times – sixteen weeks. 


Right? That's a short lead time; a medium up to thirty two weeks. Now you're out there–nine months somewhere. The long lead times are up to eighty weeks for components. Meaning if

you ordered a part today, you would not get it till June of 2020. Now, I don't know of many companies, but I know my company cannot operate that way.

What I was just thinking about when you said that, is LeGrand is a fairly good sized company but what if you’re a startup and you haven't been buying for the last year? I mean, it just seems like a death sentence.

You're out of luck. You're just out of luck. It's a situation where you can't get into the club. Basically, you're outside and you're trying to get in. I see it improving now, maybe by the end of the year, because what's happened now, is the supply has caught up with demand a little bit, especially in the capacitor areas, but it's still going to be rough. It's still going to be where it's not something you can depend on. 

So you know, I've been around this industry for a while, there's been part shortages in the past, we've gone on allocation in the past, but it seemed like a 90 or 120-day thing, and and then they ramp up and we're out of it. What makes this one so different? 

I think this one is different because I remember, for example, in 2000, there was the part shortages for electrolytic capacitors. A lot of that was driven by certain parameters in the market or the environment, meaning that there was an actual material shortage.

Okay, like raw materials?

Raw materials shortages, and there's a little bit of that now regarding Tantalite, which is a product that's used for tantalum capacitors. There's a little bit of that, but what is different now on this one is that it's a market driven shortage. So, it can't be pointed to where it's a specific shortage of materials, which is much easier to solve. Here it's more of an emotional shortage, meaning that this has now taken on a life of its own.

Like you said, people are getting fearful or maybe hoarding more than they need. Like, you know, way back in the whatever it was… the seventies, we had the gas shortage. People were storing drums of gas in their closets or whatever.

It was always a good thought, storing gasoline in your closet, not recommended...

Not recommend with a few house fires over that one. 

Yes, and the other thing is the time that this one's been going on.

Yeah, that's what I'm saying is so extended! Before it, we would get into it, be a little hysterical, but we knew...

Right, we knew the way out. And here, it was just where the market compounded onto itself, and that was the reaction to it. And that's probably the major differences I've seen between this and other parts shortages that we've had.

Well, it’ll be interesting to watch because, as you said, the forecast for IoT devices, it's going up; we haven't even got started in some way. 

Which is which is great news for us. I mean, if you're developing, IoT devices… [giggles] alright, I hope you have enough coffee for this great engineering effort you're going to be having. That's

a lot of hardware! 

Yeah, it is.

And there is actually a fourth area, that is now just coming online, which I see is going to be the next big thing. And that's broadband satellite.

Oh, yes. This is a big deal. 

This is a big deal. SpaceX just got several new contracts to put up low-flying satellites to make everybody wireless. This is huge. This is a lot of hardware out there, and this is going to be where it’s...

-talk about density, I've actually seen–I was on the front end, I was actually working with SpaceX–and these boards were massive and the number of components per single board, per satellite was astounding. So I can't even imagine what the numbers per… and then they've got to launch thousands upon thousands of them - interlinked. 

Yeah, but this means there would be no wired services of any kind. Everything would be wireless.

Could you imagine getting WiFi everywhere, anywhere? We’d all dig that right. Like on planes on the ground, whatever. 

That would be fantastic. But the great news is that our industry’s always evolving. I mean, it's always doing that, and it's innovative and I love that about this industry–actually, I'm very glad that we're not where we were twenty years ago. If you think about–just look at the mobile phone alone for those... and basically aging myself now. But there used to be “the brick.” It was like a big, big thing, that was like a big walkie talkie... “Well, you know, hey. Yeah, we got you. We got you over there…”

Yeah, I kid you not. I got, like, tennis elbow from being a sales person and carrying around this big brick phone. And I only like talking on this ear, and I got, like, bursitis or tennis elbow from carrying this giant... driving with the brick, right? So, yeah, I'm dating myself there too. But no, we're glad we're not there. We're glad that technology is moving forward.

We are glad that we are evolving, but these new industries are having a huge impact, though. I see that.

So how are you, at LeGrand? You manage around; I think you told me fifty designers or so. How are you managing this? You have a lot of products, a lot of different things and some legacy products. I'm sure you are in the throes of this on many different levels. So, can you share with our listeners some helpful work-arounds, some things you've figured out–the hacks? We need some hacks, John. [laughter] we need some component shortage hacks!

Well, first off, I would recommend, if you're in the throes of this problem right now, is not to bury your head in the sand, and say, “everything's just fine. Everything is just going to be great. It's okay.” This is not a time for positiveness…[laughter] don’t be positive... We’re at DEFCON 1. This is a problem, and it's got to be solved. Okay, so I believe that first off you've got to – what I tell our designers – is that you've got to prepare, be prepared, make designs based on the fact that you're gonna have this problem up in the forefront. So one of the things that we have now really done is we've been proactive regarding this. We’ve been prepared and proactive, and one of the ways that we've done that is; number one is, we have designed out of the norm. 


Meaning that we have looked at what has been the common line design guidelines - and we've stepped out of them. Meaning this; if you have an IC on a board and you're going to attach a bypass capacitor to that PCB in that component, you're going to use a .01 microFarad capacitor in some value or some size at some tolerance, for example. So, the first thing that we do is, can we change the value of that? Does it need to be an 0.1? And then the next thing is; can we change any of the other parameters involved that is the norm that most people are going with, right? So we say, okay, 0.1 microFarad at a one percent. All right. Well, does it need to be a one percent? No, it can go up to five percent. I find that a lot of time designers, they over-design their product and they go, “yes, this has to have a one percent, your old capacitor in it.” So, I remind them that, is this a device that requires such a high standard? Is this some medical device, for example, or is this a military device that requires such a stringent guideline? If not, then what we do, is we start adjusting our values. We start adjusting our tolerances especially. Other parameters that you could look at is the temperature ratings and different things like that. So, what we start doing is we we start getting out of that that normal path of design...

Sort of thinking out of the box, looking where you can sort of fudge here and there, but still stay within the performance needs you need. But make no assumptions.

Yes. Make no assumptions on DH what we say. Well, look, there's now a bigger supply parts for five percent now. The other thing is that we've had to do is we've had to be proactive regarding this. This problem. It's not going to go away anytime soon. We have to be proactive. The normal path that we normally took in our design process was that we designed, we built the boards. We took it over to an assembler, an assembler would then look at it and they say, “Oh, by the way, we can't get this part, it's on order, or this or that. That that was the old way. Now what we're doing is in the courtesy of this company, this company that started in Australia named Altium, they have this tool called ActiveBOM®. And what we've done is, we've now actually started, as soon as that schematic is done, we take that schematic and we run it into the ActiveBOM, and we immediately get red flags of what components are not recommended for the design or not recommended to move forward. So, we also get those components that are obsolete; because a lot of times what we're checking…

So you’re checking at the schematic level before you start laying out?


Oh, that's being very proactive. I see what you're saying.

And then we can go back to the EE or the person responsible and say, “look, that's not recommended.” And I've actually had a couple of engineers go, “well, don't don't worry about it, it’ll work itself out.” No, no, no. We have gone into the situation where we actually placed parts; I tell you, it was so bad. This is a story: that it was so bad that we actually placed an order for parts, before we could cut the PEO, a few minutes later, the parts had already disappeared on us. So, one of the things that we're trying to do, is be proactive at the very front. And the major tool that we’re now using to do that, is ActiveBOM, and we're running that schematic right through ActiveBOM, we're getting our red flag somewhere saying, “Okay, these are going to be our problems right here.”

Okay, so if you don't have ActiveBOM, you should have it. But besides that, you can use things like Octopart®, which is available to everybody right? Or are there other services? There are other services, that you can run that check through right?

There are other services but Octopart is very good. They also have a BOM check that you can take your BOM through and it and it just checks it for you. But before, really what this is about, what has happened with ActiveBOM, is it has caused us to kind of restructure our communication. Before it was procurement never talked to engineering. Alright, now engineering's talking to procurement and saying, “oh, by the way, you're going to have problems with these parts.” So, we're actually pushing over to them, the problem children and saying, “oh, by the way, you're gonna have problems with those.” “Well, we don't see anything on the radar yet.” “Yeah, well, believe me, you're going to have problems with that.”

So, you're actually helping purchasing to be proactive too to snatch up those parts that might become problem children later.

Right. So we've pushed that information over. So we're actually being proactive over to them also.

Right, which actually helps them to be more successful. 

Yes, exactly. It makes everybody successful where everybody makes more money...

Unicorns and rainbows. That's lovely.

I guess the other thing is that we we've actually placed onto several designs, multiple footprints to handle an 805, 603, 402 and on all the way down. We've done a little bit of that as far as multiple footprints, to accommodate various parts sizes. So, it kind of broadens the supply of available parts to us. Some of the other guidelines that we follow is that we do not have single sourcing for a part. We have multiple sourcing for a sink before a component, so that we're not tying ourselves into a single group. So that has been basically our plan of attack with this.

So what are some resources you might be able to share to stay on top of this because this is obviously changing, you know, day by day or month by month. So, what are some resources that you tap into and that you might recommend to our listeners to tap into? You know, besides the obvious ones, like the digikeys or wherever you may be sourcing your parts?

There are constantly reports that are put out there that are available, usually, on a monthly/quarterly basis of parts availability in the industry. And this is not usually an area where a PCB designer gets into. He says, “hey, let me do my schematic and lay it down on the board here.” You know, they don't get into like, the part side. They just say, “well, that's that guy's problem,” right? And so there are a lot of resources available for part reports, different things like that. Keep aware of of those reports and what they're saying. They actually put out that quarterly amount of what their supply has been, what their demand is and see those numbers. Look at those numbers and see, is it getting better or getting worse - it’s this or that. Keep aware of the issues out there - there's a lot of resources that you can look into. Just search, on part availability and reports and different things like that. Octopart is very good; Texas Instruments is also a very good resource of components supply and sourcing information. They seem to work a lot on that side.

Okay, good. Okay, well, we will share those links and our resources and our show notes, so we'll give you all we can rustle up. I'm tired just listening to you - it sounds exhausting, this process that you're having to go through as if design, you know, didn't have its own share of challenges, you know.

I will say, you guys almost nailed it perfectly with the ActiveBOM tool that you put out with Altium 18. It was almost perfectly timed for this crisis.

Yeah, who knew?

It was like, maybe, I don't think you caused it [laughter]... 


But it was definitely been the go-to tool for us.

Well, that's great good to hear. Well I say ‘who knew’ but you know, one thing that I really appreciate about working at Altium is this relentless innovation thing that we're always forging ahead and seeing not only what needs to be addressed now but what may be coming. So, you know, kudos to our R&D team that saw this as an area that could be sort of a time suck, really, whether you're in a parts shortage or not. But like you said, that it is, so I'm glad it's been a useful tool for you.

It has been. It's been a phenomenal setup because we actually now take some of our legacy designs, take it back through ActiveBOM, and we get red flights and warnings for those parts. We think, “oh, so now we're looking at procurement for our legacy designs.” 

Interesting…  and catching it before the problem, right? 

Exactly. It’s been a very, very good tool for us.

Good. I'm glad.

But you know more on a personal note, and I think I've shared this with you before, as a user of Altium and working with you guys for as long as I have, you know, ‘98 since it was Protel. And I wanted to tell you, as a user, I want to tell you how much we appreciate you guys and how much we appreciate what you do here. We are out there in the trenches, electronic design and trying to just keep up with the innovations, trying to keep up with all the demands that hit us. The demands from management, the demands from our time schedules, the demands from our part shortage issues, and all these different problems and issues. And one of the things that has really been the go-to thing has been Altium. It has been the one that has given us the tools that we have needed to fix these issues and to fix the problems. And I don't think you hear it enough. I want to tell you as a user and for now, as a representative of the PCB design community, I wanted to say thank you for what you guys do here - it is a phenomenal thing. And we appreciate what you do. And we just wanted to let you know that.

Thank you, John. Thank you. I will make sure to pass on especially to our R & D folks who sometimes all they hear is, ‘you didn't fix my one bug,’ you know? So we are glad  - our intent is to enable you to do good works, so thank you for your kind words. So well, thank you in closing, I wanted to say to our audience that Altium Designer 19, was recently released. It is available for download. Now if you're an Altium user, if not, come on over and have a test drive and and see all the good things that John's talked about today. So thank you again for joining. We love being part of your lives and we appreciate you listening. Please subscribe, comment, let us know who you'd like to hear from or what you'd like to hear about. We're only as good as you letting us know what you'd like to hear. So thanks again for joining and remember to always stay on track.

About Author

About Author

Judy Warner has held a unique variety of roles in the electronics industry for over 25 years. She has a background in PCB Manufacturing, RF and Microwave PCBs and Contract Manufacturing, focusing on Mil/Aero applications. 

She has also been a writer, blogger, and journalist for several industry publications such as Microwave Journal, PCB007 Magazine, PCB Design007, PCD&F, and IEEE Microwave Magazine, and an active board member for PCEA (Printed Circuit Engineering Association). In 2017, Warner joined Altium as the Director of Community Engagement. In addition to hosting the OnTrack Podcast and creating the OnTrack Newsletter, she launched Altium's annual user conference, AltiumLive. Warner's passion is to provide resources, support, and advocate for PCB Design Engineers worldwide.

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