26-04-2023 | By Robin Mitchell

As the world continues to recover from the effects of COVID, engineers are faced with increasing pressure when selecting components. To help engineers with these challenges, SourceabilityÒ has developed Datalynq, a tool that can provide engineers with key insight into their component choices, find alternative parts, and even peer into the future on stock levels and risk.

What challenges do engineers face in sourcing components?

When it comes to the development of new products, engineers are at the forefront of its design and manufacture. Some projects can involve tens, or even hundreds of engineers, while others can be a single person working from home thanks to the power of cloud technologies and remote working. Regardless of the number of engineers, such projects often face similar issues, such as what manufacturing techniques to use, what materials to choose, and how to provide support to customers once production has started. 

When it comes to electronics, one common task for electronic engineers is component selection, where each part in a schematic needs to be linked to a physical part. A bill of materials (BOM) is often generated from a schematic, and each component is examined for its technical requirements, such as voltage rating, current rating, capacitance, and tolerances. However, it is common for engineers to primarily focus on technical details and forget to consider other aspects that may affect the product long-term.

For example, components that are currently listed as being available might be at the end of their production life. As such, a design using this component might find that during the first production run, the manufacturer decides to discontinue the component, thereby introducing serious supply chain issues. Environmental concerns can also be problematic, especially for replacement parts. For example, a part that is soon to be discontinued may comply with all needed environmental regulations (such as REACH and RoHS), but a replacement part may not have these same qualifications, thereby making it unusable as a replacement.  

The geopolitical state of the world is also having an impact on electronic designs. For example, the situation between China and Taiwan is leaving many worried about supply chain security, while the increasing trade restrictions against China by the US are making it more difficult to use Chinese hardware as well as shipping certain products to China. Finally, geopolitics also plays a role in import duties and tariffs, something which can have a massive effect on the manufacturing price of a product. For example, the US introducing tariffs introduces challenges to US-based companies that take advantage of the manufacturing capabilities of China. 

The result of poor planning

Engineering projects that don’t consider the wider implication of component selection or lack in-depth knowledge of chosen parts can have a devastating effect. Components that suddenly become discontinued can instantly halt production, especially for businesses that operate on a just-in-time (JIT) model where parts are purchased as needed. 

In such a case, trying to find an alternative part not only takes time (which in turn prevents production) but also costs resources in the form of engineering time and money. In the case where replacement parts cannot be found, designs have to be altered at the schematic level, requiring changes to the PCB. This alone can require prototypes to be manufactured, prolonging the manufacturing cycle and, in some extreme cases, requiring products to undergo recertification.

An excellent case study that demonstrates the dangers presented by poor supply chain security was during the COVID pandemic. The lack of communication between engineers, manufacturers, and distributors saw major disruptions in component availability and resulted in thousands of companies across the world struggling to get parts. The lead time on many semiconductor components well exceeded 12 months, and many businesses ended up failing as a result of struggling economies and unpredictable supply chains. Additionally, the price of parts skyrocketed tremendously, some manufacturers turned to the grey market, and some even resorted to purchasing new products just to strip them down for parts essential to another product.

Datalynq – The engineer’s wingman in sourcing

In recognition of the numerous challenges faced with component selection and sourcing, Sourceability has developed the ultimate tool for engineers, called Datalynq, that not only helps to simplify component selection but provides all manner of insights into a products BOM that would otherwise be impossible for any engineer to curate.

Fundamentally, Datalynq is a software tool that can access countless numbers of distributors and manufacturers across the world, boasting a database of well over 1 billion parts, to obtain critical information on parts, including technical data, availability, and alternates. 

Once the metadata associated with a component is pulled from the many sources of that component, a user is presented with all kinds of facts surrounding that part, including market availability, the price trend, the life cycle, and even supply chain risks associated with that part. These attributes (such as availability, risk etc.) are also given a score to allow engineers to quickly observe potential issues with that component, thereby accelerating component selection. In addition to generating scores on attributes, Datalynq also provides many of these data points on charts and graphs. This is especially important for showing historical trends, as well as putting availability and prices into perspective.

For components that do carry some risk (such as end-of-life), Datalynq is able to see what other parts on the market have the potential to replace that part based on the experience of other engineers as well as manufacturer recommendations. Furthermore, Datalynq will also show how component availability is distributed across suppliers (such as authorised resellers, OEMS, etc.). 

However, where Datalynq really shines is not in its ability to provide in-depth data on a single component but in its ability to read entire BOMs and generate unique reports that look at the entirety of a product. On the surface, it may appear that components in a BOM are generally available, but Datalynq can look through all the attributes of each component and identify the weakest links in a design.

After Datalynq processes a BOM, components of interest are identified, with their risks listed out, including availability. At the same time, Datalynq will also score the BOM for its supply chain risk, thereby giving engineers the ability to flag potential production problems well in advance. The market performance of a BOM is also measured based on characteristics such as historical price changes, and the use of predictive algorithms also allows Datalynq to make future predictions based on a BOM. 

Conclusion – A software tool for the post-Covid era

As the world continues to go through uncertain times, component selection has never been more important. Engineers who traditionally look at components purely from a technical point of view are now having to expand their mindset, taking into consideration how supply chains around the world work together and the sensitive geopolitical situation between numerous countries. Additionally, the long-term availability of parts, something which has historically been ignored by engineers, is now becoming a major consideration during component selection, but trying to curate this data is far from simple. 

Datalynq is a tool that any engineer involved with production must have. Its ability to read entire BOMs, identify components of interest, provide alternatives, and even look at the future trends in market availability and price makes it an extremely powerful asset to any commercial project. Furthermore, the increasingly unpredictable nature of the geopolitical climate makes supply chain management and security more important than ever, and Datalynq is a tool that not only provides engineers with that security but also helps to protect the interest of a product looking into the far future.

Take action now and visit Datalynq

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By Robin Mitchell

Robin Mitchell is an electronic engineer who has been involved in electronics since the age of 13. After completing a BEng at the University of Warwick, Robin moved into the field of online content creation, developing articles, news pieces, and projects aimed at professionals and makers alike. Currently, Robin runs a small electronics business, MitchElectronics, which produces educational kits and resources.