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  • Writer's pictureAbel Aguilar

How does the shortage of components affect the Hardware development process?

Hello and welcome back to The Hardware’s Corner.

On today’s blog, we’ll be discussing a major topic regarding one of the stakeholders we’ve already reviewed in the past entry to the blog.

As you may remember part of our design process, we need to make an assembly of our PCB to test, validate, or deploy to the market. We’re currently facing a major issue worldwide with the Chip Shortage, for that reason, we’re going to talk about the issue, how it happened, what’s going on, and how this affects one of our stakeholders.

To start we need to state how it all started. When it comes to the shortage there are a handful of reasons but there are 2 main possible actors.

The first one, and the biggest one, is the current state of a global pandemic (Due to COVID-19) making it hard for manufacturing houses to supply the demand for semiconductors.

As well as the drought that occurred in Taiwan made one of the biggest semiconductor manufacturers, TSMC, hold back the supply. This is a barebone and in a nutshell sequence of actions that created an avalanche effect which resulted in the lack of the main component for manufacturing technology bringing back the speed of development of a multitude of industries.

The current state has made the development industries take risky maneuvers to keep up with the demand. For example, instead of importing the required BOM for a specific project, some companies have found it easier to mass import development kits and desolder the components needed for the BOM of the project to progress. The automotive industry is the one taking the biggest blow since a lot of manufacturing houses had to close in response to the lack of components.

But, what about the smaller development houses? What about the start-ups? How are they holding up to the current drought of integrated circuits?

Even though it has been more noticeable for the consumer because of the lack of production in the automotive, video game, and PC industries. The start-up sector also took a big hit. With fewer materials to work with some development, houses had to halt operation or had to reduce the speed with which they can make prototypes.

Sometimes this is a result of having fewer communication channels through which to get the required materials for testing, for assembly, or to respond to the incapability of working on site.

Let’s talk specifics. As we spoke in our last post one of our stakeholders comes with assembly. The task requires not only the manufactured bare PCB but the components required for it to work. This stakeholder is a key actor in the development cycle of a project.

A start-up is constantly working on the continuous improvement of its assets. Depending on how often the company needs to cycle a project the current outage may halt progress completely. The lack of an assembled PCB lowers the capacity of the start-up to test and validate modules, as well as lower their capability to research new technologies applicable to their design, this means another of our stakeholders is in trouble (Testing engineer). And not only due to the lack of assembled PCB, as stated before some machinery required for testing can only be used on-site and the current pandemic lowered, or completely stop, the capability of employees to work inside the company. Untested PCB can’t be validated and in a lot of regulatory processes, and unvalidated products can’t be deployed therefore putting the startup in a tough position. And we could go through each stakeholder and find an issue resulting from the lack of materials. From not having a laptop to work remotely from, to not having the raw materials to develop their MVP (Minimum Value Product).

But even though the current situation has some companies on their toes, it doesn’t mean the end of the world. The current industry is finding creative ways to circumvent the current situation. For example, changing the scope of the project from a Hardware perspective to a more barebone approach using 3DCAD software for a more mechanical proof of concept. As well as, trying to improve the current tools through the aid of software development teams who took this as a time to create better ways for people working remotely to do their jobs to full capacity, maybe that one new button they added to the UI may not look much but it probably made somebody else’s work easier. And with the slow but steady recovery of the different sectors of integrated circuits manufacturing. And this has been seen as an opportunity for growth for some countries. Taking this as a call into action on improving their component’s manufacturing industries. Who knows maybe in a couple of years we may see 4 or 5 new major integrated circuits manufacturers?

And with that let’s sign out with a high note, we’re all trying our best in a world where things are hard but that has never stopped us, the young entrepreneurs from putting our work out there, and from here on out we’ll just improve.

Let’s hope for a greater 2022 for all of us and don’t forget to keep creating, keep inventing, keep designing!

Until the next post!

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