Take Control of Your PCB Supply Chain with Altium Designer and Altium 365

Zachariah Peterson
|  Created: January 22, 2021  |  Updated: November 16, 2021
pcb supply chain

Circuit board manufacturing should be simple, but today's supply chain challenges can delay or derail any design that gets sent in for PCB fabrication and assembly. Today's major challenges in the PCB supply chain include trouble sourcing parts, logistics challenges when managing multiple suppliers, delays in production and delivery, and high costs when stocks get low. Many design teams still make the mistake of waiting until the end of a design to start working through supply chain challenges, rather than focusing on doing this at the beginning of a new project. What can designers do to prevent these problems and ensure they can meet delivery schedules?

Design teams need to build a process that accounts for PCB supply chain problems, as well as visibility tools to help them manage procurement for electronics assemblies. Altium 365 is the newest platform that helps small design teams and large enterprises manage procurement inside Altium Designer by providing sourcing and lifecycle data for components. Design teams can manage their internal stocks easily, as well as spot sourcing problems with external distributors early. When designers can anticipate component availability interruptions before PCB manufacturing, it's easier to control costs and eliminate production delays on critical parts. Here’s how Altium Designer helps you find the parts you need for your design, import components directly into your schematics and layout, and ensure reliable sourcing before manufacturing.

A Sourcing and Design Process

In the past, it was acceptable to push through a design without a solid BOM or sourcing strategy. Disruptions in the just-in-time supply chain have forced companies to seriously consider how they source components for their designs. In addition, the ASIC revolution has made it difficult to source products for advanced designs as so many specialized chips do not have drop-in replacements. Overcoming these problems requires a serious look at the sourcing process and available component options early in the design phase, rather than before production. Digging into the supply chain early is the best way to ensure a new product can be produced at the required scale.

Component Selection De-Risks Production

If a new design is to be produced at high scale and with minimal redesigns, a design team needs complete visibility into the electronic components supply chain, and the design phase needs to be planned alongside sourcing. A modern design process that accounts for PCB supply chain volatility can move through the following process:

  1. Select critical components based on available stocks and available variants
  2. Plan out required variants early while aiming for minimal changes between designs
  3. Finalize and procure the highest-risk components while beginning the design
  4. Plan to source lower-risk components from qualified vendors near the end of the project
  5. During this time, the production team can begin building relationships with vendors and ensure the design can be scaled to high volume

The first two steps are very important for ensuring a design can be produced by any manufacturer once the design is completed. It also forces a design team to analyze and finalize the major aspects of a design on the front end. This analysis takes more effort, but it de-risks production and a go-to-market strategy before time is spent creating a design. In the event that the important components in the product have a long lead time or cannot be procured easily, a design team might opt to forego the design until later, when components can be reliably procured.

Since PCB design starts with electronic component selection, this is the best place to start if you want to de-risk your supply chain and ensure manufacturability over the long term.

Where to Find CAD Data for Components

Although many ASICs and processors are unique and have specialized functions, certain groups of components have been manufactured by different companies as drop-in replacements with the same packaging, pinouts, and PCB footprints. In addition, some semiconductor parts within the same product family can have compatible PCB footprints and pinouts, acting as drop-in replacements for each other.

Taking a flexible approach in component selection, where components can be easily swapped in the BOM, helps de-risk production and ensures a design can withstand supply chain problems. By going a step further and creating multiple variants of your design around different part numbers in a product line, you can go a step further and put each into production depending on available component quantities. These simple considerations, when applied early in the design process, allow a product to be produced continuously despite supply chain disruptions.

PCB footprint
Don't get caught mid-design without PCB footprints, make sure you can get accurate CAD data inside your design software.

Getting to this point successfully requires real-time supply chain and lifecycle visibility. PCB designers need current information on lead times, costs, obsolescence, and available replacement components for successful supply chain management. Getting data from distributors shouldn’t require browsing their websites and manually recording components stocks. Instead, designers need access to these capabilities within their PCB design software. PCB supply chain management tools should give design teams the following set of features:

  • Updated component stocks, prices, and lists of distributors
  • ECAD and MCAD models for components that can be used in a PCB layout
  • Lifecycle data for identifying in-production, obsolete, and EOL components

Altium Designer's comprehensive ECAD libraries and management features give designers access to component data through the Manufacturer Part Search panel. Component CAD data can be instantly imported into design documents and your BOM, there’s no need to manually build most PCB footprints or schematic symbols, and sourcing information will be automatically copied into your BOM. Everyone from large OEMs to small service bureaus will see major productivity benefits when they use the managed supply chain features in Altium Designer.

PCB supply chain integration in Altium Designer

The Manufacturer Part Search panel in Altium Designer.

The Manufacturer Part Search panel and design libraries in Altium Designer let you spot components that have updated footprints and schematic symbols available for instant download. Instead of using a component creation service or hoping you can find accurate components on forums, you can instantly import components into your libraries and start placing components in your PCB layout. With updated component data and sourcing information, designers have everything they need to stay productive.

Because Altium Designer’s component libraries use a unified data format, design reuse and design updates are easy tasks. Designers can quickly create libraries from their design documents and reuse circuit or layout blocks in a new design. When an old design needs to be updated, it’s easy to import new components into a design and start applying updates in an old project. With the PCB supply chain features and complete set of PCB design tools, designers have everything they need to be productive in a single application.

Octopart and IHS Markit: Two PCB Supply Chain Visibility Platforms

Today, PCB designers rely on two of the industry's best platforms for supply chain visibility and lifecycle data, and both are accessible to Altium Designer users through the Altium 365 platform. Two of the best platforms to finding components and gaining important supply chain insights are Octopart and IHS Markit, both of which provide their data direct to users with Altium Designer and the Altium 365 platform. Octopart is a search engine for browsing and selecting parts for a new design. Search results can be filtered by technical specifications, lifecycle status, manufacturer, and availability. Other parts data aggregators rely on Octopart for the most accurate and up-to-date component specifications data, and Octopart makes all its supply chain data available to users for free.

Octopart electronics search engine
Easily find electronic component datasheets and distributor information for your components on Octopart.

Every so often, parts will go obsolete, but you shouldn't have to find this out by the time you are about to scale into high volume production. In the past, design teams would need to manually check the lifecycle of each component to in order to spot NRND/EOL components before production. Altium 365 makes IHS Markit data available to Pro users so that they can spot end-of-life components early and plan for design updates before an upcoming manufacturing run. Keeping designs updated with the latest components helps extend their lifetime and ensures companies can pull fresh stock from the PCB supply chain. The design team can then locate a suitable alternative component through the Manufacturer Part Search panel in Altium Designer and import this into their ECAD project data.

IHS Markit Altium
Data from IHS Markit appears in your PCB supply chain tools through the Altium 365 platform so that you can track the lifecycle of your components and plan for obsolescence early.

PCB Design Data and Supply Chain Integration in the Cloud

Cloud data management solutions have come a long way, but 3rd party data management tools can’t provide the integration designers need to be productive. Keeping updated component models and sourcing data backed up on an external server or cloud service is clunky and prone to errors. Designers shouldn’t have to keep their design and project data backed up in a 3rd party service either, everything should be streamlined and accessible in your PCB design software.

Altium has taken the unprecedented step of creating a complete ecosystem for supply chain and project data management in the cloud, and these easy-to-use tools are accessible within Altium Designer. The Altium 365 platform is a design team’s answer to a complete data management and supply chain visibility solution. By integrating the Altium 365 platform into Altium Designer, PCB design teams can quickly share, access, and manage their design data and supply chain in a single program.

Altium has Created a Complete PCB Supply Chain Ecosystem

If you have tools that integrate supply chain information directly into your PCB libraries, you won’t have to use third-party tools to manage your PCB supply chain data. You can anticipate component supply chain problems instead of reacting to them, and you can plan your sourcing strategy accordingly. You won’t fall victim to surprise obsolescence or EOL notices, and you can go to market sooner with your desired components thanks to Altium 365’s supply chain integration. Best of all, everything is accessible in Altium Designer, which helps you design with maximum productivity.

PCB supply chain in Altium Concord Pro

Altium 365 provides real-time supply chain visibility and component models for your design inside of Altium Designer.

Altium Designer is the only PCB design platform that provides a complete set of PCB supply chain visibility and management features alongside the industry’s best design tools. Whether you need to complete a small prototyping run or millions of units, Altium Designer has the supply chain management features you need to be successful.

Altium Designer on Altium 365 delivers unprecedented integration to the electronics industry until now relegated to the world of software development, allowing designers to work from home and reach unprecedented levels of efficiency.

We have only scratched the surface of what is possible to do with Altium Designer on Altium 365. Start your free trial of Altium Designer + Altium 365 today.

About Author

About Author

Zachariah Peterson has an extensive technical background in academia and industry. He currently provides research, design, and marketing services to companies in the electronics industry. Prior to working in the PCB industry, he taught at Portland State University and conducted research on random laser theory, materials, and stability. His background in scientific research spans topics in nanoparticle lasers, electronic and optoelectronic semiconductor devices, environmental sensors, and stochastics. His work has been published in over a dozen peer-reviewed journals and conference proceedings, and he has written 2500+ technical articles on PCB design for a number of companies. He is a member of IEEE Photonics Society, IEEE Electronics Packaging Society, American Physical Society, and the Printed Circuit Engineering Association (PCEA). He previously served as a voting member on the INCITS Quantum Computing Technical Advisory Committee working on technical standards for quantum electronics, and he currently serves on the IEEE P3186 Working Group focused on Port Interface Representing Photonic Signals Using SPICE-class Circuit Simulators.

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