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New tools overcome obsolete data management approaches that fail to remedy part cost and availability changes.

An engineer typically begins building out the parts list shortly after the start of a design cycle. But, the new product design could go to manufacturing some 40 or more weeks later. A lot can happen to the hundreds of parts utilized by the design during this period. Product costs can change. Lead times can extend dramatically. The lifecycle status may even change to obsolete. Any of these or other component disposition changes could put the project at risk. The problem is engineers are often not alerted to these changes until the component disposition is checked during the release to manufacturing. At this point, a mandatory design change due to a part disposition change could be devastating.

A new generation of connected design platforms, called engineering data management (EDM) systems, is addressing this problem, which impacts numerous product development cycles. The connected design platform continually synchronizes supply-chain information with the printed circuit board (PCB) design libraries. It analyzes component attribute changes and provides alerts to engineers based on defined rules. The engineer is alerted immediately when a component rule is violated. When an at-risk component is identified, a where-used analysis can determine the scope of the impact across all projects, promoting fast and comprehensive resolution across the organization.

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Figure 1. The long time between product ideation and manufacturing increases the odds components will change in price or availability.

Companies typically manage component information in two disparate systems with different purposes: 1) commerce or supply chain information and 2) CAD library information. Supply-chain information is typically stored in a product lifecycle management (PLM), component information system (CIS) or enterprise resource planning (ERP) system. CAD data are managed by the design tool library. This current process has two critical flaws: changes do not propagate to the design team, and alert thresholds are not defined to alert the design team.

Given this data management approach, a string of complex events must occur to alert an engineer that one of their selected components had a 20% cost increase that could require a component change. First, the supply-chain change must be entered into the PLM system in a timely fashion. The new cost data must propagate to the design team’s component library. Finally, the engineer must be alerted to the new data and then review the data and determine they are actionable. Given that hundreds of supply-chain changes can occur over the 40-plus week design cycle, the possibility of a disconnect is omnipresent.

CAD library changes are not the problem, as they are easily pushed to the design engineer. But it’s rare for changes in supply-chain status to be passed along to design after the product has been selected. This creates a potential landmine in the critical path of the product development process.

Engineering disconnect. As the design moves to manufacturing, the design engineer is focused on design quality. Will the parts be available to build the design in volume at a price that brings the desired return-on-investment? At the time components were selected, the answer appeared to be yes. But that was 40 weeks ago, and a lot may have changed. Consider the impact when word comes back from the contract manufacturer that part number 1234567 is not available in the required package.

After some research, it is discovered this part had a lifecycle status change to end-of-life (EOL) at some point in the past 40 weeks, or perhaps a particular speed grade, package or tolerance is no longer available. In many cases, this may require last-minute rework of the design, leading to delivery slippage, or may even require killing the product due to inability to meet a critical delivery window or price target.

Of course, the supply chain is not the only source of a component status or disposition change. Suppose a manufacturing problem in a recent project was determined to be a soldering problem. The resolution was to change the part status to “Do Not Use.” The engineer is not alerted to the new component status until a final pre-manufacturing bill of materials (BoM) check. It’s clear the current disconnect between engineering and the supply chain can cause critical changes to be missed.

The part selection process needs to include the technical characteristics of the part, as well as its supply-chain disposition. The data are typically stored in multiple locations, making part selection a time-consuming process. The engineer is forced to search multiple locations to verify the part meets their selection criteria.

Connected Design Platforms

These issues are being addressed with a new EDM approach that bridges the gap between the engineer and the supply chain by pulling the commerce data from the PLM system or from a third-party provider like SiliconExpert into the EDM system. The EDM system monitors for changes with user-defined triggers and sends alerts to design teams impacted by the change through their primary design tool. The key advantage of combining the supply chain and CAD data is any critical supply-chain changes are immediately detected and passed to the engineer so immediate action can be taken to address changes in pricing, product status or availability.

Consolidating the technical and commerce data and putting that data on the engineer’s desktop also streamlines the part selection process and ultimately leads to better component selection. When an engineer searches for components, the components themselves appear coded green, yellow or red based on their current status as determined by the EDM system. User-defined rules determine the disposition of the part presented to the design engineer. If the engineer decides to use a particular component, that component is then monitored for changes on behalf of the design. Another key benefit is the where-used analysis, which details other projects using a specific part. A widely used part builds confidence in that component and makes the selection process much easier.

Conclusion

With the current disconnect between design engineering and supply-chain information, it’s not unusual for companies to progress nearly all the way to manufacturing with a design that is flawed or at risk due to a supply-chain issue. An EDM system that is connected to the supply chain addresses this critical issue. The connected engineering platform provides real-time notifications based on supply chain changes that impact the design. It eliminates the need to work with separate and disconnected component libraries and design systems; instead, everything is obtainable within the primary design tool environment. Most important, the new connected design platform helps keep the product development process on track by avoiding supply-chain surprises.

Bob Potock is vice president of marketing at Zuken USA (zuken.com); This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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