I spent some time on the show floor at DesignCon today, and learned about some serious supply chain and manufacturing glitches when it comes to designing. It’s not something our engineers have mentioned, but it’s an interesting and potentially costly set of problems nonetheless. 

I sat down with Ben Jordan, Senior Manager Content Marketing at Altium, to talk a little bit about their product line and what they’re showing off at DesignCon.

For a little background on the company, Altium is an Australian company that specializes in electronics design tools designed to pull a few different steps of the process into one product. Basically they’re focused on making the design to manufacturing process easier and more efficient.

As you might know, there are a few potential hiccups when it comes to designs, redesigns, and manufacturing.

 For example, because there are always multiple versions of designs there are a lot of risks when it comes to data hand off. It can be as simple the engineer sending an older version accidentally or the manufacture using an older version without realizing that there have been revisions. Less accidentally, the manufacturer might end up using an older version because of a manufacturing limitation that wasn’t initially realized. No matter how it happens, if the design being used isn’t the correct version, it can be expensive and time consuming for everyone.

The second problem is that when engineers are designing, they’re focused on using products that they’re familiar with or something they’ve used before. Many decisions are made from a technical point-of-view rather than a logistical standpoint. That means that components may be designed in that are no longer available or have some other barrier (cost, quantity, etc.) This can be very costly as it then requires a redesign with a different part.

These are pretty common issues, so Altium came up with something within their software called ActiveBOM. Essentially, what this tool does is it allows engineers to keep tabs on the availability and price of components they are designing in. It allows engineers to choose and rank which supplier they prefer. It also supplies a cost estimation.

At the end of the design phase, the engineer has a BOM with ranked preferences and the guarantee that these components are available at a reasonable price and quantity. Altium partnered with Digikey, Mouser, Newark, and Allied Electronics  to compile a pretty extensive set of components and datasheets with more distributors on the way.

Other companies have similar options available, but it’s a great idea to reduce costs and streamline the supply chain without a lot of work on the engineer’s end.

Is this something your company works with? What have your experiences been?