The topic of component sourcing in our overall supply chain has been front and center for us recently. Those of you that have ever worked with NexPCB know that we are laser focused on quality. As a statement of mission, this wouldn't seem to be so hard, but we find that it's much more difficult than it should be. One areas that we find time and time again that this is a problem is in sourcing. More specifically, component sourcing of "branded" items. We've had to completely stop working with a few suppliers recently that have sent us components that didn't meet our standards. This happens with shocking regularity.
I'm sure that many of you are familiar with terms like "knock-off" and "factory second" when it relates to clothing, accessories and other consumer goods. Did you know that this is also a challenge for electronic component sourcing? The same types of people that make the almost unrecognizably good copy of that designer handbag are the ones that can make a cheaper version of that power chip you've put in your BOM. Let's dig into how this happens and what you, as an EMS customer can do.
This is the good, old-fashioned knock off. While they may be easy to spot in consumer goods, they can be almost impossible to spot without some serious examination and a healthy amount of cynicism. There are (almost) always telltale signs that you may not be getting what you paid for when it comes to components.
It's all the rage these days to talk about recycling. When we're talking about plastic bottles, aluminum cans and glass casings, this can be a good thing. When we're talking about sensitive electronic components that have little humor for adverse conditions, it's a different story.
Component recycling comes in many forms, but the most common involves removing parts that have already been surface mounted (either by hand or through SMT) and then repackaging them as new. The sophistication with which these operations function is a marvel. Some of the best parts suppliers can be duped by these parts as it can be almost impossible to spot until after these parts have been re-mounted. Some ways to spot this can be :
Another areas to be weary of is whether you're getting the most recent lots or models. Many manufacturers will upgrade their technologies but will leave the packaging and overall physical characteristics of the components the same. Some more sensitive components also have a shelf-life after which using these components will not give a good result.
This one can also be hard to spot if you're not paying attention. Oftentimes, manufacturers will use lot numbers that include the date of manufacture. This may or may not include the revision of the chip. Some things to look for are :
If you've made it this far, you're probably wondering what you could possibly do in order to deal with these issues. If you're doing global sourcing, manufacturing and/or assembly, it can be very hard to deal with these problems. At NexPCB, we have a process that our procurement and productions teams go through to try and catch these issues before they make it into our customer products.
If you're concerned about this, make sure to ask your supplier or EMS company some questions :
Hopefully, that will help many of you as you continue on your adventures in global manufacturing and sourcing!
If you have any questions or would like to hear more about how NexPCB puts quality first, drop us a note here and we'll be happy to help you along on your journey!
Posted by Chris Howes
Having had a long career at IBM, Chris joined NexPCB to bring pragmatic solutions to companies that are starting a new hardware adventure. Chris was also a maker before there was even such a term.