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Evaluating the Efficiency and Efficacy of PCB Supply Chains

Key Takeaways

  • Manufacturers seek a balance between PCB supply chain effectiveness and PCB supply chain efficiency.

  • Design for Excellence principles and IPC standards establish a foundation for PCB supply chain quality. 

  • Choosing the right PCB supply chain requires a careful evaluation of primary and secondary supplies.

Movies and television shows about the American Old West typically feature cliches about wagons and stagecoaches. Often, we will see people circling a wagon against an attack or everyone in town anticipating the arrival of a stagecoach carrying mail and packages.

Real historical accounts also tell us about the drama and romanticism that colored early attempts to establish supply chains across America. Today, though, the electronics industry relies on a PCB supply chain that features very little drama and has a foundation built on quality and service.

Characteristics of Orderly PCB Supply Chains

During the 1800’s, Prairie Schooners that could carry more than a ton of furniture, food, and cargo made the migration west. Prairie Schooners were the equivalent of light pickup trucks and provided the most efficient and effective type of supply chain possible at the time.

Today, efficient supply chains for the PCB industry apply a wide array of resources to cut costs for materials and reduce the amount of time needed to transfer components and materials to fabricators. Effective supply chains emphasize meeting or even surpassing the requirements established by customers, vendors, or other stakeholders, while always prioritizing reduced costs and time.

Balancing Effectiveness and Efficiency in PCB Supply Chains

Supply chain graphic

The tug-of-war between efficiency and effectiveness creates an interesting set of choices for PCB design teams. Selecting an efficient supply chain translates into speedy processes and quick product deliveries. Although efficiency can save the day, efficient PCB supply chains may sacrifice quality for speed. Because effective supply chains focus on requirements, customers understand that they will receive high-quality products that meet standards. Unfortunately, a sole emphasis on effectiveness may mean that the supply chain cannot deliver components or materials when needed.

A balance must be struck between supply chain efficiency and supply chain effectiveness. Refined internal processes that reduce waste coupled with an emphasis on standards and consistent communication allow fabricators to satisfy customer schedules and quality requirements. For the PCB industry, the balance between efficiency and effectiveness involves setting, achieving, and maintaining supply chain best practices.

The Quest for Quality in PCB Supply Chains

Consumer demand, regulatory policies, and the speed of design emphasize the need for high-quality supply chains. While each of those pressure points has prompted the growth of a global supply chain, drop-offs in service and quality have occurred. Every gap in quality that appears has the potential to damage corporate reputations and harm the ability of manufacturers to satisfy customer needs.

With the transition of primary and secondary PCB suppliers from domestic to international supply chains, disruptions have occurred. A 2017 IPC study for the Department of Commerce showed that PCB manufacturers experienced delays in receiving laminate for:

  • Rigid conventional PCBs

  • Rigid high-speed PCBs

  • Rigid high-frequency PCBs

  • Rigid microwave PCBs

  • Rigid-flex PCBs

  • Flex PCBs

PCB manufacturers also experienced problems tracing the source and origins of PCBs and critical components.

Design for Excellence Principles Improve Quality

The quest for quality in PCB design and manufacturing begins with an embrace of Design for Excellence (DfX). As more high-performance designs hit the marketplace, multiple types of risks become apparent. The lack of high-quality components and boards for high-speed electronic designs increase risk. With an umbrella-like approach, DfE aligns quality with cost, performance, and value through the following principles:

  • Design for Manufacturing (DfM)

  • Design for Cost and Design to Cost (DtC)

  • Design for Assembly (DfA)Design for Reliability and Robustness (DfR)

  • Design for Safety (DfS)

  • Design for Fabrication (DfF)

  • Design for Testability (DfT)

  • Design for Supply Chain (DfSC)

When grouped together, the combined principles speak about involving suppliers early in the design process, physical design, high-level design, life cycle costs, prototyping, validation, and compliance with safety regulations. While the Design for Reliability and Robustness stage seeks to reduce variations in a product while achieving desired outputs, the Design for Manufacturability and Design for Assembly stages optimize product designs and improve manufacturing processes.

In particular, Design for Supply Chain, Design for Cost, and Design to Cost match the need for supply chain efficiency with lifecycle cost control. The Design for Testing stage addresses effectiveness by focusing on the capability of products to meet predetermined quality standards required by customers in the Design for Testing stage.

 Design graphic

IPC Standards and Certification for PCB Supply Chain Quality

The IPC has an overall mission to assist original equipment manufacturers, cable and wire harness manufacturers, PCB manufacturers, and electronics industry suppliers to build improved electronics products. While focused on the entire electronics industry, the IPC has published standards that affect the PCB supply chain.

Along with a standard that protects printed board intellectual property, IPC standards specify performance requirements and responsibilities for suppliers. IPC standards establish performance expectations for flexible PCBs, rigid PCBs, High-Density Interconnect layers, PCBs that include embedded devices, and performance specifications for high-frequency PCBs. Another IPC standard ensures the traceability of critical items from the beginning to the end of the supply chain.

 IPC graphic

Choosing the Right PCB Supply Chain

Selecting the right PCB supply chain requires careful evaluation. Although supply chains may meet IPC and other standards, taking time to ensure that a consistent flow of information across the supply chain and between design teams, the supply chain, and fabricators exists prevents future headaches. An inconsistent, fragmented flow of information can allow unforeseen bottlenecks or gaps in service to present problems.

Meeting IPC standards and the principles of Design for Excellence signifies that supply chains have integrated quality control and risk management into their daily operations. Setting quality as a priority reduces the opportunity for costs and delays that can occur because of the need to replace components or materials. However, the need for quality extends not only to primary members of the supply chain but also to secondary suppliers. If a PCB supply chain cannot match the component specifications needed for a high-speed circuit, the delays in bringing a product to market and harm to reputations can inflict long-term damage. Even with the IPC certification in hand, consider conducting a supply chain audit and inspecting compliance documentation.

PCB supply chains achieve efficiency through best practices and the application of technologies. Many EDA software applications connect with the supply chain to show the availability of components, assemblies, and parts. 

The PCB Design and Analysis Software page provides the latest updates on advancements in the PCB industry, including PCB supply chains.  Working on a big design project? Allegro PCB Editor can help bring your design to life. 

If you’re looking to learn more about how Cadence has the solution for you, talk to us and our team of experts