How to make your electronics development more robust, anticipatory and collaborative

Collaboration and technology can improve electronics development and NPI processes, despite volatile component markets. In this article, we will explore common problems and modern solutions.

Dr. Angelo Canzaniello
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6
 min read

The electronics industry is constantly evolving, and companies are under pressure to bring new products to market quickly and efficiently. However, the volatile nature of the component market can make this challenging for engineering and procurement teams. A forward-thinking, collaborative approach to electronics development can help businesses overcome these challenges and bring products to market with confidence and speed. 

In this article, we'll contrast the traditional new product introduction (NPI) process with a more contemporary approach, highlighting common problems and offering solutions for overcoming them.

The Challenges with Traditional NPI Methods

Many electronics companies rely on outdated methods like Excel bill of materials (BOM), emails, and regular meetings to guide them through the NPI process. While these methods may be sufficient for simple projects, they can become opaque, time-consuming, and error-prone for more complex printed circuit board assemblies (PCBAs). In addition, these methods often require careful documentation and coordination between different departments, such as product management, engineering, and procurement, which can be a logistical nightmare.

Streamlining Cost Engineering

Balancing the factors of time, cost, and quality is a common challenge in the development of electronic products, especially when it comes to understanding the costs of a single printed circuit board assembly (PCBA). To optimise the design and reduce costs, it is necessary to understand both the costs of components and assembly. However, many companies only consider these costs after the initial design is complete, which limits the ability to optimise the design. Some companies may use historical data from their enterprise resource planning (ERP) system, but this does not account for current market prices or negotiated contract prices. Engineers may try to find price information online, using services like Octopart or single distributor webshops, but this can be time-consuming and does not provide access to their company's negotiated contract prices. It is clear that the current process for cost optimization in electronic product development is far from ideal.

Managing Supply Chain Risks

Effective supply chain management is crucial for successful NPI, but many companies struggle to keep a constant eye on the market data that should inform component selection. However, especially in times of market volatility or supply shortages, this is essential. Without this insight, the risk of future procurement problems grows, leading to delays and unexpected costs. Unfortunately, engineers are often stretched thin and don't have the time or resources to thoroughly research supply capabilities like market inventory levels or (factory) lead times. At the same time, procurement or supply chain managers are often left out of the component selection process until it's too late. As a result, companies are left flying blind, unable to make informed decisions that could help them avoid costly setbacks.

Preventing Lifecycle Issues

The trend of increasing component obsolescence is not going away, and it is fueled by factors such as improved manufacturing, greater integration of functions in ICs, and the need to meet changing market demands. Keeping track of the lifecycle status of each electronic component is crucial to avoid the time and resources wasted on redesigns due to phase-outs or obsolescence warnings. While some companies may check lifecycle status when selecting components or use product change notifications (PCNs) to be quick in reacting, few take a proactive approach by implementing dual or multiple sourcing to reduce the risk of failure. This leaves many electronics companies vulnerable to the consequences of component obsolescence.

A Better Way: A Contemporary Approach to NPI

A modern approach to NPI addresses traditional challenges and provides a more efficient process for bringing new electronic products to market. It uses modern tools, techniques, and a proactive, collaborative approach to electronics development, helping companies succeed in a complex market.

The modern new product introduction (NPI) setup

Integrate Supplier APIs

The electronics market is volatile, making it challenging to stay updated on the supply chain. However, APIs (Application Programming Interfaces) offer a solution. Many distributors of electronic components, like Farnell, and PCB suppliers, like Würth, now offer open APIs, which enable easy exchange of data. By establishing an API connection, individuals can quickly and easily access real-time inventory levels, pricing, lead times, and product details from their approved suppliers on request or automated. 

This streamlines the procurement process and allows for more informed decisions about components during the design process. The APIs can be integrated individually to match with own processes or enabled directly in dedicated BOM management solutions, such as Luminovo. Either way, the modern era of APIs enables real-time supply chain data to be embedded in the NPI process where decisions need to be made. 

Use Digital Twins

Digital twins are virtual representations of physical objects or systems that can be used to streamline handover points between engineering, procurement, and suppliers in the modern NPI process. They can eliminate manual tasks, such as downloading, editing, and re-uploading Excel documents or design files, and reduce the risk of errors by allowing easy integration of external data through APIs or real-time transfer of data points.

Digital twins of the BOM can be used for a variety of purposes, such as requesting and displaying supply chain, lifecycle, or compliance data, or automatically optimising the BOM based on factors such as availability, price, or lead time. Similarly, digital twins of PCBs can be used to test and troubleshoot problems at the earliest design stages and serve as a communication tool between stakeholders through APIs.

Implement Design Health Monitoring

The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the vulnerabilities of our electronic supply chains, resulting in the phase-out of certain components, availability issues, and instability in lead times and prices. This requires engineering and procurement teams to be agile and work closely with suppliers. To overcome these challenges, it is critical for NPI processes to continuously monitor the health of a BOM and design from the start of a project through to market launch. 

A health dashboard can track compliance, global inventory, lead times, and pricing, and alert relevant stakeholders like product managers, procurement managers, and engineers if negative trends are identified. To create and maintain such a dashboard, companies can hire component engineers, use third-party data providers like IHS, or implement software solutions, such as Luminovo, that provide BOM management and health monitoring. Although supply chain disruptions cannot be avoided, they can be managed proactively and effectively.

Adopt Multiple Sourcing

Multi-sourcing, or using multiple alternatives for components of the same designator, is a critical strategy for protecting against supply chain issues. By sourcing from multiple vendors, companies can reduce their dependence on any one supplier, eliminating single points of failure and ensuring a more stable supply of components. This is especially important in today's rapidly changing market, where component obsolescence and supply issues can arise unexpectedly.

While multi-sourcing may come with increased administrative and procurement costs, these costs can be minimised by implementing the right tools and processes. Distributors, for example, often offer suitable alternatives on their websites, and some suppliers even provide special services like field application engineer (FAE) support to help with component selection. There are also purpose-built applications, like cross-references search tools, that provide suggestions of approved substitutes based on parametric and functional similarity. By taking advantage of these resources, companies can streamline the multi-sourcing process and make the most of its benefits.

Leverage Cloud-Based Collaboration

Collaboration is essential for the success of any business, and cloud-based applications make it easier for teams to work together. These solutions offer secure, cost-effective communication and coordination, resulting in more efficient processes and increased productivity.

One area where the benefits of cloud-based solutions are particularly evident is in the NPI process, where multiple applications and users from different internal and external teams come together. One example is cloud-based component approval processes between engineering and procurement that enable fully digital, collaborative and distributed processing, directly in the BOM or design management tool. Cloud-based applications can also facilitate collaboration between the company and its suppliers, such as electronic manufacturing services (EMS), distributors, or component manufacturers. Cloud solutions are a necessary part of any modern NPI process.

When the future becomes reality

The above solutions for a novel NPI process that makes your electronics development more robust, predictive and collaborative are not dreams of the future, but can already be implemented today with modern solutions such as the Luminovo Suite

You can learn more about these solutions and how they can benefit your organization through booking a live demo on our website. We are committed to helping you streamline your electronics value chain management.

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