Specifying custom devices prevents reverse engineering, but it’s wise to have second sources on standby, advises Central Semiconductor’s Tom Donofrio.
Most original equipment manufacturer (OEM) design teams are tasked with qualifying at least one second source for each component in their design. This can be a daunting requirement when certain devices are special or even custom, but finding a manufacturer to meet this challenge can be critical to a product’s life cycle. Distributors can provide an excellent resource with their parametric search engines and cross reference tools.
Customise for security
Utilising custom devices can help prevent an end product from being reverse engineered and modules have always been a way to create a proprietary component with advanced functionality. The risk, however, is in not having a second source. Often designers sacrifice the benefits a custom device can provide and select a more generic product with less features and less advantageous specifications instead. The best approach is to reach out to several manufacturers when specifying a design.
Choosing a supplier who can manufacture both standard and custom devices affords the designer the best of both worlds. If they can provide extensive product depth and a long term proven history of obsolescence management success, these suppliers may be the key to an extended life cycle. Before redesigning your circuit board, look for drop in or drop on replacements to avoid the re-engineering cost.
Second source for safety
It is normal for designers to only look for custom second source manufacturers when a pending line-down situation occurs. Clearly, this is not the best time to embark on researching the possibilities, so it’s obvious that companies should take a proactive approach and establish these resources over time and with the proper evaluation process.
Put time on your side and develop a strategy to best approach securing your second, and if possible, third source suppliers. These manufacturers are most commonly the supplier that did not win the bid on price. Instead of advising them they lost, give them the opportunity to be the second source. Runner up suppliers will frequently fight for a piece of the action. Don’t be too concerned with their higher cost, they may be your best insurance policy.
Provide an incentive
It is important to keep your second and possibly even third source lines in the mix. Provide them with a minor share of the production schedule to keep their interest. Expecting them to jump right in at the time of an emergency is a poor approach and could lead to the shocking reality that these suppliers are simply not ready when you need them most. Second sources are typically higher in cost, but paying the extra price may prevent you from paying the ultimate price of a line down.
While it might seem risky designing in custom devices, the competitive advantages realised might just provide the edge to succeed in the ever-changing electronics market. The reality is that popular products may well be reverse engineered. It is therefore wise to develop a strategy to ensure that a second source supplier for a custom device exists, or can be cultivated and aligned with your production requirements. Mitigate the threats with a strong supply chain to alleviate any constraints and instead of taking chances, let a well thought-out strategy provide chances for success.