Categories
Electronic Components

Managing component obsolescence

Electronic component obsolescence can have a ripple effect in the industry. If a component reaches the end of its lifecycle it can impact any products made with the component, affecting the end user.

Obsolescence happening faster

Components now are becoming obsolete much faster than 50 years ago. In the 70s the complete lifecycle of an electronic component was around 30 years. By the 2010s this was closer to 10 years, a huge decrease.

While this might not be a problem for consumers, it does have a considerable impact on manufacturers. If machinery is specialised to a certain type of component, the cost to adjust or replace these machines can be high.

Especially in very specialised fields like aerospace, defence and medical, faster component obsolescence has a serious effect. The process of redesigning these circuits and testing can be hugely time-consuming.

Advancements in technology play a part in these accelerated lifecycles, but there is still a big need for legacy parts.

End-of-life

Component manufacturers usually let their customer base know if a part is becoming obsolete with a Last Time Buy notice or a Product Change Notification (PCN). These can be issued up to about a year in advance to give companies time to make alternative arrangements.

Some companies will decide to stockpile these components once they receive the notification. The alternative is reworking any products featuring the components or finding alternative components.

Of course, any of these options will be costly. A number of companies will be trying to stock the same components so the price will increase. This will increase further once the components become scarce.

Can it be managed?

·         Monitor end-of-life notifications: Even if a PCN does not directly affect you, it may affect other manufacturers in your supply chain. Keeping track of these and being aware of what others in your supply chain use might make all the difference.

·         Consider buying strategies: Depending on how and when you buy components, you may end up with shortages or obsolete excess components. If manufacturers put a supply and buying strategy in place, they can not only minimise the obsolescence impact, but can save time and warehouse space.

·         Component lifecycle management: Staying on top of the component lifecycles can be endlessly useful. If manufacturers can keep track of their components lifecycle changes, they can forecast and prepare for the potential phasing out of the part.

Excellent management

Cyclops Electronics provides a range of services for its customers, including scheduled ordering. If you lack warehouse space but want to buy a surplus of components, whether they’re facing obsolescence or you want to secure a price, Cyclops Electronics can hold these for you and deliver as and when you need them. To learn more or hear about our other services, contact us today on +44 (0) 1904 415 415, or email us at sales@cyclops-electronics.com.

Categories
Supply Chain Technology

Making silicon semiconductors

As the global shortage of silicon semiconductors (also called chips) continues, what better time is there to read up on how these intricate, tiny components are made?

One of the reasons the industry can’t catch up with the heightened demand for chips is that creating them takes huge amounts of time and precision. From the starting point of refining quartz sand, to the end product of a tiny chip with the capacity to hold thousands of components, let’s have a quick walkthrough of it all:

Silicon Ingots

Silicon is the most common semiconductor material currently used, and is normally refined from the naturally-occurring material silicon dioxide (SiO₂) or, as you might know it, quartz.

Once the silicon is refined and becomes hyper pure, it is heated to 1420˚C which is above its melting point. Then a single crystal, called the seed, is dipped into the molten mixture and slowly pulled out as the liquid silicon forms a perfect crystalline structure around it. This is the start of our wafers.

Slicing and Cleaning

The large cylinder of silicon is then cut into very fine slices with a diamond saw, and further polished so they are at a perfect thickness to be used in integrated circuits (ICs). This polishing process is undertaken in a clean room, where workers have to wear suits that will not collect particles and will cover their whole body. Even a single speck of dirt could ruin the wafers, so the clean room only allows up to 100 particles per cubic foot of air.

Photolithography

In this stage the silicon is covered with a layer of material called a photoresist, and is then put under a UV light mask to create the pattern of circuits on the wafer. Some of the photoresist layer is washed away by a solvent, and the remaining photoresist is stamped onto the silicon to produce the pattern.

Fun fact – The yellow light often seen in pictures of semiconductor fabs is in the lithography rooms. The photoresist material is sensitive to high frequency light, which is why UV is used to make it soluble. To avoid damaging the rest of the wafer, low frequency yellow light is used in the room.

The process of photolithography can be repeated many times to create the required outlines on each wafer, and it is at this stage that the outline of each individual rectangular chip is printed onto the wafer too.

Layering

The fine slices are stacked on top of each other to form the final ICs, with up to 30 unique wafers being used in sequence to create a single computer chip. The outlines of the chips are then cut to separate them from the wafer, and packaged individually to protect them.

The final product

Due to this convoluted, delicate process, the time take to manufacture a single semiconductor is estimated to take up to four months. This, and the specialist facilities that are needed to enable production, results in an extreme amount of care needing to be taken throughout fabrication.

If you’re struggling to source electronic components during this shortage, look no further than Cyclops Electronics. Cyclops specialises in both regular and hard-to-find components. Get in touch now to see how easy finding stock should be, at sales@cyclops-electronics.com.