Chipageddon: Electronics Supply Chain Challenges

Article By : Christopher Cain, Gooi Soon Chai, and Shidah Ahmad, Keysight Technologies

Global electronics demand has undergone unprecedented growth in the past year through a macro-economic rebound caused by the acceleration of digital transformation, instigated and sustained by the COVID-19 pandemic and fundamental shifts toward adopting renewable power and electric transportation.

Global electronics demand has undergone unprecedented growth in the past year through a macro-economic rebound caused by the acceleration of digital transformation, instigated and sustained by the COVID-19 pandemic and fundamental shifts toward adopting renewable power and electric transportation. The lack of integrated circuits (ICs or “chips”) and other electronic materials to meet this demand has profoundly impacted the electronics supply chain, which some have termed Chipageddon.

Huge investments across the electronics supply chain are being made in response to this extraordinary level of electronics demand. Of course, a fundamental response is to increase electronics manufacturing capacity, which is hampered by the time and expense required to build a manufacturing plant or integrated circuit (IC) “fab.”

Many electronic manufacturers have established a plan to increase the manufacturing capacity of electronics test and measurement solutions, including Keysight. These efforts include improving Resilient Operations, Supplier Collaboration, Strategic Sourcing and Value Engineering.” Resilient Operations ensure people can safely work, with vaccination programs exceeding 98% of the workforce and safe operational procedures. This includes accelerating the digital transformation of fulfillment, manufacturing, and logistics operations.

  • Strategic Sourcing is about investing in alternate sources and deep supply-based analytics to squeeze every available part out of the worldwide supply.
  • Supplier Collaboration escalates when shortages occur and deeply engaged supply chain partners help deliver more components and capabilities.
  • Value Engineering involves redesigning components or assemblies to retain the existing design’s capability, while substituting the part in short supply with another available part. This is expensive and takes time to properly complete, so re-engineering a component or assembly is only applied in the most needful situations.

The COVID-19 pandemic has not only accelerated business and personal digital transformation, but the electronics supply chain and manufacturing digital transformation as well. This ranges from artificial intelligence algorithms used to predict component availability to software predicting upcoming manufacturing issues. before tests begin failing to enable actions to be taken before future failures stop the line.  Predictive insights are provided by advanced software, such as the Keysight Technologies PathWave Manufacturing Analytics platform.

Community Response

Like everyone in the global electronics business, Keysight Technologies faces the challenges of obtaining sufficient material to assemble our test and & measurement solutions used in electronics manufacturing.  We utilize our four-element plan to address these challenges, but sometimes that is not enough to meet near-term critical demands.

We recently encountered challenges obtaining a modular power assembly in one of Keysight’s most complex manufacturing test solutions.  We ensured resilient operations amid the pandemic, applied all efforts towards strategic sourcing and supplier collaboration.  We even invested value engineering towards alternative designs, but these efforts were still not converging in time to avoid impacting shipment timeframes needed by our customers.

These modular power assemblies can be replaced after the solution is installed in case of rare assembly failure during operations.  We keep a few units in global stocking, and some were redeployed, but that couldn’t meet the high demand of newly manufactured systems.  How could we obtain more modular power assemblies to satisfy the near-term need to increase our customer’s manufacturing capacity?

We noted that customers might have units in local repair stocking or underutilized in active use systems.  Our systems are expandable so that a system might have up to four of these assemblies, and the system’s current usage might not be using all four installed modular power assemblies.

We began a program to help our customers discover underutilized modular power assemblies so that they could be redeployed to a newly manufactured system they had on order.  To save additional time, we typically arrange for the new system to ship without these modular power assemblies and install them upon delivery of the system.

We’ve had several cases where we have been able to ship a new system by postponing the final integration of a critical component available through a non-standard supply chain.  Similar strategies are being used in other complex products, such as automobiles.  We have a few cases where Customer A provided modular power assemblies to help Customer B, an extraordinary display of the electronics community stepping up to help each other in times of a crisis.

Customer Reengineering

At Keysight, we have leveraged our fourth supply chain response of Value Engineering towards helping our customers re-engineer solutions they already have for higher productivity.   We assigned our most skilled innovators in product design (R&D) to work with our solutions engineers in sales to assist customers in identifying opportunities for upgrades to existing solution capabilities.  They have developed new digital tools that help determine which existing hardware and software upgrades might have the best ROI to improve productivity.   We are also benefiting from new insights gained by working intensely with customers, which is already impacting our next generation of new products in development.

An example of this was the discovery at one customer that their systems would benefit from upgrading measurement components to enable faster and more parallel measurements.  This could be accomplished sooner than supplying all new plans to expand manufacturing capacity.  In fact, in this case, we are providing our latest digital analytics platform to enhance productivity even further.   Another example of digital transformation accelerated.

By focusing on the customer outcome of increasing manufacturing capacity, we could select from a more comprehensive set of capabilities, some of which had fewer current supply chain impacts and thus could be provided more quickly.

Conclusion

The power of digital technologies and human innovation is impressive, mainly when applied in a crisis. When we facilitate a community response, solutions happen faster, more efficiently and everyone involved contributes. This has helped transform escalations into partnerships for mutual success. Don’t forget that our customers are our neighbors as well!

Formulating a response to the global supply chain challenges can also be reapplied to your customer outcomes when your products and solutions are part of that supply chain. This algorithm is called recursion in software and is one of the most powerful algorithms available. Re-engineering your customer outcomes, especially by leveraging digital technologies, is an excellent source of innovation and accelerated value creation.

Ensuring the success of our neighbors is an enduring value, and in times of crisis, we must remember to be flexible and innovative in how we deliver that success.

 

About the Authors

Christopher Cain is Vice President and General Manager of the Electronic Industrial Solutions Group at Keysight Technologies. With 36 years’ experience at Keysight in roles spanning executive leadership, strategic planning, R&D, and manufacturing, he leads teams around the world that develop, deliver, and sustain a broad range of Keysight’s electronic industrial products. Christopher graduated from Iowa State University with a Bachelor’s Degree in Electrical/Computer Engineering and obtained his Master’s Degree in Computer Science from National Technology University in 1994. His career spans spin-off transitions from Hewlett-Packard into Agilent Technologies in 1999 and into Keysight Technologies in 2014. He has been awarded four US patents and works in Santa Rosa, California.

Gooi Soon Chai is President of Order Fulfillment and Digital Operations, Keysight Technologies. Based at Keysight’s primary manufacturing and order fulfilment location, in Penang, Malaysia, Soon Chai has over 30 years of international experience heading best-in-class electronic measurement, life sciences and diagnostics business and operations, providing global management leadership for a diverse portfolio of businesses across multiple diverse market segments. Prior to Keysight, Soon Chai was a senior vice-president of Agilent Technologies. He holds a Master of Science degree in computing science from Imperial College of Science and Technology, London, and a Bachelor of Science degree, with first class honors, in electrical and electronics engineering from the University of London.

Shidah Ahmad is Vice president of Global Manufacturing and Supply Chain at Keysight Technologies. Based in Penang, Malaysia, she leads worldwide manufacturing & technology centers operations, covering sophisticated IC Fabs and optical & digital technology centers in the US & Europe, and assembly & test facilities across the world. She is responsible for the engineering functions involved in product redesign, design for supply chain & manufacturability and quality assurance, with full accountability for the company’s worldwide supply chain. Shidah has 30 years’ international experience in the semiconductor, electronics and IT industries, and holds a bachelor’s degree in science with a double-major in computer science and mathematics, and an MBA from Ohio University, USA.

 

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