Then there is the flip side of the coin. Using devices that are nearing end of life cycle. Not available is not available whether they are the newest or oldest chips on the board.
One of my customers in the 90's was using FPGAs and CPLDs to mimic other disappearing devices. He made a good living at it (for all I know he still does).
When the small company that I worked at hired another EE to help with the workload, it became interesting. Fairly soon he pointed out that he could greatly simplify the circuit board of one of our highest production quantity products. This could shorten assembly time and make the circuit board smaller. I asked about the cost, and he explained that for a circuit that simple the engineering would be less than $50,000, so it would be a real bargain. Then I pointed out that the total price of all 5 ICs was about $3.50 a unit, and that a very large production run would be 50 units, so it might take a while to amortize the cost of the chip. The other advantage is that all of the chips in the system were available from at least 5 major manufacturers, and at 20 different distributors. So sometimes the custom chip is just a poor choice.
Our products are not really "cutting edge" - we don't need the fastest or smallest IC's. What we need are good, long-term supplies of the parts we DO use, and that has been problematic. We recently had two different parts go obsolete, and there are no equivalent replacements available for them. Since we don't do high volumes, the per-unit cost of re-designing using available parts is high, so we are in the dilemma of trying to decide if it's worth keeping the product around or not.
My favourite was an engineer working on an $80,000 product. Needless to say the volumes were not large. The company had been using a processor vendor for several years that was reliable, predictable, with good tools, and delivery (who will go unnamed) that many engineers in the company were familiar with. The engineer, because he liked some of the features of a new processor, decided to change a processor on a control board. That resulted in delays in the product development not to mention frequent purchasing delays. The cost of the new processor $1.23. The cost of an equivalent from the established vendor $1.45. Delayed millions in sales to save $0.22.
My favourite was an engineer working on an $80,000 product. Needless to say the volumes were not large, measured in the high hundreds to low thousands. The company had been using a processor vendor for several years that was reliable, predictable, with good tools, and delivery (who will go unnamed) that many engineers in the company were familiar with. The engineer, because he liked some of the features of a new processor, decided to change a processor on a control board. That resulted in delays in the product development not to mention frequent purchasing delays. The cost of the new processor $1.23. The cost of an equivalent from the established vendor $1.45. An $80,000 product delayed to save $0.22 not to mention the added engineering and purchasing cost.
I have never encountered this situation. But a better, more relevant war story subject would be vendors lying on data sheets or ommiting particular limitations of their products in their presentations and preliminary data sheets. I can think of a couple situations regarding power devices and heat sinking and also a particularly annoying early flash memory part that had an errata sheet almost as long as the data sheet itself!
No, products I encountered (many cutting edge parts) didn't (eventually) not show up, they just never worked as promised because they were obviously shoved out the door before they were properly tested for customer applications. Work-arounds were often very creative, the aforementioned flash part required significant firmware acrobatics and lowered our products performance (but I'm sure our sales guys never talked about it, so it flows).
I always like to read latest issue of Electronics Design, EDN, EEtimes and other magazines and hunt for latest parts available. I do save and maintain record of them for our future design requirements. It takes lots of effort to find and understand them from your design/application requirements. Also you generally do this in your own spare time as you have other assigned design work in office.
It is little difficult to get initial samples and technical clarifications from the manufacturer for some specifications and or feasibility of odd topology you want to implement. More often than not, application engineers with manufacturer do not understand you or he/she has difficulty in answering. It takes an extra effort to reach to actual IC designer who has all the answers and suggestions. It is tough mental decision to make final selection of part, predict parts future and informing all concerned party about it advantages and risk. Generally it is encouraged from management with due mitigation alternatives.
However, employing this new generation parts do make product state-of-art with all its associated advantages. Many times it is calculated risk, but this is how one can make small organization effectively competes with big established players and give more innovative solutions. I tried to look back on all previous design work over two decades and I find employing latest parts very rewarding. I take utmost care selecting parts when designing military hardware as it has general requirement of product life span of fifteen years or more.
I've seen the opposite problem, particularly on products being produced over many years. The key parts become end-of-lifed forcing an early end to a product's life cycle. It might be fine to restrict passives and simple parts to parts with long production histories, this is going to work with the more complex ICs, which may not have a production life time of more than 5-7 years. Then there is the cost/size issue. I could produce my design using 5 year old FPGAs, but my competion is going to be using the latest designs in production and have a product 4 times smaller which requires 25% of the power and has a major component BOM 25% of mine.
Some things never change! It is SOP for Marketing to issue product releases for instruments, components, or software that does not exist to one degree or another (but is in the realm of possibility) in order to see if there is enough interest to justify persuing the development or production of same. And if the product is ever successfully developed it wont be in production for long if it is not an economic success.
It happens. This is one reason I'm very reluctant to design in a component with a production history of less than 5 years. If it's in stock from multiple sources at one of the small-quantity distributors like Digi-Key or Mouser, that gives me a warm feeling too. There are a few manufacturers you really have to watch out for, who will keep a part in production just long enough for you to get through qualifying it, checking out the prototypes, and delivering a pilot run, and then cancelling it when you try to place high-volume production orders. For some markets, such as military aircraft and nuclear power plants, I woudn't dare even consider a sole-source ASIC; with production lives of 10 to 15 years, service lives of 25 to 50 years, and statutory prohibitions against design changes without extensive and expensive requalification, discrete transistor designs are sometimes the only safe option. All hail the 2N2369 and its SMT cousins.
NASA's Orion Flight Software Production Systems Manager Darrel G. Raines joins Planet Analog Editor Steve Taranovich and Embedded.com Editor Max Maxfield to talk about embedded flight software used in Orion Spacecraft, part of NASA's Mars mission. Live radio show and live chat. Get your questions ready.
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