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As a procurement officer, you serve an important role in supporting the selection of Wi-Fi RF components for your company. Cost is most likely one of your top priorities and it's no small task to balance all of the elements needed to make the right selection for your company. There are many considerations to take into account while trying to limit unnecessary spending and find the best solution at the lowest price – preferably from your company's qualified vendor list. But solely focusing on one element, such as price, can have drawbacks and unforeseen risks for the end design.
Below is a checklist of key considerations that can help you establish a strategic sourcing method for your company's next wireless design.
Overall Quality Versus a Lower Cost
While many components may have similar features, there are other factors to consider when evaluating a supplier for sourcing high quality parts. Besides getting a reliable product, having resources to assist your design team during the development, testing and validation phase can make all the difference in releasing the overall product on time and on budget. While a less expensive part may seem appealing initially, if the supplier doesn't offer any of the below additional services, you may end up paying more in the long run:
- Service and support from the supplier's technical application team
- Support from a knowledgeable sales team
- Proven quality of service, systems and processes
- The ability to bundle a product offering and provide an overall solution compared to individual parts
- A supplier's ability to produce a quality product and service well beyond initial trial design stages
Supply Chain and Ramp Up Capabilities
It's one thing for a supplier to provide quality parts and support resources at the start of a buying relationship but being able to sustain the product throughout the design lifecycle is also paramount. Besides assessing the supplier's ability to deliver the necessary quantities, ramp volumes, and production volumes, here are other elements to evaluate:
- Production capability
- How many factories they have
- The total volume of shipments they can handle
- Their ability to provide viable forecasting information for design and production phases
- How they are organized
- Is there a supply agreement?
- What are their guidelines in terms of quality or delivery issues?
In most Wi-Fi designs, it's helpful to dive into how a supplier addresses requirements of a product or solution and systematic cost impacts like:
- Engineering time and effort (tuning and optimizing)
- Additional assembly and PC Board related efforts
- Thermal management
- ESD protection
- Regulatory compliance
Looking at suppliers who have experience and resources with addressing these product requirements will go a long way to minimize potential time-to-market delays – especially later in the design phase or after product rollout.
While searching for new component partners or reviewing existing ones, it's wise to analyze a manufacturer's financial stability. There are many technical startups entering the market without the financial stability required to maintain a viable long-term partnership. Usually these companies use price as a leverage in negotiation with customers – offering prices well below the competition. If the company is price-first, be wary, as they may not be as financially stable as presented. Financially stable companies often offer better pricing as unit volume increases, so it's best to go with a reputable company that welcomes an open discussion on price.
Is your technology partner future-oriented? Is their product portfolio addressing both existing and newly developing standards, such as Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax)? Are they investing in research and development for future protocols? Future-oriented companies will invest in research and development to differentiate their products and keep ahead of their competition. Aligning with these type of companies can help your organization realize similar benefits – especially in a competitive consumer landscape.
New developing standards will always occur within the wireless industry. Making certain to partner with forward thinking component companies is a must to ensure the development of leading-edge products.
A Whole Solution Approach Avoids Unforeseen Costs
Thoughtful consideration of individual components is important, but the more strategic approach is to compare pricing and specifications at both the component and system-level. A system-level approach can mitigate final design mistakes and re-design costs and may also present opportunities to use integrated components for a lower overall bill of materials.
For example, the RF PA efficiency affects PC board thermals and package design. Knowing the PA efficiency specification under various Wi-Fi modes is important. Understanding the PA efficiency impact on your system design is imperative to avoiding costly re-design, heatsinks or regulatory requirement failure.
Integration is another cost saving consideration. Designing with optimized integrated solution components reduces design time and tuning. Many integrated components also incorporate filter technology reducing interference and coexistence. Having the filter integrated within the module means your design team spends less time tuning for a discrete filter. It also reduces the need for extra tuning components.
A strategic supplier should also work with you during design and verification stages in addition to helping you off-load and resolve optimization tasks. Ultimately, value can be found in partnering with a supplier that supports the success of your solution.
You now have all the key elements to consider!
In the pressure to source the best parts for the lowest cost, we hope this has armed you with key considerations to evaluate. Balancing between cost and quality, a company’s financial stability, sustainability, and their ability to create next generation products will set you up for delivering more value for your upcoming Wi-Fi system designs.