Shifting Left in the HW Industry Supply Chain

The Shift-Left principle was born in the software industry.
It visualizes the development process flowing from left to right, then pushing to move activities from later to earlier stages.
It first focused on testing. That was traditionally done toward the end of the process, shortly before launching the product. Such late-stage testing frequently identified quality issues that required costly redesigns and delayed product launches.
A Shift-Left in that process meant involving the testing team from the early design stages and implementing testability considerations in the design, thus avoiding significant reworks and expediting time to market.
This methodology is now used for additional activities, such as cyber security and product deployment.

The engineers may identify issues with the BoM, such as end-of-life (EOL) items, suggest newly-used components that can be replaced with currently-used ones, etc., and send them back to the design engineer for rework.

In the meantime, the supply chain department checks for cost and availability, ensuring the BoM can be reasonably sourced now and during the necessary support period. Hard to acquire or costly components are sent back to the design engineer for a redesign.

This lengthy, tedious process might repeat itself several times before putting together a proper BoM, thus extending the time to market.
If not done right, the result can be a fragile product that is exposed to supply chain disruptions.

After launching the product and throughout its life cycle, the BoM may change through multiple engineering change orders (ECOs) derived from various reasons, including availability, quality, cost, etc.
The supply chain department would usually initiate necessary changes based on components data, and the engineering department will implement the change requests to the BoM.
A Shift-Left would change this process entirely.

A design engineer can incorporate the above considerations into the components selection by accessing the proper tools, data, and insights.
Easy, real-time visibility of lifecycle problems and risks, cost and availability status and trends, quality, previously used items, excess inventory, etc., coupled with an AI-powered recommendation engine, can improve the engineer’s chances of choosing the right components.
Consequently, the engineer would produce a cost-effective, resilient design much faster, with fewer resources, iterations, and dependency on other departments.

No tool can replace the experience and knowledge of the components engineering and supply chain departments, who might still have recommendations for improving the BoM. However, it’d be significantly more straightforward for the design engineer to avoid fundamental mistakes independently when selecting components and defining alternatives.
That would directly shorten the time to market and bring the company closer to launching a robust product with a resilient supply chain.

After the product launch, the components engineering department will experience the same benefits.
Currently, the supply chain department, specifically the procurement personnel, is the first to be notified of any component-related disruption.
In some cases, the notification comes from components manufacturers. In other cases, the trigger is an immediate component’s sourcing issue requiring the definition of an alternative item to keep the supply chain going.
The components engineering department then executes the supply chain requirements.

A Shift-Left using the data and tools mentioned earlier would put components engineering in the front seat.
Instructions from the supply chain department are unnecessary when indications flow in real-time directly from the chip manufacturers and distributors.
Immediate disruptions would be infrequent thanks to improved visibility, usually indicating events that are likely to disrupt the supply chain in the future, giving the organization the buffer to mitigate those risks.
Internal errors or sudden supply chain cut-downs resulting from natural disasters, COVID-related shutdowns, etc., might still need instant responses, requiring effective collaboration between the different departments.

With the supply chain’s real-time visibility into suppliers’ costs and availability and decision-supporting insights, the whole value chain would operate effectively, reducing human resources, costs, reworks, and reliance on should-be spotless interfaces.

The Shift-Left concept already changes how organizations function internally, and at more advanced stages, it will similarly affect how cross-organizational collaboration works along the supply chain.