It’s all well known that, during post Covid19 period, the world had some supply chain problems, which also generated price increases. We suffered some of this problems as well, such as problems with steel supply, welding gas, motors, drivers, VFD's and relays. Nevertheless, by large, the biggest supply problem was electronic chips.
At ELITE, we do the design and manufacturing of our electronic boards. Why?
In the world of tool sharpening, there are no industry-specific CNC controller boards. They do exist, however, for milling, turning, or machining. This lack made us decide to manufacture our own CNC controls. This allows us to make software and electronics adapted to each machine. By doing that, we achieve, on the one hand, a high level of optimization since each one goes exactly with the technology it needs and that makes it work better. On the other hand, it allows to be very easy to use.
We started our first CPU with the Atmel family of chips, specifically the ATmega 328, ATmega1284 and ATmega2560. This where 8 bit chips running at 20 Mhz. Available in our CPU-328, HMI-4004, MAG-328, CPU-1285, CPU-2560.
In 2019, in order to achive more speed and energetic efficiency as well as to guarantee a strong supply and stability, we decided to move to the more modern Arm chips. These chips are vastly used in the mobile sector among others. We ended up reliying on the ARM cortex-M4 with the chip MK20DX256VLH7 from the manufacturer NXP. This chip was available in our HMI-M4 and CPU-M4. It was running at 72 Mhz with 32 bit set of instructions. This was more than 6x faster than old Atmega's!
The supply chain was working well until the end of 2020. By the time of writing this article, we are still waiting for MK20 chips. Latest word from NXP is that a small quantity of the parts we ordered in January 2021 are expected to arrive by April 2023 and another small delivery by September 2023. All signs look like the April and perhaps even September chips will not be enough to meet their needs. There is a very strong possibility we may not have any available in 2023.
NXP admits over half of the chips we ordered in January 2021 will be delayed until at least 2024. All signs we see paint a grim future for the MK20DX256VLH7 chip. We are skeptical about whether NXP may ever reliably supply this part.
Unfortunately, we do not believe supply of chips is likely to ever fully recover. These chips are made with 90 nm silicon process. Most of the world's semiconductor fabs are focusing on 45 nm or smaller, leaving limited supply for older chips. We anticipate the cost of these chips is likely to increase as the supply continues to dwindle.
The fact is that the delivery time was never quite clear: the first notification received had a delivery time of 20 weeks, then another 10 weeks, and so on.
As our new machines need faster chips, we could not use the old ones. This situation forced us to do a new design of our electronic boards by end of 2021, that was also backwards compatible with the CPU-M4 and HMI-M4 series. One more time, we relied on the ARM chips. This time the MK64FX512VMD12 for the CPU-M4F and the MK66FX1M0VMD18 for the HMI-M4F. Both from NXP company, again.
Running at 120 Mhz with also 32 bit, this chips were a beast!
Initially we received some tokens, but soon we had the same problem: when the stock ran out, the delivery time increased from 20 weeks to 60, and now it already reaches 120 weeks... We could have made some electronic boards to deliver some of our machines, but this was not enough.
Once again, at the end of 2022, we started a new design, the CPU-M7 and HMI-M7, based in the Cortex M7 series, the chip MIMXRT1062DVL6B also from NXP. The chips runs at 600 Mhz. 32 bit. Which is too much for what we need, but the bigger the better, as these ones can guarantee a longer lifetime.
We received the first units by the end of November 2022. We mounted, tested and approved them for use in our production electronics boards. We continued receiving limited number of chips, but at least, so far, we have some good expectations that these chips will not suffer from low availability.
Thanks to our ELITE R-D team and its continuous innovation in the search for and improvement of electronic boards, we continue to make progress in improving our machines, adapting to the changes faced by the market to guarantee, on the one hand, the supply of our products and, on the other, that our client is not harmed at any time.