Balancing the risk of quality vs price

Flash memory exists in many different formats and has many different grades of robustness. Some are designed for use in challenging conditions, perhaps in industrial situations where it might have to withstand vibration, extremes of heat and cold, or the potential for water ingress.

There are more examples of flash memory being used in these kinds of conditions than you might think, and they include commercial film production, advanced industrial manufacturing, aircraft systems, in-car systems, military environments and more. Flash memory might be a small component in itself, but its role is often vital. If it fails, everything can grind to a halt.

So it is important that the right memory is specified for the job. But it is also important that production costs are kept as low as possible, and that means being painstaking about both price and specification for every single component in a device. The bottom line is that each component has to be of high enough quality to do the required job and be available for an acceptable unit price.

In the inevitable rounds of revisiting a components list in the Bill of Materials (BOM), there will be pressure to reduce costs. Shaving fractions of pennies off the unit cost of components can scale up into significant overall savings. In cases where bulk purchasing can reduce unit cost, no change in the specification may result. But in other cases, a lower grade component might be specified, and here there is risk.

We’ve had experiences where being involved in the quality/price discussion has saved customers from significant problems down the line. For example, we worked with one automotive manufacturer which had specified consumer-grade memory for an in-car navigation system. This was done unwittingly, simply because the navigation system had been classified as a consumer grade application that happened on this occasion to be going into a car.

We knew that the memory would need industrial level resilience to withstand the stresses of being switched on and off every time the car started and stopped – the equivalent of absorbing a power cut every time. That’s not something consumer-grade memory can be guaranteed to handle. Fortunately, we got involved at the specification stage and were able to help the automotive manufacturer understand the problem, and conclude that industrial-grade memory was needed. OK, it was a shade more expensive. But it would avert card failures, the need for replacement parts, bad press and reputational damage.

Flash memory is complex, and there are many variables to consider when deciding on the best fit for any particular product or use. At Cardwave we wouldn’t expect a non-specialist to understand all the nuances. In the automotive manufacturer’s case, their risk was based on imperfect knowledge rather than on knowingly cutting corners to save on unit costs. We’ve worked with similar situations on many occasions, and also with customers who are fully aware that in wanting to cut costs they are risking the robustness of their product.

At Cardwave we help our customers get the balance between price and specification just right, and always try to source the right quality of product at the best possible price.