The waiting is the hardest part. –Tom Petty
When I got my driver’s license in 1979, my dad rejoiced. No, not because he wanted me to enjoy my newfound freedom and get used to making decisions on my way to becoming a normal adult and valued member of the community. He just wanted someone else to wait in the gas lines.
Some of you won’t remember this, but gas lines were an everyday occurrence for a year or so in the 1970s. The “energy crunch” was on, and President Jimmy Carter told us to put on a sweater instead of cranking up the heat in the winter. OPEC raised the cost of crude oil to the point that gas cost over $1. The old analog gas pumps could only register up to $0.99 per gallon, so gas stations had to charge by the half gallon until they could get new pumps.
But Tom Petty had it right; waiting was the worst part. It wasn’t uncommon to wait two or three hours in a gas line, and sometimes the gas station would run out of gas before you got yours. Then, things got interesting. Tempers would flare as drivers tried to get out of this traffic jam and head to another gas station, and the process would start all over again.
My dad said that I was building character by waiting in gas lines. I don’t know about that. I just remember trying to look cool in my mirrored sunglasses and listening to the radio for three hours. By Sunday afternoon, most gas stations had run dry, and they’d put up signs that read “out of gas.” You might drive past a half-dozen gas stations before you found one with gas, and there might be a four-hour line.
I was reminded of the energy crunch of the ‘70s while researching this month’s issue on the component shortage. Some PCB designers are finding their favorite capacitors on 50- and 80-week lead times, or worse. How do you design a board today when the components you need won’t be available for a year or more? Waiting isn’t an option if your product needs to be on store shelves in time for next Christmas. What options do designers have?
Things are getting crazy. In many software tools, the field for lead time only has two digits, so designers can only input “99 weeks” even if the wait is much longer. How did we get to this situation?
To read this entire column, which appeared in the January 2019 issue of Design007 Magazine, click here.