3PL Services Are No Answer for Long-Term Electronic Component Storage

By Logan Wamsley

Despite the current component shortage, escalating lead times, and lengthening product lifecycles in many industries, the issue of long-term component storage is still an issue that many supply chain professionals forget to consider. The rise of ASICs into more product designs is well-documented – yet there still exists a misconception that these MSL-sensitive electronics can survive warehousing based on a traditional 3PL model.

This is a mindset that needs to change.

The electronics manufacturing industry is inherently unique in that it requires adherence to strict storage specifications that simply do not apply to other business models. These are criteria retail companies that sell, say, baseball hats, flip-flops, or even hardware such as televisions or blenders simply do not need to consider. As long as the company’s third-party logistics partners offer some degree of secure ambient storage that can ensure functionality when it reaches the consumer, there is little reason for concern. Unless something catastrophic occurs, a baseball cap is going remain in solid working order for many years.

Now, compare said cap to raw die and wafer. In addition to the added IP protection die banking provides electronic OEMs (custom-made raw die allows OEMs an alternative to competing on the open market for generic components during a shortage), raw die and wafer also has the added benefit of maintaining optimal functionality over several years – provided the OEM in question has the necessary infrastructure to bank die.

What specifications does such an infrastructure require? Let’s start with the equipment necessary to maintain a strict climate-controlled, low-humidity environment suitable for die and wafer. This goes far beyond even the best capabilities ambient storage providers can offer. Cypress Semiconductors, in a document detailing their preferred storage specifications for raw die, states the following:

“If die and wafers are not stored properly, then issues…could have an even greater probability of occurrence. Die and wafers, when in storage, should be stored at temperature between 18°C and 24°C, relative humidity of less than 30%, and in clean, dry, inert atmosphere (e.g. Nitrogen), and in a vacuum sealed bag.”

Such a regulated environment is only possible through the use of dry storage cabinets, which if not already on hand require a significant financial investment to obtain. It’s also worth noting that most manufacturers recommend relative humidity levels to be kept as low as 6-10% (at Partstat, our zeolite-infused cabinets are capable of maintaining 0.5% relative humidity). Baseball caps these most certainly are not.

But die and wafer banking is only one situation where traditional 3PL models have no place in a supply chain involving electronic components. Even basic components and semiconductors such as diodes, resistors, transistors, and even assembled circuit boards should still be packaged, stored, handled, and shipped in accordance to standards explicitly outlined in ISO 9001-certified processes. This also includes having experienced staff available extensive training in inspection, ESD, and MSL packaging procedures.

If that sounds like a lot, that’s because it is – but only through these processes can an OEM ensure optimal component performance from the point of origin to the point of final assembly. When it comes to long-term electronic component storage, the devil is in the details – and the consequences of overlooking them are very real. It falls on the OEM to choose a partner that understands the needs of your supply chain perfectly.