With all the supply chain difficulties facing the world, thanks to COVID-19 and regional upheaval, designers and EMS providers both have a tough time sourcing verified components for new electronics. You may not be able to rely on a small number of distributors, and you’ll need to compile multiple resources for components.
Electronic parts sourcing in this environment relies on one thing: access to real-time information on the supply chain that is aggregated in one place. This might sound abstract, but you can easily find sources for components and evaluate replacements when you take some simple steps and use some free resources. Your sourcing strategy should start before the design phase begins, not at the end of the design phase. If you start sourcing your components early and you can aggregate information from multiple distributors, you can get the price and quantities you need for your new product, and hopefully stay within your production timelines and budget.
Electronic Parts Sourcing: Get Started Early
If you’re designing a new product that you plan to produce en masse, you need to start sourcing components early in the design phase. Check that your desired components are available in the quantities you will need them. In addition, check that your desired components will not go obsolete over the lifetime of your new product.
Unless you’re using a supply chain management service, you’ll need to source components on your own, and you’ll have two options for finding new components: distributor websites and component search engines. Both resources may allow you to perform specification-based or application-based searches (e.g., components for electro-optics, IoT, or power electronics). This will depend on how these services categorize their components. Here’s a brief comparison between the two:
- A components search engine provides a large amount of data from across multiple distributors and manufacturers. Some of these services provide free models for use in your PCB design software.
- Distributor websites provides are excellent for comparing specifications, but they only show their own component stocks and prices. Some of these services also provide free models for use in your PCB design software.
One drawback in using a search engine for electronic parts sourcing is that it can be difficult to get a complete view that compares stocks and prices for multiple components in a single window. Meanwhile, a distributor website provides stocks and prices for multiple components, but you won’t have a way to directly compare across multiple distributors. In both cases, you’ll have to switch back-and-forth between browser windows in order to compare information.
Browse Distributor Websites
Distributors are the gatekeepers for new parts. Unless your order quantity reaches millions of parts, manufacturers will refer you to parts distributors to buy components. The best distributors have powerful search engines that help you drill down to exact specifications and particular manufacturers. This is a great way to see a range of components that meet minimum specifications for a new design.
If you’re searching for something from a desired manufacturer, the search engine features on distributor websites also allow users to filter within specific manufacturers. They also allow you to filter down to the life cycle for components in search results, so you can limit your electronic parts sourcing activities only to components that are currently in production.
Finally, you can compare the one metric that tends to matter most often: price. You’ll have access to a range of components with different specifications and from different manufacturers in a single window. You’ll be able to compare price and lead times for comparable components in a single window.
Use an Electronic Parts Search Engine
Distributor websites are extremely useful as you’ll have access to their real-time sourcing data and you’ll be able to filter through results quickly. However, you’ll have to keep multiple windows open and manually flip between screens when you’re browsing component distributor websites. A better way is to use a dedicated search engine for electronic parts sourcing.
There are a number of parts search engines that aggregate component specifications, prices, lead times, available quantities, datasheets, and even models into a single location. These search engines are usually run on ads, meaning they may promote certain components to the top of the search results. They may also show ads in sidebars on search result pages. Despite the ad-based model, they can give you a real-time view of the supply chain for electronic parts sourcing.
Here’s a short list of some of my favorite components search engines:
- Ultra Librarian
In my opinion, Octopart and Ultra Librarian are the two best component search engines, but for different reasons. Octopart’s search and filtration features are unmatched by any of the other search engines and they provide the same level of filtration as the big distributor websites. They also provide a long list of distributors with prices in their search results. Ultra Librarian is another great resource for finding models for your components. They also provide plenty of sourcing information, but their search filtration features are not the best. In fact, Ultra Librarian pulls some of their sourcing data from Octopart, but it can be difficult to drill down to exact specifications with Ultra Librarian. They’ve focused more on providing models directly from manufacturers rather than creating a powerful search engine.
Still, when taken together, Octopart and Ultra Librarian will cover the vast majority of the components market with real-time sourcing information, easy searching and filtering abilities, and component model data. You can find distributors, quantities, and price data on Octopart, and then you can check for available component models on Ultra Librarian.
Here’s a short list of information you can get from the right parts search engine:
- Prices and stocks: any search engine worth their development budget should show you near real-time sourcing information directly from major distributors.
- Direct links to distributors: you should be able to jump directly to a distributor page and place an order for new parts.
- Part specifications: you may suddenly find the component you need is unavailable, but you can quickly locate suitable alternatives when you can see part specifications in search engine results.
- Model and footprint access: it’s always useful when a search engine provides library data for your desired parts.
- Application-based vs. specification-based searching: distributor websites are typically specification-based search engines, but it doesn’t hurt to do an application-based search, where you input the application area or type of product while searching for components. This puts the burden on manufacturers to list specific applications and products in their part descriptions.
Should You Rely on Your Design Team or EMS Provider?
EMS provides can handle a number of sourcing responsibilities for you, in addition to helping with design, pre-fabrication/DFM tasks, and assembly. You should already engage with your manufacturer early to ensure you can comply with their DFM requirements, but you may be able to see some cost and lead time savings by using them for sourcing. A large EMS provider can aid sourcing in the following ways:
- They keep stocks of common components.EMS providers need to serve a number of customers, and it is in their interest to keep plenty of passives, common ICs, LEDs, and other components in their inventory. You can take advantage of these stocks to reduce your lead time.
- They can consolidate orders and get volume discounts.If you’re ordering a large run, your manufacturer may pass some savings to you by ordering in large quantities on your behalf.
- They can see supply chain disruptions that aren’t visible to sourcing services and search engines.It is in the best interests of an EMS provider to maintain close relationships with component suppliers. They may be able to see a supply chain disruption coming in the future. They can advise you on which components may suddenly become unavailable, which may delay your manufacturing or assembly runs.
Your EMS partner can source components for you, but you should only do this if you’ve chosen a reputable EMS provider. Your EMS should have relationships with multiple suppliers, ranging from the well-known supply chain behemoths (e.g., Arrow, Mouser, Digikey, etc.) and secondhand suppliers of verified components. Your EMS should only work with suppliers who can verify testing for their components as no one wants to fall victim to counterfeiting.
Your Design Firm can Help you Source Components
Components suppliers offer a range of services that appeal to new and existing customers. These services range from short turnaround times to extensive testing. Your design firm has a major role to play in aiding electronic parts sourcing. Any design firm you choose to work with will make decisions that help expedite or delay fabrication and assembly. A design firm that has experience working with manufacturers and sourcing components for a variety of products can help you navigate the electronics supply chain landscape, especially during times of turmoil.
The experienced PCB design and layout team at PCBLOOP can help you determine the best components for your next product while ensuring you can produce advanced products at scale. We maintain relationships with a variety of manufacturers. We can help get you through prototyping, or we can help you find and vet a manufacturer to produce millions of units. We also provide embedded systems design services for advanced IoT products, industrial products, wearables, and much more. Contact PCBLOOP for a consultation.