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.
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:
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.
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.
Mouser’s filtered search results for electronic parts sourcing.
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 lifecycle 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.
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:
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.
Example search results from Octopart. You can easily see sourcing information, datasheet access, pricing, and stocks. Lower down the page, you can see a complete list of specifications.
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.
Example component models available from Ultra Librarian.
Here’s a short list of information you can get from the right parts search engine:
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:
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.
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 NWES 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 NWES for a consultation.