While many of you may know me as somebody who has a keen interest in all things technology and gadgets, not many may know that in my day job, I live the life of an electronics engineer, design many things, and hence, even if I claim myself, can really appreciate a bit of good design as well as the art and sweat that has gone into a good product.
Thing is, being an engineer is a bit more than the ability to put all the right components together, and creating the associated drawings and paperwork. A big part of actually producing a product is having the ability to make sure that not only do all components work together, but more importantly, they are all available. This means that you may be able to build a time machine with the Flux Capacitor, but not until you have the Flux Capacitor will you actually be able to put together a time machine.
This is where suppliers come in. When you design things, you need to have a source to buy things. Of course, there are ways to buy most electronic components, but a simple engineer is hardly a big enough customer for the likes of a big silicon semi conductor company. A number of thousands means nothing, and if you are really into the market for buying a million or more of something, you are probably looking at a lead time of six to eight weeks, and that is if you are lucky.
A bunch of different options present themselves at times like these.
The best option is often to walk into a shop and walk away with what you want. However, not many shops exist, and the ones that do exist, specially in the UK, are hardly worth the trouble. Harsh as it sounds, but that option doesn’t even satisfy the usual hobbyist.
The other option is to go online. A number of websites already exist on the internet which cater to most hobbyist needs. They not only contain components, but will often contain detailed instructions on how to put projects together, as well as a good forum where you can go and discuss your problems as well as present suggestions. Obviously, the hobbyist websites do not cater an engineer’s need in numbers, nor the variety of components he needs.
Next up is the option of ringing up various distributors that many companies keep around the world. Once again, those distributors demand big numbers as well come with big lead times. Yes, they will send you a few ICs as a free sample, but once you go beyond that, you are just lost.
This is where online retailers such as Farnell (or Newark in the USA) come in. Think of them as an Argos for electronic components, or a Screw Fix. You have a catalogue, you have the same information available online, and with clever filtering systems, you can often pin down exactly the kind of part you need. Use a component that works up to 5V, but need a 12V equivalent? Use the filters. Have a 0.1W resistor, but rather have a 1W one? Use the filters again. Yes, the system doesn’t always work as well as you’d expect, but it often does. On top of that, you also get an information on exactly the stocks they have in stock, so you know how many you can order. Best of all, you will get your parts delivered, mostly free of cost, the very next working day as well. This means that you can plan your product based on the parts available, rather than just brochures, and if you are missing a part, or something is out of stock, you can easily find an alternative too.
For the sake of completion, there are some other websites out there that offer similar services:
- RS, though the choice seems to be a bit less than Farnell.
- Digikey, more choice when it comes to electronics and semi conductor based products, but less in other areas. Based in US, you do not get next day delivery from them though.
- Mouser, which tends to offer a wide array of electronic components as well.
Of course, there are many many other websites out there that will give you a wide array of components and products to buy, and one can probably never really focus on all of them. However, remember, the key to a good design definitely lies in the components and parts used!