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Prototype Parts Procurement Poll Ponderings

We had a poll posted recently where we asked by what means you procured your parts. We got a good response — 178 responders by the end of the poll's run. It was interesting to see how you snagged parts when you were assembling your prototypes.

The largest number — exactly half of all respondents — said they just go to their favorite distributor's website, whip out their credit card, and order what they need. As long as your company gives you a credit card to use for business purposes, this is an easy solution. Or if they're willing to reimburse you for purchases made on your own card, that's also an easy solution.

(Source: Dave's Web Shop)

(Source: Dave's Web Shop)

Next most popular — for the companies that don't trust their employees with these nickel and dime purchases — is the company purchase order. Which means the engineer must fill out a form, get a couple of authorizing signatures, go to the Purchasing Department, and plead with them to just buy what is needed now rather than sending out for bids.

Third on the list makes use of the above cited credit card (most likely) with the purchase occurring at the local distributor or electronic parts store — for engineers lucky enough to have such a store within driving distance.

Fourth is direct from the manufacturer's website (again we can assume with that same credit card) — for engineers lucky enough to have chosen parts that come from companies that support online commerce.

Second to the last category indicates some engineers procure parts from eBay. Not exactly my favorite place to buy parts, but OK, whatever works for you.

Lastly, a choice I hadn't thought of — ask the manufacturer for a sample or two. The price surely is right. Anything that bypasses the Purchasing Department is good — though I've heard of companies that will insist on routing sample requests through the Purchasing Department. Bummer.

Here are the itemized results showing percentages and the actual number of responders in parenthesis.

  • Through distributor websites using a credit card — 50.00 percent (89)
  • Through a distributor by purchase order — 36.52 percent (65)
  • At the local electronics store — 20.22 percent (36)
  • From manufacturer websites using a credit card — 21.91 percent (39)
  • From eBay — 14.04 percent (25)
  • From the manufacturer by purchase order — 12.92 percent (23)
  • Other — 3.93 percent (7); only one detailed responder who said: “Samples from manufacturer.”

Though the survey is done, let us know of your procurement problems and purchasing panics.

15 comments on “Prototype Parts Procurement Poll Ponderings

  1. Davidled
    July 22, 2013

    When ordering parts from store or line, agency provided the lead time of delivery for the shortage part. Then, we had waited for this part, but there was no delivery after lead time. We asked agents to contact manufacture. In the end, demo board was not completed due to the missing parts. All team got a panic. I am wondering how the vendor provide the lead time.

  2. Scott Elder
    July 22, 2013

    In an earlier blog I wrote about the weaknesses of evaluating a prototype PCB design without good simulation corner models and using only a few parts.  

    http://www.planetanalog.com/author.asp?section_id=526&doc_id=560151&

    It seems that the distributors should offer a service whereby one can buy “corner” parts to test the robustness of a design.  So a few boards are built with nominal parts and a few with the corner parts.  Add some robustness to the evaluation…

  3. Dirceu
    July 22, 2013

       Still on “Other” category: Small contests and technical challenges (campaigns) proposed by manufacturers often. I had the opportunity to evaluate several products this way (for free), especially new microcontrollers.

  4. Brad_Albing
    July 22, 2013

    It seems like a good idea from the customer's perspective. Tho' I have doubts as to whether the disti or the manufacturer of the parts would supply a part “at thecorner.”

  5. Brad_Albing
    July 22, 2013

    Very nice that you got to do that. Thanks.

  6. goafrit2
    July 22, 2013

    >> All team got a panic. I am wondering how the vendor provide the lead time.

    Sometimes companies with out of stock items always hope to add good margin and source them. That is the point here. In your case, they ran out of luck.

  7. goafrit2
    July 22, 2013

    >> So a few boards are built with nominal parts and a few with the corner parts

    That seems very impractical considering that very few will have this rigorous approach you are presenting. The best deal is to design for the worst case and hope the system does not degrade below that. It is the same in chip design, you can do all the best you can do but a minor issue with process renders the whole innovation worthless.

  8. goafrit2
    July 22, 2013

    >> I had the opportunity to evaluate several products this way (for free), especially new microcontrollers.

    From my experience, most of the parts sold by companies and branded with generic name are not the best they offer in that product line. What happens is that you have a big lot and you give the great ones to the main customer. Some of the parts that did not make the cut are then sold to the general market with a different name. The best parts are still retained by those that have money to order millions.

  9. goafrit2
    July 22, 2013

    It is not a possibility since vendors see this business from the lens of buying and selling. For the distributor to help with corners, it means they need to have an R&D unit which is not in their business model.

  10. eafpres
    July 23, 2013

    In a previous life I had groups of engineers working for me designing custom antennas for cutomers.  Frequently for embedded designs we also had to help the customer design the matching network.  We also helped design test fixtures and setups for manufacturing.  All of this meant lots of discrete parts, various materials, solder, tools, etc. were needed.

    Usually I was able to approve most of the engineers to have a company credit card and order online.  Sometimes I had to do the ordering.

    For the parts that would go into a customer product, generally we were purchasing name brand parts (say, NEC, or MuRata, etc.) from a distributor online.  The idea was that the manufacturer would be specified on the BOM to ensure the right parts were used.

    During one of the cycles of Quality System deployment, procurement told me that all my vendors had to be approved vendors (on the AVL).  This involved things like them filling out self-audits, purchasing agents visiting and doing site audits, and many other requirements.  I looked at them in total disbelief.  After some negotiating, we agreed that any vendor who would be carried into production would have to be qualified, but the rest of our engineering vendors they would leave alone.

  11. Davidled
    July 23, 2013

    I am wondering there is some risk for design as wasting time, unless engineer wants to validate robustness of parts itself.  I recommend that design might be built by nominal parts, since there is other risk of design itself due to the parts. I am curious how to access corner parts from dist., or manufacture.

  12. Scott Elder
    July 23, 2013

    I don't think you can buy corner parts.  I'm just stating that it sounds like a good way to validate a design if companies sold them.  Just building from nominal parts means the nominal design works.  But if you go into production, you won't always get nominal parts.  Just another level of design evaluation.

  13. Brad_Albing
    July 24, 2013

    @eafpres – …filling out self-audits, purchasing agents visiting and doing site audits … Oh yeah, been thru exactly that sort of BS. Sometimes we worked things out in the manner you suggested. Sometimes not, with the predictable result of a slowdown in our ability to crank out a prototype.

  14. SunitaT
    July 29, 2013

    I generally check prices and specifications on websites. I also go to the local market for comparing prices. By comparing at websites and also in shop, I can take the decision which products should be purchased.

  15. Brad_Albing
    July 30, 2013

    @Sunita – You're lucky that you have local markets at which to check prices.

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