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The Pros and Cons of Buying Electronic Components Online

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Since the dawn of diodes there has been a standalone leader in the realm of design engineer purchase decision influence, and that leader was, understandably, design engineers themselves. Makes perfect sense when you consider design engineers spend a great deal of time in secluded labs working in small groups. Also consider an engineer’s tendency to question everything. Who better to scrutinize an idea with than a fellow engineer?

Asking other engineers was the way to go in the past, but a relatively younger and unpredictably changing resource has tipped the scale of purchase decision. According to a study conducted by UBM Tech and released at EE Live 2014, companies focused on hardware and software design of both new and existing technologies work with an average of 3 external vendors, and the number one way external vendors are found is through their websites.


Considerations Facing Design Engineers

Design engineers have much to consider when facing crucial deadlines and tight budgets. Regardless of whether it’s a new design to keep up with the exponentially growing Internet of Things or an upgrade to an existing design, say from Bluetooth to Bluetooth Low Energy, buying electronic components can be an arid mountain to climb. Calling on all available resources is common practice as companies try to make the most of project funds and time. Conscious of this, vendor websites have started to go above and beyond to become a reputable way to answer many questions design engineers have and keep their projects moving right along.

Many vendor websites include answers regarding price, stock availability, and technical specifications, but there has been an increasing commitment to utilize the vast potential a website has. Detailed application notes, white papers, interactive block diagrams, and seemingly endless lists of video tutorials can now be found on many vendor websites. Design engineers are also being asked to sign up for “knowledge base” portals on many vendor sites in order to gain access to needed schematics, datasheets, case studies, software upgrades, etc.

Pros of Buying Electronic Components Online

The pros: it’s easy. Everyone loves a good discussion to open the mind and bring new ideas to light, but time doesn’t always allow for discussion. The ability to hop on the web and pull a much needed functional block diagram in less than 2 minutes may, in some circumstances, be seen as a “lifesaver”. When the alternative is forcing an intern to refresh the company inbox for hours while said diagram is “on its way over,” 2 minutes is precious. Though waiting a few hours may not bring a project to its knees, revisit the same scenario a handful of times during a 6 month design cycle and a compilation of a few hours here and there will equate to days of project down time easily avoided in a total of 20 minutes.

Clear pricing is another aspect of some vendor websites that in many ways gives design engineers and their associated buyers an upper hand. If vendor A lists 10,000 units of part number xyz at a specific price point, buyers are able to negotiate down from there without being evaluated for desperation or total capital, which may present a higher initial cost for the same quantity. Having a list of prices from vendor B, vendor C, and vendor D for the same PO also keeps price expectations in check.

Cons of Buying Electronic Components Online

The cons: “It’s not the way we’ve always done it!” Veteran designers have been buying silicon from their buddies since Marconi was wheeling and dealing. Bit of an exaggeration, but earth was considered flat for a while, so one should never exclude an opportunity to consider something new. Technology is moving ahead at the speed of light and even a well-funded team with thousands of engineers can’t claim to know everything about anything without doubt. However, it’s not a tradition in some companies and until the design engineer community reaches a point where all of the decision maker seats are filled by people who were handed a rattle and an iProduct at birth, the web will continue to take a back seat to face-to-face interactions and influences.

Only time will tell, but there is still plenty of value in calling on a favor or bugging the guy next to you. The important takeaway is understanding there are other tools available that can introduce new ideas, reduce time to production, and lower costs. Find the oldest, most reputable guy in your company and ask him for a list of PoE (Power over Ethernet) suppliers/vendors. Then walk back to your desk, type the same question into Google, and see which list is longer.

For more guidance regarding buying electronic components online, please call Symmetry Electronics at (310) 536-6190, or contact us online.



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