Browsing Electronic Component Distributor Inventory with Integrated Libraries

Created: October 24, 2018
Updated: September 25, 2020

Stacks of boxes in a distribution warehouse

Even though I make a lot of lists just to keep track of all the different activities going on with my business, it gets tiring. When I need to buy office supplies, it helps to have all my options in one place so that I can figure out where I need to go to buy everything. Thankfully, when you’re sourcing for your PCB, there are solutions that show you all your distributor options.

Browsing through distributor websites to source components for your PCB takes a significant amount of time. Instead of writing out long lists of component information and rewriting everything into a bill of materials, your PCB design software should include tools that show you all your sourcing options in one interface.

Locating Distributors and Browsing Inventory

There are a relatively small number of very large electronic component distributors that serve a broad swathe of the industry. These distributors are a critical part of the electronics supply chain and are responsible for supplying a diverse array of ICs, basic circuit elements, and more advanced components like microcontrollers and FPGAs.

No matter which components you need to source for your next PCB, you’ll need information from these distributors if you want to source these components and move through the production process. In the old days of production planning, you had contact distributors directly or get periodic supply updates via mail.

Nowadays, with new products and components being released all the time, and with the rapid development of new electronic devices that rely on these components, designers need to get a better view of distributor inventory, lead times, and component lifecycle information ASAP. Phone calls and emails won’t cut it anymore, and no one has time to browse multiple distributor websites to get a better idea of the state of the supply chain.

Sure, you can use Google and find a list of large electronic component distributors, then take time to compare information on their websites; the internet brings all of this information directly to your browser. But if you’re working as part of a team that is preparing for production, you’ll need to spend time balancing sourcing and compatibility. This means you need sourcing information from distributors compiled in one location.

PCBs in a garbage dump

Don’t let your PCB become obsolete as soon as it’s produced

3rd Party Services vs. Integrated Libraries

If you’ve just finished designing the PCB for your next groundbreaking electronic system, you’ll need to source your components from electronic component distributors if you want your PCB to be anything more than just a CAD drawing. So what is the best way to browse and compare information from all your potential distributors?

Some designers will swear by 3rd party component database services. These services compile information from a large number of global electronic component distributors and present it to you in a single webpage. Basic 3rd party component database services will allow you to search and browse components across multiple distributors simultaneously. The best database services will actually allow you to compare components side-by-side, allowing you to choose suitable replacement components if necessary.

This is the best way to comb through a ton of information quickly, and these services are certainly useful when sourcing many different components. But when it comes to PCB design, these services have some serious drawbacks. Some services have zero or inconsistent lifecycle information. Others do not have comparison capabilities for quickly identifying acceptable replacement components, leaving you to look at component datasheets.

This is where component libraries that integrate  with your design tools, include search and comparison features, and import updated supply chain and obsolescence information outdo a 3rd party component database. So what does this mean for your PCB design software and component management processes?

Integrating Component Management with Design Tools

The concept of integrated software may seem odd at first. If you’re familiar with MS Office, you’ll know that many of the features operate differently across different programs, the commands are inconsistent, and a given feature has different capabilities in different programs. Most PCB design software packages operate in the same way. Critical design tools are presented in different programs with inconsistent workflows and different capabilities.

An integrated design package does more than just place your design and component management tools in a single program. Your layout tools and component libraries are designed to communicate with each other, making it easy to locate replacement components and immediately import them into your layout and schematics.

​ shelves on a laptop screen

​ shelves on a laptop screen

When it comes time to source components for your next PCB, you’ll be much better off if you use a design platform with integrated component libraries and management features. These libraries download data directly from distributors, ensuring that your supply chain and lifecycle information is always current.

The design and management features in Altium Designer®  ensure that you can remain productive during design and can move to manufacturing without a hitch. Talk to an Altium expert today if you want to learn more about how Altium can help you manage your design and component data across your organization.

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