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Comparing Electronic Prices with Supply Chain Visibility

Created: February 11, 2019
Updated: September 25, 2020

Currency in the back pocket of blue jeans

Thankfully, I’m no longer a broke college student that has ramen every other day for dinner. But the spending and budgeting habits I developed during that period of my life have stuck with me and served me well into adulthood. I’m not eating ramen anymore, but I still keep an eye on my monthly budget.

If you’re considering which components to include in your next PCB and are trying to formulate a production budget, you’ll need access to supply chain information that includes costs, lead times, and quantities. There are plenty of trade-offs to be made between these three areas. Fortunately, the right PCB design software can give you access to all the information you need to make the right production and budgeting decisions.


Component and Production Budgeting

When planning for production, the cost is not the only issue you’ll need to consider. While cost is important, you’ll also need to consider lead times, available quantities, and the possibility that components will soon become obsolete. You’ll need to compile all of this information in a bill of materials for your manufacturer.

If you look online at electronic component supplier and websites, you’ll find plenty of options for sourcing your components. These websites display lead time information, quantities, and costs for their components, which can help you budget and schedule your next production run. Planning for production requires synthesizing and comparing all of this information and developing a coherent budget and delivery schedule that your manufacturer can accommodate.

One option is to have your manufacturer source your components for your next PCB. This saves you time as you won’t need to scan through multiple databases or distributor websites for your desired components. Manufacturers also have relationships with various distributors, and they may be able to get you price savings by ordering in bulk. If you’re PCB is built on relatively common components that are not at risk of imminent obsolescence, then you’ll likely be able to avoid headaches and have your PCB produced on schedule.

Nowadays, most PCBs use more specialized components, and there is no guarantee your manufacturer will have them in stock or will be able to procure them at a discount. Counterfeit electronic components are more common than you would think. If you take your manufacturer at their word, you risk ending up with faulty or counterfeit components just because your manufacturer tried to save you a few bucks.

If your manufacturer is a real cheapskate, they won’t have any quality control measures in place and may not realize that they just assembled your board with faulty components. You won’t even notice that the parts you’ve included are counterfeit until you receive your boards. Instead of taking the risk of working with an overseas manufacturer or shady distributor, you’ll be much better off if you source your components and plan your production budget yourself.

 Electronic components on a tan PCB

You’d never know these components were phony


Pricing Your Own Components

Since some manufacturers, especially overseas manufacturers, have bad track records of sourcing counterfeit components, planning for production on your own might be the better option. So how can you go about comparing electronic prices easily and quickly compile this information into deliverables for your manufacturer?

Many component distributors place their entire inventory database online. The best distributors will sell you access to their database via an API, allowing you to instantly access supply chain information and integrate it into custom software applications. If you’re a software developer at a major hardware company, this might be the right option for you.

In case you’re not a software developer and you want to make sure you get all the supply information you need to plan for production, component distributors will give you price information via their websites. The major problem with this model is that comparing prices across distributors is difficult. You’ll be stuck working in your web browser, and you won’t have any way to quickly transfer this information into your bill of materials.

Some companies provide aggregator services that can compile supply chain information from multiple companies and charge you a subscription for access. This data can be stale as these aggregators may not access data from distributors at the time you run a search. Your budget or components could be obsolete as soon as you send your bill of materials to your manufacturer.

Both of these options come with the same drawback: you have to manually copy and paste information between your design software, bill of materials software, and a word processor. This wastes time that could be used to improve designs, generate other deliverables like Gerber files, and choose replacement components.


Sourcing in Altium’s Integrated Design Environment

Instead of trying to determine the least bad option for sourcing components, you need a PCB design platform that integrates supply chain information directly into your software. You won’t have to browse component distributor websites or sign up for an unreliable aggregator service just to compare electronic prices and access supply chain information. Your bill of materials tool will read directly from your design data and access immediate distributor information.

Integrating supply chain information with design software might seem like an odd choice. But when it comes to managing obsolescence, you need design software that allows you to instantly identify obsolete components and quickly replace them with suitable substitutes. Only Altium Designer® synthesizes this information in one interface, helping you avoid production delays and facilitating immediate redesigns.

Closeup of two PCB relay circuits

The right sourcing tools bring your PCB to life on schedule

Keeping track of your supply chain information in a single program helps improve your productivity and gives you more time to design a great product. When you’re planning for production, you need a great PCB design package like Altium Designer. The design, documentation, and ActiveBOM® tools make it easy to move through the entire design and production process.

If you’re interested in learning more about Altium Designer’s layout, simulation, and analysis features, then download your free trial. Talk to an expert at Altium today.

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