Octopart: Navigating the Complex Landscape Component Data with Confidence
Judy Warner: Why do component data, pricing, and availability always seem to take up so much of an electronics engineer's time?
Sean Rothwell: There are so many places that data might live, especially pricing and market availability, so if you're an engineer looking for a part to use in a design, there's a good chance you're going to be bouncing around from site to site checking different distributors and manufacturers. Then there's the hurdle of technical specifications. The specs on one site may be correct, but those on another site might also contradict them. Now, the engineer has to spend time understanding which specs are accurate or choose another component. These factors all add up to a potentially time-consuming part of the design process.
Warner: What are the specific resources and tools that Octopart offers to help address these problems?
Jane Fischetti: Octopart as both a product and a business has focused on democratizing part data. In other words, we exist to make accurate part data available to everyone, and we make ease of use of that part data a priority. To that end, we have created a search engine that's specifically designed to offer an understanding of all the different ways someone might search for a part--whether by specifications, part number, or phrases. The data returned by our search engine includes feeds from hundreds of distributors for tens of millions of parts. That way, engineers can find just about any bit of part data they could possibly want all in one location, wherever they're working through our site, API, or our integration with Altium products. They can use our BOM tools and part notifications to easily source, purchase, or simply follow component inventory levels and pricing.
Warner: Are there any unique challenges that have arisen out of our current global health crisis? If so, how is Octopart rising to meet this challenge?
Rothwell: Early on in the pandemic, there were fears of shortages as factories worldwide shut down. We've seen the effect that shortages have had on the industry before, but this was unprecedented; we had no idea what to expect. It became clear to us that our role as a hub for part data meant that we could help avoid potential disruptions by expanding the data available through Octopart and making it easier to access. As a result, we've since added lifecycle data from a number of trusted distributors and manufacturers, as well as rolled out our newest version of our API, which includes a free option and a self-service sign up process so that there is an offering that fits the need of everyone wanting to access this data, from a single engineer to an enterprise-sized team. We've also experienced the explosive growth of our team over the past few months, which has enabled us to develop and launch useful updates faster than ever.
Warner: Many engineers are concerned about the reliability of the component data. Since Octopart isn't a manufacturer of parts, what steps do you take to ensure data reliability?
Fischetti: This is a great question and something we spend a great deal of time working on solving. Our best weapon in the fight against bad part data is our "Part Data Czar" Geof Lipman (official title: Director of Operations, Part Data). Geof works with a team of engineers to build tools to ensure that the data on Octopart is both accurate and robust. Geof and his team interface with part manufacturers to secure data straight from the source. So while we aren't ourselves a manufacturer, we always strive to get data from as close to the source as possible.
Warner: Based on your users' feedback, what are some of the most important and useful tools and resources you provide to your customers?
Jane: It would have to be our search engine. As mentioned before, we've put a lot of work into search algorithms to return relevant results no matter how a person searched for a part. Not only can a user instantly search millions of parts by specification or description, but the information that's returned is normalized. In other words, the data displayed on Octopart comes from hundreds of different sources. Before anything is displayed to a user, that data is parsed and normalized to make the data consistent and readable no matter what format in which the data arrived.
Warner: Octopart has a widely used API. What are some novel implementations of ways design engineers can benefit from using your API?
Fischetti: We've heard from many users about how they've integrated our API into their inventory, manufacturing, and engineering systems. Beyond powering the component search panel in Altium tools, Octopart also powers part search and part data for numerous manufacturers, distributors, and industry websites.
Warner: Where do you see component sourcing solutions heading in the next five years?
Fischetti: We believe that our users want customizable, bespoke experiences where they have full control over how and where they access our data. They want visibility to the global component marketplace so they can make smart decisions for their business instantaneously. We see organizations continuing to focus on lean inventory management. They need to maximize their profitability and still meet their delivery requirements. We also see continued pressure on design engineers to speed up their design cycles. They need to get from a concept to manufacturing at breakneck speed. Our tools can help increase efficiencies for those companies managing JIT inventory, as well as making it easy for engineers to locate the parts they need in stock and within budget to get their designs to production faster.