Parts.io Aims At Better Component Discovery

Online parts search and ordering is a godsend compared to the paper-catalog days of yore. This is fact, there is no argument otherwise (despite [Dave Jones’] assertion that sourcing connectors is so much simpler if you have pages full of images). Just being able to search was a game changer. But how far do you think the concept has come since the transition online? [Chris Gammell] plans to spark a leap forward with Parts.io, an electronic component info delivery system that spans both manufacturers and distributors.

So what’s wrong with what we’re doing now? Nothing… unless you hate wasting time. Sourcing parts is time consuming. Certainly the parametric search on distributors’ sites like Mouser and Digikey have improved. Plus we’ve seen hacks that do things like automatically pull in stock data to a spreadsheet. But the real issue isn’t figuring out how to buy stuff, it’s figuring out what to use in a design. Surely there is opportunity for improvement.

Parts.io has its sights set on a better path to part discovery. Yes, this is parametric search but it will return data for all parts from all manufacturers. The distinction may not be completely obvious, but for example if you are searching on Element14 you’re only getting data on the parts that Element14 carries. Once you have drilled down to a reasonably manageable pool of components you get what you would expect: one-click datasheets and a roundup of pricing and availability from worldwide distributors. The presentation of the parts is grouped into families that differ in trailing parts designators, and I must say I am impressed at the interface’s ability to roll with you. It feels easier to find alternative parts after the drilldown where in my past searches I would have started completely over again.

The service started in private alpha in October but is now available for public use. You can search for a part without logging in, but a few features have been held back for those that sign up for a free account. Most notably this includes the ability to upload your BOM, add parts as favorites, and access their forums.

Is this a game changer? That’s for you to decide. You can give it a try yourself or watch [Chris’] feature walkthrough video found after the break.

Full Disclosure: Parts.io is produced by Supplyframe Inc. Hackaday is an Editorially Independent part of Supplyframe.

53 thoughts on “Parts.io Aims At Better Component Discovery

    1. We (Upverter) let you do search our db (of ~1.4 million) without a login: http://upverter.com/parts/

      We’ve also just released some nifty syntax to help you find what you need:
      http://forum.upverter.com/t/search-tips-tricks/199

      Things like: “package:(0402 OR 0603)”

      Also, like someone mentioned below, we fully support numeric queries. So, each of these will return the same results:
      resistance:”330 ohms”, resistance:330Ω, resistance:0.33kohms, resistance:”0.33 kΩ”, etc :-)

      1. Thanks for the lovely “we don’t support Opera, the best browser ever made, because we can’t be bothered to take one minute to test it and find out that it actually works fine” message after I went through your ridiculous sign-up wizard!
        Open letter to all corporate web developers: Opera users are used to being ignored. We expect things to not look/work quite right on your crappy, designed-for-IE-and-FF-only websites. Stop “detecting” us, and just let US deal with it on our end! If your site is completely, unusably broken in Opera, then you can lock us out (and we’ll gladly move on, since you obviously suck at web development, so why should we use your site?). Otherwise, just ignore us completely!
        (Thanks for letting me get that off my chest, HaD ;)

        1. Wowzers!

          Our team uses pretty much the full spectrum of operating systems, hardware, and browsers — so we’re pretty sympathetic to this point of view. At one point last year, we noticed an uptick in client-side Javascript crashes that we were having a lot of trouble reproducing. (We keep a very, very close eye on client-side errors, because a crashy EDA tool is a useless EDA tool. See: http://blog.upverter.com/post/108109118267)

          After some digging, we realized these were all coming from a single user on Opera.

          I can’t remember the exact cause of the bug; I think there may have been something non-standard in the way Opera was handling a canvas animation frame render inside of an iframe, and that was causing the whole app to error out. Normally we would code in a workaround, but in this specific case, the workaround would have been a couple of engineer-days and analytics showed that Opera users represented a very small fraction of one percent of our users — so, I made the call that this bug wasn’t one we were going to make the investment on, and so officially we were no longer supporting Opera.

          It may well be that in the many releases of Opera since then the problem has been resolved and everything works fine.

          While that might not be much consolation, I just thought I’d reply letting you know it wasn’t arbitrary, we’re not hating on diverse browsers, and we try really, really hard to stick and test against standards.

          Adam

    2. I have to agree, log in kills it (the public search locks out the info I need). We use two open search sites, http://www.oemsecrets.com/part_info.php?p=PIC24HJ32GP304-I%2FPT and https://octopart.com/pic24hj32gp304-i%2Fpt-microchip-8045736
      As OEMsecrets is a price comparison site, it’s the best tool on the web to find the cheapest component price. We use Octopart for the comprehensive range of NAC suppliers. Combined, we have all we need.

  1. OK, my first test was to search for ‘capacitor’. It shows me an interesting UI for parametric selection, but the capacitance slider goes from “1E-5 uF” to 0.15 uF.

    Why does it max out at 0.15 uF? And maybe my brain is too little, but I’d find it easier if the low end was quoted in picofarads instead 1E-5 microfarads.

    Next, I searched for microcontrollers. One parameter option was ‘microcontroller’ vs. ‘risc microcontroller’. Is that an important distinction for anyone? Numeric parameter options, like the supply voltage or operating temperature, aren’t sorted.

    Nonetheless, it’s a promising site.

      1. That’s weird that we’re seeing different ranges. It’s also weird that yours starts at 0.47 uF – that excludes a lot of smaller caps.

        “on a potato”?? I’m not familiar with that expression.

        1. The “potato” was a competitor to the “apple” in certain markets (except France and Quebec). Perhaps the poster is asking whether you are using an up-to-date system such as the “apple”, or the slightly less developed “potato”. If you are using a potato it might have bugs.

        2. Potatos are more commonly evoked when discussing (poor) photographs.

          “Sorry for the quality, my camera is a potato”

          The bigger problem is often that, the photo is taken in the dark, which is a perfectly hospitable environment for a potato, not so much a camera.

    1. Turns out this is because you are seeing the parametrics for Ceramic Capacitors only, hence the much smaller range. [peanutbutterjellytime] is seeing the parametrics for Aluminum Electrolytic Capacitors.

  2. That was quite possiblty the worst UI experience since i last used Eagle (and that is an accomplishment)!
    Just wow!

    Also i searched cortex and got no microcontrollers. Searching STM32F got me some results, but then i dragged the slider for number of pins around, and it settles on a noninteger number. Yes please, I’d love a cortex-m3 with exact 28.57623 IO pins.

    And RAM and Flash sizes? Nah. Not important, no sliders or checkboxed for those.

    Digikey search is better (and they do not even have one!)

    Mouser still remains the best (and theirs sucks in many ways too, but at least it features integer number of pins and ram and flash sizes)

    1. Yup, I think parts.io has the most annoying UI I’ve ever seen (and as a 62-year-old electronics engineer, I’ve seen a lot of them). Mouser is also my go-to for parts search, but it can be mighty frustrating when you know what a connector you want looks like but don’t know what it’s called.

    1. The company that owns hackaday (supplyframe) runs the site. It’s not “payed” since they’re the same company but it certainly is an advertisement. Hackaday claims to be “editorially independent” from supplyframe but I don’t see how you could be editorially independent from your own boss since they pay you and can fire you.

      1. You mean the one at the end of the post? I just looked at the revisions, and that was the first thing Mike wrote.

        To answer all other complaints, we’re not the Washington Post that puts Amazon affiliate links in articles because it’s owned by Jeff Bezos. We’re not Hacker News and the machinations that make Paul Graham’s investments show up on the front page more often than not. We’re up front about potential conflicts, and despite what you may think, independent from our bosses.

  3. since I am the founder of hackaday -and- no longer associated with hackaday’s editorial, i get to say whatever i want :)

    1) please switch it all back to lowercase and black and white photos, i will always say that :)

    2) commenters, this is one of the best things to ever happen for hackers who want the best possible site for part search – you can make ANY reasonable request and they’ll likely listen, you can do this with parts.io, octopart and others. these companies actually want to listen to you, live it up and be thoughtful. ask for smart things and you’ll get them – the best company that does a great job and works with the communities of makers, hackers, artists, engineers and designers will “win”. over 10 years ago part of the hackaday “plan” was to have a hackaday parts search, this is pretty close. the store and comic-book like thing and sending someone to space was part of the plan too :)

    any way, never has there been so much effort to make commenters on hackaday happy, do not waste this opportunity, show them how smart you are.

    chris, good work – this is handy, thank you!

    1. Hello, Phillip! Huge fan of yours!

      While I agree with your second point completely, it would seem as if your first point may be influenced by sentimentality. While I also miss the “feel” of the original format(I’ve been here since the beginning), a site revolving around scientifically oriented information should strive to be as specific in that information as possible, including photos and capitalization. As an example, some photos may be suitable for display in monochrome, while in others the color component can be very important. Additionally, not only does capitalization make the posts easier to parse when reading quickly, it is of even more importance when using some sorts of scientific notation(eg: milliwatt vs megawatt – “mw” vs “mw”?)…

      Just my opinion, and thanks for contributing your perspective.

      Rock on man!

    2. Here’s a bug for you. Type in “switched capacitor filter” in the public search box, get a reference error:

      ReferenceError: /var/lib/parts.io/parts.io/views/errors/404.ejs:13 11| 12| >> 13| 14| 15| 16|

    3. “you can make ANY reasonable request and they’ll likely listen, you can do this with parts.io, octopart and others. ”

      maybe. maybe not. i’ve complained to jameco.com before that there parametric search is terrible because the information’s been entered by a bunch of wild monkeys on cocaine. some parts have the parameters you specify, some don’t. instead, the information you want to search on has been entered into the description field and there’s no way to do a parametric search that way. they’ve repeatedly said they were going to fix it, but trying to find anything as simple as a stepper by specifying its holding torque still doesn’t work to this day.

      i’d like to be optimistic, but when they’ve got millions of parts already in their systems, its going to take a very long time to correct that many mistakes. if anything, digikey does a much better job getting the right parameters into the right fields in most cases, anyway.

  4. It’s a great idea, visually very nice but still a little rough on the user experience. Dave is right that pictures help for connectors. I don’t use a paper catalog but I do think you need thumbnail images to do an efficient search for connectors. I’m like 90% more likely to click something if there is an image of it.

    Second bit of feedback is that I think the price and stock graphs are cool but they are too prominent early in the process. I think it might be a subconscious overcompensation for all the years that digikey didn’t let you sort by price. I tried to drill down a capacitor and the price and stock bar graphs were ahead of things like size code, mounting style, tolerance.

    On the editorial independence thing, I think they are just looking for some feedback on a project that is clearly a work in progress. It is relevant and potentially very useful to the audience so why can’t they post about it? It’s not as if we’re being spammed with male enhancement ads.

    1. +1 for more pictures. As non-American (and not native english) parts searches often involve a phase of searching for a search term for something that looks like so and so. Usually scattering functional terms into Google Images and browsing results until a match, that hopefully tell the technical English term for the thing.

    2. I do have a bit of a peeve with some parts sites that will display a generic picture of a part instead of the actual part, and another peeve with the “Photo Unavailable” in the picture box.

  5. It worked on android using opera until I did a search and then the download datasheet box would not go away. On the pc using linux with opera beta it worked great, and found every odball part I could come up with except a ceramic antenna and the ms5541 ( but digikey is the only place I have been able to find that any way). The ‘functional equivalent’ box is great! If the site shows the same progress as the community site has I think it will be a good tool.

    Will it ever show which supplier the price came from? I saw that some of my parts were cheaper from mouser than what was quoted on the site.

  6. Google is still the best parts search engine. I often find that the particular parameters I’m searching for are left out of a parametric search. There are also more obscure IC manufacturers whose parts are not sold by the big parts distributors.

  7. Every search I’m doing gets me a:

    ReferenceError: /var/lib/parts.io/parts.io/views/errors/404.ejs:13 11| 12| >> 13| 14| 15| 16| getCss is not defined at eval (eval at (/var/lib/parts.io/parts.io/node_modules/ejs/lib/ejs.js:237:14), :29:661) at eval (eval at (/var/lib/parts.io/parts.io/node_modules/ejs/lib/ejs.js:237:14), :33:65) at /var/lib/parts.io/parts.io/node_modules/ejs/lib/ejs.js:250:15 at Object.exports.render (/var/lib/parts.io/parts.io/node_modules/ejs/lib/ejs.js:288:13) at View.exports.renderFile [as engine] (/var/lib/parts.io/parts.io/node_modules/ejs/lib/ejs.js:318:20) at View.render (/var/lib/parts.io/parts.io/node_modules/express/lib/view.js:76:8) at Function.app.render (/var/lib/parts.io/parts.io/node_modules/express/lib/application.js:502:10) at ServerResponse.res.render (/var/lib/parts.io/parts.io/node_modules/express/lib/response.js:777:7) at ServerResponse.cls_wrapRender [as render] (/var/lib/parts.io/parts.io/node_modules/newrelic/lib/instrumentation/express.js:165:21) at Layer.module.exports (/var/lib/parts.io/parts.io/app.js:295:9)

    I have cookies disabled, maybe that is the problem, but then again: Do I really need a cookie that can track me just because I searched something? I now everbody craves to track me with a cookie now a days, but … naw man, you have earn my trust.

    1. The best things about cookies, that now pretty much everybody is switching over localStorage. :)
      localStorage is not listed in browser’s preferences, although you can access them through javascript console.

      At least each website gets 5MB storage on your computer this way. Gosh, cookie was so restrictive.

      Dunno, if websites are required to show a warning if they are using localStorage.

  8. Alright, I gave it a try, using the last two parts I chose by parametrics in real life. First up, a schottky diode.

    1) Oops, it doesn’t appear to know what a plain old schottky diode is. It thinks I want a microwave mixer diode. Well that’s an immediate fail, but I pretended that’s what I really wanted, just to explore the interface.
    2) “Use arrows to scroll table”. Ok. No autorepeat on the arrows. Click, click, click click click… There’s gotta be a better way. Sure enough, there’s a scrollbar at the bottom of the table. But when that’s scrolled into view, you can no longer see the headers to know what you’re scrolling to. Would be better if the headers and scrollbar were visible at all times.
    3) Let’s try filtering results. “Show all filters”. I pretend I need a part that handles at least 0.3 max power dissipation. But more would be fine too. No obvious option to pick a range. I assume you’d have to separately click 0.3, and over a dozen other values above it, to accomplish this search. Though I admit I didn’t try, because I couldn’t be bothered to pick through the UNSORTED list of values to locate all within a range. Most of the lists are unsorted. And UNITLESS too. Are these dissipation values in mW? W? A mixture of both? I dunno. (I might know if I hadn’t been herded into a fictitious search for an unfamiliar part, but still, leaving values unitless is pretty bad.)

    After finding multiple obvious issues in just a few minutes that really should have been corrected while still in alpha, I decided to cut this short, and quickly tried the next part – a TRIAC. I needed one in TO-220 package, nothing special as far as voltage/amperage/dissipation, but with a high dV/dT immunity rating. I bought these through Newark, and because this rating wasn’t listed in their parametric tables, I had to check a bunch of datasheets before I found a suitable one. Parts.io was no help here either, no dV/dT data.

    I should also say that Newark, Mouser, and Digikey carry so many parts from so many manufacturers, that you can go to any ONE of these, and pretty much always find what you’re looking for. With the only exception being highly specialized parts, which often can’t neatly be parameterized for comparison. So for Parts.io to be more useful for part selection than my favorite mega-vendor, it doesn’t need to list more parts, manufacturers, or sources; but it would have to noticeably surpass that vendor’s search functionality and depth of specifications. Which would require a lot of playing catch-up.

    Now I understand this is still in beta, issues and rough edges are expected. But generally by beta it’s possible to get a feel for what something WILL become. And I’m just not feeling it. It may be silly, but the animated graphs turned me off. Between that and some other needlessly prominent colorful fluff (especially “part life cycle code”), it gave the impression priorities lie more with flashiness than real function. I would be perfectly happy typing in raw SQL queries if it worked well.

  9. It’s a pretty GUI (for something that doesn’t need to be that pretty – it’s for engineering data, not a fashion parade – unless of course it’s deliberately intended to draw in the Arduino-level-hobbyists?) but some of the filter data is just terrible and makes it unusable:
    – any parametric filter that contains a number should be a slider, not a selection box (I don’t want to select multiple items to get the range I’m interested in)
    – UNITS ARE IMPORTANT! (I’ve seen several items that have numbers listed but I have no idea about which unit they’re in to know if it’s important)
    – and closely linked to the issue of units is: don’t switch notation! I’ve seen some parameters have in the same list: ‘1E-3’ and ‘0.001’ (I’m sure there’ll also be some that throw in the odd ‘1m’ with that lot as well just to keep you on your toes)

    As an example, I decided to search for ‘ADC’ and restricted it in the main fields to surface-mount parts still being manufactured and capable of 12-24bit resolution. So far so good (3000 odd results).
    Now, another important factor is sample rate but that’s a list of selection boxes (not very good when I have a minimum sample rate in mind) and the list is unsorted (more chance to miss something that I’m interested in). However, the list of “sample rate” values gives such useful values as “5.0”, “20.0” and “0.02” with no hint as to what it’s about (MHz, us, ms, hours, fortnights?).

    Executive summary: looks pretty and that’s about it :-(

  10. Good as it may be it removes variety from life in the same way as GPS navigation does. People no longer discover places by taking a wrong turn and this sort of thing reduces the number of new things discovered while searching in the same way that the Internet in general has done.

    Just an observation from someone that doesn’t like the way the world is going. :)

  11. Well, that’s a hideous ‘web 3.x’ site. The font is dire (unreadable in Win7 with anti-aliasing disabled), it needs an account to do anyithng, and it still relies on online retailers actually having the correct info for their parts.

    It’s still a lot easier to browse the main online retailers, and then use octopart to find where to buy.

  12. Sooo…is this Octopart with better parameter searching? Octopart was never really that good at finding parts via anything more complicated than voltage rating and current rating, pretty much. But it is otherwise still awesome.

    I also think Octoparts should be using a shopping function like BigWords.com (good textbook purchasing search engine-website.) So toss in your desired quantity of all these parts, and then analyze where you should buy from (say, adding a cost like “$X inconvenience variable for each new location I have to buy from” in addition to the standard shipping difference.)

    At least, if Parts.io is trying to be better than they should add the above.

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