There are many ways to divide the hacker community into groups. Tubes vs transistors. Emacs vs VI, microcontroller vs discrete component designers. However, one of the more fundamental divisions in the community is how you organize your parts. We’ve seen giant warehouses with carefully organized bins and cabinets full of components, and we’ve seen storage crates with tangles of wires and bits of electron-bending components scattered among the wires.
If you are in the former camp, you’d probably enjoy partsbox.io (see image, right). If you are in the latter group, you probably need to check it out even more than the other people. The idea is simple: an online place to keep an inventory of your electronic parts. The implementation is not as simple, though. The web application will work on a mobile device or just about anywhere. You can view your components by type, by location (the shoe box under the bed vs the parts bin in the closet), or by a project’s bill of materials. You can use “known” parts or create private parts for things no one else has (for example, your custom PC boards, or those 3D printed brackets you made to hold a microswitch). If you add data for a component you can make it available to other users.
We can hear two objections. First, of course, is that the government or your rival hackerspace, or some other evil entity will be able to get your data once it is on the cloud. Perhaps. We aren’t that worried about the inventory of our junk box landing in the wrong hands. If you have the more legitimate worry that the service might go away and take your data with it, you can export the entire database (in JSON format) any time you like to keep a backup.
The other objection is that you can use a spreadsheet for the same purpose. You could even use Google Sheets if you wanted it on the cloud for some reason. That’s true, but you won’t get the same level of functionality. For example, when you enter a common part number, the database knows details about the part and will add tags automatically for you. In many cases, the database will automatically add datasheet links.
The bill of materials (BOM) is especially interesting since you can answer the question: do I have enough parts on hand to build this? You can also remove all the parts for a project from inventory in one operation. We were disappointed to see, however, there didn’t seem to be an easy way to share a project bill of materials with someone else. While you can export a selected group of components to a CSV file (for a spreadsheet), there was no comparable option we could find for BOMs.
It looks like there are plans to create a commercial version, although it appears the plan is to keep the hobby version free. We could see the appeal to a multiuser version for hackerspaces, for example.
Of course, the real challenge is to get started with something like this when you have decades worth of junk accumulated. If you are just starting out, it is easier to start and stay organized than it is to get organized later.
This reminded us of ecDB, which we’ve talked about before. You might also check out PartKeepr if you want to host your own. Maybe [Brian] can use one of these to keep track of his infamous boxes that will be stolen.