The Last Component Storage System You’d Ever Need

Think you’ve seen the best component storage system? This system could only be better if you could walk up and talk to it. [APTechnologies] was tired of using a hodgepodge of drawers and boxen for storing their components. What they needed was an all-purpose solution for storing all kinds of small-to-medium-sized goodies, be they through hole or SMT.

This one happens to have a software interface as well that is searchable with short, crisp expressions that find parts by ID or with parameters. It’s a Python 3 script running on a Raspberry Pi 4B that’s hiding behind the HDMI display. [APTechnologies] printed a special arm for that, and you can find all the files on GitHub. Not only does the LED above the corresponding drawer light up, it lights up in a color that represents the inventory levels. We assume green/yellow/red, but [APTechnologies] doesn’t specify.

Don’t know what to do with some of your components? If they’re really old, they may be no good anymore. It just depends.

38 thoughts on “The Last Component Storage System You’d Ever Need

    1. No electronics involved here really. Just using 200 empty small TICTAC Boxes numbered 1 to 200, placed 20 each in 10 IKEA picture frames each and 2 pages description – one line each with the contents. I can take the ones out I need with the parts for a project. Could make the pages searchable to make it a bit electronic at least, but was not needed until now, as all 200 are visible with the contents. Picture frames next to each other on a wall. And there are as well the larger TICTAC Boxes, where the whole project might fit – including the 2 to 4 AAA batteries.
      Built up over the last 5 years, so empty about 1 new TicTac boc per week …

          1. and have a look at the video MANY TicTac Boxes – and see the presentation of MANY flashing “Beating Hearts” as we called them built there at the end of the video. I am the guy in the yellow shirt – and the hands showing the MicroBoxes. These were TI MSP430s donated by TI and running CAMELFORTH. The flashing LED was just an indicator all ok. The relevant tictac box was emptied by the one who built the circuit, before putting the 2 batteries and the circuit board in.

  1. That is a lot of fun but you should see my local pharmacy, their entire back room is a robot that retrieves the required item and delivers it to a tray which then slides through a small door to the counter area once all of the required items are in it. They even have a camera inside and a screen for customers to entertain themselves by watching it at work. The amazing thing is I’m not even in a big city, just on the edge of a satellite suburb of a regional city. We really are pretty rural, I have cows, and kangaroos, across the road from my house, which makes you wonder if all of the pharmacy outlets are running these robots now because they are cost effective, or is my local guy just an alpha nerd? I’d like to have a system for all of my stuff which just required you to show a camera the item then where you put it and it could tell you later where to find it, as a precursor to having a robot that fetched it or stored it for you. Perhaps the equivalent of one of those huge DIY CNC tables but wall mounted over an array of storage modules. Pretty lights are optional, unless you use them to indicate the location you need to go to.

      1. Actually ask a rhetorical question? Okay… not that I go there often, it is well over a year since I consulted a medico (other than my wife) about anything, or needed to personally go to a pharmacy.

    1. I think in a rural community it might be hard to find pharmacy techs.
      Years ago pharmacists were on the national occupation shortage list, which meant bonus points when applying for a working visa. So availability of techs might be limited as well.
      Also, these robots tend to be cheaper than manual labour in the long run, though they can’t do everything a pharmacy tech can.

  2. “This system could only be better if” …it had completely transparent (not translucent) front windows on the drawers, so the contents can be seen without having to pull drawers or rely on some external search management. And angle the drawer floors 20 degrees or so that small items slide down towards the front window.

  3. All these systems of categorising and retrieving parts are only as good as your organisational skills in putting them back in the correct place. One absent-minded slip up and it could be a long time before you see it again.

  4. Numbered drawers and a spreadsheet file. simple, extensible to any number of drawers, any shaped cabinet of drawers, drawer cabinets in multiple rooms (or buildings), even portable drawers. no wiring involved.

  5. Looks fun. However I’m sure I’ve seen projects like this where the draw is opened by a robot that picks the X-Y coordinates of the draw to push – seems like that’s a useful step further on.

  6. I don’t need a fancy system to store electronic bits (since I dont own enough) but a system like this would be amazing for my LEGO collection. I would finally be able to find the bits I need without needing to spend ages going through every box/drawer/etc (and I could see instantly if I already own a part or not before I spend money on it)

  7. This type of thing really only appeals to people whose hobby is secretly just organizing the stuff that gets used in the fake hobby. Imagine having to type up and walk around trying to get a bunch of different resistors. RFID tags, computer vision, something that tracks where everything is and can retrieve it for you is the only thing that would get me to organize anything so complex. Imagine the data entry/web scraping that went into providing the data to make all of this searchable for each little component. Get a new part, time to write up a new database entry! Joy!

    1. At the hobby level, perhaps. However cool the solution is, it’s a lot of work to setup for just one person – a notepad or personal organizer could be used to keep track of inventory to great effect for a lot less work.

      When you have a team working at a fast pace though, that equation soon changes. Inventory systems are absolutely critical in many manufacturing industries. I had a college job working in aerospace manufacturing. Every part delivered to the factory was inserted into the system – part number, batch number, certificate of conformance details etc, before being put into a known stock location. That information follows the part through its life cycle. If a statistically abnormal number of failures occur in the same component on different aircraft, eg a hydraulic flap motor starts leaking oil, that information might identify a common batch of seals. It’s more than simply knowing where a part is – it feeds into quality systems, and supply chain logistics. Another example – if you go to the parts department of a VW dealer in the USA and order a non-consumable part, chances are that when they look it up, the inventory is in Germany. By the time your credit-card has been processed, a system there has already been tasked with retrieving it and getting it on a plane. Regular (ie non-expedited) orders are at the dealer 3 days later. They have some crazy robots…

      I wonder how useful this particular parts bin would actually be for electronic components though – production runs are done using Bill of Materials purchased for that production run. Unlike aerospace, many design-critical electronic components become obsolete very quickly, and production runs can be numbered in tens of thousands. Holding more stock than you need for your intended runs is simply a recipe to hold obsolete components forever, that you cannot assemble because you’re missing one critical IC.

      The exceptions might resistors and capacitors in the most-often used values. Pull-up and decoupling tasks rarely need esoteric properties, high precision or critical values. A modern graphics card has hundreds of such components. I’d bet most of them are 10K resistors or 100nF caps. Even then though, the components will be bought for the run as per the BOM.

      Prototyping might be different in how the BOM is fulfilled as you might be buying just enough components to prototype. You still won’t be going to a parts bin for esoteric ICs though – you’ll be buying an IC early in its life cycle. Here though you might use those run of the mill passives that you already have on hand. You still wouldn’t store them in a small drawer parts bin like this though – you’d keep them on the reel, or in a binder of cut tape. (And a hobbyist should just buy a sample book in the SMT sizes they like to use).

      Another place I have seen systems like this becoming popular is in the CNC world. NYCCNC has toured several shops that use them to hold tooling. CNC tooling has a limited lifetime before it wears out. Many tools are fairly generic, say a 3/8″ 3-flute end mill for aluminum with 3/4″ flute length. A busy shop might wear out many of those running them on many different jobs. On the other hand, it might have an esoteric drill size that only gets used on one short job a year. An inventory system here can keep track of how where all the tools are, how many hours they have on them, when to order replacements etc.

      Still a pretty cool project though.

      1. When you have a team working at a fast pace they tend to know what they are doing and ordering a kit from (insert website) is far faster than nit picking a100 or whatever parts out of a bin

        Extras from those kits do in the bin and team design tend to start using a lot of common parts just out of sanity and DFM


        1. Exactly. Parts bins are rare within the electronics industry today. There are more efficient ways of storing those common SMT components – a small binder can hold thousands of cut-tape lengths containing hundreds of varieties, easily organized by type, size and value.

          Obsolescence is less of an issue in other non-electronic engineering fields, but even there, Big Manufacturing has moved to Just-In-Time methodologies for as much of their inventory as possible. No-one wants millions of dollars stuck in the store-room for years on end. Accounting requires stock-takes which are disruptive and expensive, and whilst inventory is theoretically an asset, the expense of maintaining it is a liability. If you have a bin containing fifty rubber seals that cost you 5c each to buy, and it took an $15/hr employee 4 minutes to locate, count, record and restock that bin, then it’s costing 2c per seal, every time you stock-take. It’s not long before that seal has cost more to inventory than it was ever worth.

  8. I don’t see any point in mass production on a 3d printer. I’ve seen another guy printing houndreds of boxes with several kilograms of filament. Buying them injection molded would have cost less and saved him and his printer weeks if not months of work.
    Also I’m not too thrilled about that project because I’ve seen like 50 led indicated component cabinets in the last 10 years… find something new guys.

  9. Meh. Before the nephew added several storage and drawer bins last week, my sqlite database (location, datasheet, part number alias, and kicad footprints) indicated 2724 locations and 2231 part numbers, so am probably at about 3k locations. The boy has written some fancy Python stuff to talk to my database and make it look pretty and more searchable and easily editable, but as I am cranky and old geezer, I just use my simple C interface stuff (simple things for simple minds). And the nephew agrees that these pretty lights are an inefficient solution to an ill-defined problem.

    But hey, its your time and dinero, do whatever you wanna do. You kids can get off of my cacti and dirt.

  10. Excellent work! Good opportunity to practice the integration of different techniques and technologies. It certainly demanded a lot of dedication and must have generated a lot of learning, congratulations!

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