Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Sourcing components

Here at Nerd Towers, we love Farnell.
They're not always the cheapest, but their website is easy to use, very rarely do we fail to find the component we're looking for - even if there's no exact match, their website is intelligent enough to offer alternatives. Compared to something like the Rapid website, it's miles ahead (Rapid have this amazing ability to drag in the most irrelevant results into your search, offering 500+ components to choose from instead of five or six!).

Farnell also offer amazing service. Order something as late as 7pm and it'll almost certainly be on your doormat the next morning. But yesterday we were seduced by their main rival RS Components. It's only a dalliance - maybe nothing more than a fling, or even a one-night-stand, but it did make us re-consider how we source our components.

It started with hall sensors.
Farnell sell the AH180 for 61p each, or 50p each if you buy a few.
RS sell the same thing for 26p, or 22p each if you go for a hundred or more.
That's less than half the price of Farnell! Wow.

For our digital board game, we're also using some PIC microcontrollers. We chose the 16F570 because it's the cheapest 28-pin PIC on the Farnell website (trust us, Nick spent hours going through just about every one our compiler supported, to find the cheapest one that still did everything we needed it to!).

The 16F570 from Farnell is 95p, or 68p if you buy in bulk.
But since we're already buying from RS (and they offer next day delivery up to 8.30pm) we thought we'd see if they offer these PIC chips at a lower price too. They don't.

A 16F570 (quite a low-end microcontroller in PIC world) costs an incredible £9.80 from RS Components! More than ten times the most expensive price from Farnell! Double-wow.

So today's lesson is, simply, to shop around.
Sure, you can buy components in bulk from China, but they take six-to-eight weeks to arrive and you need to buy a bucketful at a time (plus the failure rate is higher, and there's no real chance of returning faulty items). But we tend to stick to "local" suppliers - or at least, UK-based, who can get our goods to us the next day - before we've had time to get bored with what we're doing and move onto something else.

So the trick is - much like supermarket shopping - to not buy everything all from the same place.
After all, that's how the supermarkets make their money. The more astute shopper might buy their bread from one, milk from another and so on, to make sure they get the best deals. For most of us it's simply impractical to drive from one to the other, to save a few quid on the weekly shop - and that's what supermarkets rely on, to rake in their profits.
What is quite alarming is the extent to which online shops seem to be doing the same thing. And given that they deliver your goods right to your door, there's no real cost in doing some comparison shopping.: an alternative supplier is only a click away, not on the other side of the city, or in the next town.

So, for many of you who are  already doing this, well done. But if, like us, you tend to stick to one known supplier, because it's who you know (and they make the checkout process super-easy) maybe it's time to consider alternatives. We certainly will, from now on!