The nightmare of electronics parts inventory management!

The nightmare of electronics parts inventory management!

  • 13 May 0

Ikalogic was created in 2010. We buy electronics components 2 to 3 times per week for prototyping purposes. We also buy a big amount of those in industrial conditioning for PCB assembly. That’s a lot of components. By the end of 2015, we had a huge amount of stocked components, and dealing with that stock was a night mare: Each electronics chip or passive component usually cost a few dozen cents: it’s not worth spending too much time searching for it, so whenever we need one, well, we buy it (again). It’s a vicious circle, because the more you move in that way, the more you have components laying around, the less it becomes easy to find anything.

We love to use productivity, collaboration and organisation tools like todoist, cubby and github, but we couldn’t find anything that fits our needs. We tried some components management cloud based software like parbox or partsinplace, but it didn’t fit our needs. It lacked some features here and there.

I hate to reinvent the wheel, but at some point, i realized there only one way out: building our own software.

So we started to think about what are the problems we face during a whole project life. Here are some of the things that happen to us (and most probably to you too, if you’re in the game of electronics design):

  • Design Engineers start by drafting a schematic (at Ikalogic, that’s probably me, Vlad, Victor or Nicolas)
  • Frédéric does the PCB routing (and sometimes relies on the auto-router 😉 ), then, he exports a BOM and orders both PCBs and components
  • A few weeks later, Frédéric gets the ordered components, with – maybe – some spare parts, cause he know how much we tend to make prototypes fume! (who doesn’t?)
  • PCBs get assembled, then, the original designer start to play with it. That when usually some components get replaced, some jumper wires are added here and there, and some copper traces get cut.
  • Eventually, a couple other prototypes are produced until we’re happy with our creation.
  • At some point, final client orders some hundreds (or thousands) of assembled PCBs, so we have to supply all components, some 10% spare parts, cause pick and place machines are far from being perfect. They tend to “eat” some components on each production batch.

At the end of year it becomes impossible to know what we have, and where it is. At least not easily. Obviously, we have a problem, and we need to solve it. Yet, i knew that putting too much constrains on my team will have negative effects: I’ll either end up slowing them down by asking them to write down every single components they take from the inventory, or they’ll end up not doing it.

Frédéric, Franck and I came with a short list of principles, around which a software have been created:

  1. We start with BOMs. Multiple BOMs can be combined when placing orders. This helps to group similar references from different orders to reduce its cost.
  2. Each BOM can be attached to a client and a project.
  3. Actual components inventory is taken into account to calculate the number of components to be bought.
  4. Each user should be able to easily customize some rules to ignore some parts values (like D.N.P. = Do No Populate).
  5. Software should check the stock of major suppliers using octopart APIs. Price is not retrieved from them, cause we don’t seem to be able to get coherent price information, but that’s not a show stopper.
  6. Software keeps a clear track of components that are either ordered or received but reserved for a production.
  7. When ordered components are received, a manual verification is made, and real buying price is noted for each reference. This is important to keep a record of real inventory value.
  8. Users can perform free components insertion or removal from inventory. That’s the case when we’re modifying a prototype. It’s needs to take less than 3 clicks.
  9. Of course, a nice interface lets you seach the database for any components, to pinpoint its location or verify inventory level.

That’s it. This software is already in use at Ikalogic. We’re still fixing some bugs  here and there, but the hard work is starting to pay off! Frédéric is wasting much less time when placing orders to manufacture prototypes, and we have a clear view of our inventory at any moment.

Now, if this project can be useful for others (and we believe it is!) here are the possible next steps:

  • Port this software to the cloud, to have an online interface.
  • Add some Eagle plugins to export BOMs directly into that online interface.
  • Try to find some interested beta testers
  • Provide the service to the wold at a low monthly cost (a few euros).

That’s the idea. I’ll try to post some screenshots of the software soon.

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