Tips and tools to quickly find alternatives

Digi-Key Electronics’ digital product owner, Cody Walseth

Digi-Key Electronics’ digital product owner, Cody Walseth, introduces purchasing professionals to the company’s tools and services designed to help them source alternative parts

Rapid changes in electronic components and availability have always been a challenge for our industry, especially for procurement professionals. However, with shortages and supply chain constraints over the past two years, purchasing pros have a more difficult job than ever. The good news is there are strategies and easy-to-use tools available to help navigate comparing components that will ultimately save time and ensure the right parts are in hand when needed.

Design with flexibility and understand tolerances

In the current environment, engineers are encouraged to create designs with components that can be sourced from multiple suppliers. Of course, they can’t do that for every part, but there are often ways to reconfigure a design to accommodate different part numbers. Having a bill-of-materials for parts with multiple manufacturers provides some insurance in the event stock is not available. In some cases, engineers are redesigning end products to use parts that are in stock; or starting the design by searching the Digi-Key website for in-stock product and designing their product around available inventory.

From the purchasing side, it’s important to know if varying part tolerances are acceptable. For example, with capacitors, the tolerance for voltage may be wider than with a diode. Understanding the parameters are key and will be helpful in making purchasing decisions or in circling back to engineers with suggested substitutes.

Online tools to compare components quickly, conveniently

Digi-Key is working with customers and supplier partners to provide tools and technical support to offer alternate solutions when a specific component is out of stock, has a long lead time or is obsolete.

Earlier this year, the company introduced a robust cross-reference tool that automatically pulls a list of potential alternatives from its database of nearly 50 million part number cross-references. When a customer tries to order a part number from the website that is out of stock or obsolete, Digi-Key automatically presents potential alternatives via the cross-reference tool so customers can quickly and easily evaluate those parts.

If a design’s bill-of-materials is available, it can be uploaded into myLists, Digi-Key’s parts list management platform, which will indicate if any parts are out of stock, obsolete or not recommended for new designs. myLists tools are designed to be easy to use, save time and provide a better user experience with easier collaboration between purchasing and engineering, as lists can be shared with others in the organization without interrupting workflow.

Along with self-serve online tools, customers can find archived resources and interact with a team of technicians on Digi-Key’s TechForum. The technical support team is available to review part inquiries and help customers find a substitute or alternative. These types of questions and answers are then archived and easily searchable in the future.

Digi-Key’s sales and technical support teams are available via online chat, email and phone to answer questions about part substitutes and alternatives to replace out-of-stock components in their designs or to qualify multiple options in their designs.

Communication is critical

In this line of business and the current market, there truly isn’t such a thing as overcommunication—simply getting on the phone, making that individual connection and keeping all parties in the loop.

The Digi-Key team excels at staying in close contact with supplier partners to provide as much visibility as possible into the products in highest demand. In some cases, Digi-Key is already placing orders out to mid-to-late 2023 to ensure inventory is pipelined accordingly.

In addition to that close human connection, investments are also being made in technologies that help connect us more automatically and electronically with suppliers, such as Advance Shipping Notifications (ASNs) which provide real-time, automated updates to Digi-Key’s system about when product will be shipping. This provides the most up-to-date information from supplier partners to customers.

Digi-Key understands customers are busy, making speed and ease the key to finding replacement parts. The company is evolving and improving tools and solutions to provide customers accurate information about component comparisons as fast as possible so they can keep their projects moving and generate revenue as soon as possible.