When discussing components, every engineer and designer cares about different things. Some might need a very tight tolerance part, whereas another might only care about cost. One thing that is consistent among engineers though, is the need for low risk parts. Very few engineers want to design a component into their product, only to find out they cannot buy the component or that the component will be twice the price when the end product finally gets into production. We decided to characterize and bundle these measurements into a single number we’re calling Parts.io Risk Rank.
Breaking down by product phase
We have characterized risk for each component across four product phases:
- Long Term
Each of these has a special consideration, because the engineer designing for a prototype doesn’t necessarily care about the same things that an production engineer cares about when selecting a drop in replacement. Let’s take a look at what each stage means and how we use parameters from that stage to create a useful metric.
The design phase of a product is right at the beginning of a product lifecycle. This is when engineers are doing analysis of components in the marketplace, determining which specifications are most important to their design and assessing price the impact of using this particular component. While this is early in the product lifecycle, choices at this point can severely impact a product much later on when the product is being made. Additionally, this stage is the one furthest from a product being made. This is why we focus on metrics of stability over time.
A prototype is when you have a design done and you’re ready to begin building your first version. This often interplays with design as the final schematic/layout of a product can hinge heavily on prototyping cycles and feeding back what you learn to the next revision of a design. We called out the prototyping stage as there are different sets of inputs that affect the actual building of a first version of hardware. This Risk Rank section focuses on lead time of parts.
In the production phase, you’re making things. Sourcing parts reliably is the core of the task, as that determines whether your product can continue being produced and generate revenue to run the rest of your businss. What’s more, there is no time to test new components if you get into trouble; the design is the locked-in and a primary risk factor is the component availability in the marketplace. There should also be alternatives if things go wrong, but they need to be FFF (form, fit, function) compatible, which we list for components on Parts.io. If a part is available in the online marketplace and has available FFF components, it will be listed as lower risk.
The amount of time that a product is manufactured often depends on the industry. Some automobile electronics are made consistently for 5-10 years, whereas military and industrial electronics could be produced from anywhere from 30-50 years. Really.
This means part risk goes up with the likelihood of obsolescence. If a chip manufacturer decides to stop making a particular chip, it is supremely disruptive to mature products, because there may not even be replacement parts available. Other factors like environmental certifications (RoHS) feed into this, as non-certified parts are more likely to be obsoleted in the future.
Putting It All Together
We also roll each of these phases into a single Risk Rank number, which is available on our Search Results Page. This appears next to each result where there is sufficient data. Why would you want such a thing? Because it gives a quick view into the component. And when comparing a range of potential parts for your design, it can be very helpful to know which components to avoid.
This can be especially useful for commodity components. In the past you might have filtered your search to a particular point and then chose the lowest price component (using our Composite Price makes this even better). This isn’t always the best method, as lowest price doesn’t always mean the most stable component for manufacturing. Instead, if you use Risk Rank and Composite Price, you can start to see low cost components that will be a good bet for your design making it to production without any hiccups.
What happens if there is no Risk Rank?
As in any data system, there is always a long tail of components. We have some parts with insufficient search or pricing data to give a reliable Risk Rank. We didn’t want to misrepresent these parts and assign a Risk Rank without knowing whether or not the part was actually risky. However, it can be seen as an inherent risk because that part has insufficient data out in the world.
While we are presenting these new Risk Rank factors today, they will continue to evolve over time. Our goal is to get maximum data coverage and to provide the best measure of parts that will not only fit your design, but prevent tough situations later on (especially when trying to get your product made). There is an enormous amount of data and adding in new factors will only serve to provide a better view on each parts’ risk level for your design.
We’d love to hear from you! Either in the comments below or over on our Community, we are always looking to hear feedback on the site, this new Risk Rank and what you’d like to see in the future.