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Engineering 411: How to spend less time finding, documenting, and designing with electronic components

Think about the last time you had to gather documentation to round out a design.

How many hours did you spend surfing various distributor websites, copying and pasting compliance and datasheet information into spreadsheets? How much sleep did you (or, let’s be honest, the person you passed the spreadsheet off to) lose worrying about the gaps in your records? And if you had ultimately passed off your messy and unpurchasable list to doc control, how much heat did you get?

We all know component documentation is one of the most time consuming and tedious stages of the design process. So to make the pain of documentation a bit more bearable, we developed a new tool that starts the job for you.

It’s called Supplier Item Lookup, and it’s a new add-on for our cloud PLM solution, Arena BOMControl. Supplier Item Lookup communicates with Octopart and SiliconExpert to instantly pull up-to-date market availability, datasheets, and compliance information for off-the-shelf electronic components in your BOM—the same information that can take hours on the web to find, collect and load into your BOM management system.

To learn how engineers can use Supplier Item Lookup to reduce time spent documenting designs, I sat down with the product manager for Supplier Item Lookup, Victor Gill.

Interview with Arena’s product manager for Supplier Item Lookup

Where did the motivation to develop Supplier Item Lookup come from?

Arena’s focus on partnerships in the cloud—particularly in the last couple of years—has inspired several exciting opportunities for product functionality expansion. The idea for Supplier Item Lookup came after we developed the Autofill functionality for Arena PartsList—which would not have been possible without our partnership with Octopart. We saw such an enthusiastic customer response for Autofill that we decided to develop a similar ‘part lookup tool’ in our core product.

As more customers adopted BOMControl for early product design, we received repeated requests for a tool that could quickly and easily gather and store component information directly in BOMControl. So, we started thinking about how our partnership with Octopart could improve the initial stages of product design in BOMControl by collecting scattered component information across the web and presenting it in the context of the BOM.

Finally, I’ve always believed that documentation is tedious. So at the end of the day, any tool that reduces manual data entry is a good thing.

What problem does Supplier Item Lookup solve?

Your off-the-shelf components should be the most straightforward type of component to document, but in reality, the information for these simple parts is scattered across various distributors’ websites. It can take hours to track down and organize component data, and this extra time has a significant opportunity cost—it pulls time away from innovating on the product.

To put it simply, Supplier Item Lookup saves an engineer time in the same way a travel website like Kayak reduces the time it takes to plan a trip. Like Kayak, Supplier Item Lookup combs through multiple data sources to pull and organize the information you want, exactly where it’s most useful to you.

In that sense, Supplier Item Lookup solves your current pain of hunting down and organizing component information. It makes creating a built-out parts list much easier.

How does Supplier Item Lookup ‘jumpstart’ documentation?

Supplier Item Lookup gives you component datasheets, compliance status, and availability information for the parts in your BOM, and lets you establish a fast baseline for documentation. Because it pulls data instantly from a variety of data sources, Supplier Item Lookup allows you to skip hours of hunting and gathering component information and keeps you focused on your design.

And if you’re starting out on a new design, you can use our add-on to pull current availability information for the components in previous BOMs. This way, you can quickly scan over your old parts to find the parts to reuse. You essentially have the power of a dozen websites in a single view—and can quickly decide whether to incorporate a part into your new design.

Why is Supplier Item Lookup different than other data aggregators out there?

Any engineer who has grown sick of hunting across the web for component information and looked into a data aggregation service to make life easier will tell you—data aggregators are expensive. And for cost-sensitive businesses, the price is a deal-breaker.

Supplier Item Lookup is also better than other data aggregators because it directly populates your BOM with critical component information—so the information you want is put right in the context of your product data. This helps an engineer sift through several candidate components and understand part availability and compliance status within the scope of his design.