How to Source Hard-to-Find Electronic Parts

The sourcing of certain components at times presents difficulties. Some electronic parts are obsolete and no longer produced, making them hard to find. Electronic parts procurement has also had unprecedented challenges in recent years, with the coronavirus pandemic being one of the more recent hurdles, especially for those components that are hard to find. Electronic parts suppliers were hit worse than many other businesses during the pandemic, though logistics surrounding sourcing these hard-to-find electronic parts remain precarious years later.

The difficulties within the global supply chain for electronic parts are also driven by congestion in ports, poor weather, regional conflicts, sanctions, and other factors. Additionally, quick advancements added to electronic components only exacerbate the fragility of these logistics, particularly for computer chips used in the automotive industry. Understanding why component shortages occur and how to deal with them will help those tasked with seeking out these hard-to-find electronic components mitigate these effects.

Looking for Hard-to-Find Electronic Parts

There are several reasons why electronic components continue to be hard to find. Electronic parts are constantly being upgraded as technical improvements push manufacturers to replace outdated components with new technology. As uncertainty still surrounds many companies’ electronic component supply chains, finding a reliable electronic parts distributor is more important than ever.

When sourcing electronic parts, the following will normally be the case: 

  • The part is still being produced and is in stock.
  • The part is out of stock though still produced.
  • The part is no longer being produced yet could be available from salvaged products, which might consist of customer returns or sourced from otherwise damaged goods.
  • The part is neither being produced nor available as salvage, and its use has been discontinued.
  • The part can only be found via salvaging as its use has been discontinued.  

Understanding why certain hard-to-find electronic parts are so difficult to source will help those seeking them more easily find them and identify when a replacement part makes more sense.

Why Are There Hard-to-Find Electronic Parts?

Technological innovation happens rapidly within the electronics industry. To keep pace, manufacturers that use electronic parts must rapidly adapt to these changes to keep their products on the cutting edge. However, this makes many components out-of-date in a relatively short time frame, presenting significant challenges for those trying to source them. Some causes of obsolescence include shorter product lifecycles, technological improvements, and increasing demand for the most advanced computer chips.

Shortened Lifecycles for Products

As the rate of innovation increases within the industry, the lifecycles of many electronic parts get shorter. It helps to appreciate the phases electronic products go through, from when they first come to market to the end of their useful life.

This can be divided into the following four phases: 

  • Introductory: Known also as the research and development phase, it’s the point at which the original electronics manufacturer (OEM) puts forth a beta version of a new electronic part. Once introduced to the electronics market, the new component will either succeed or fail.  
  • Growth: Once a new component provides a return on investment (ROI), the manufacturer has recovered the costs of research and development of the part. The focus then moves on to distribution, where a component’s innovations give it a competitive advantage over similar parts.
  • Maturity: This is the phase when a component becomes standard and accepted, at which point competitors introduce their own versions of the new part.
  • Obsolescence: At this point, a part slowly declines in worth until it becomes no longer economically feasible to manufacture. During this phase, OEMs will begin to work on the next generation of innovative parts.

It’s in the last obsolescence phase when old components join the ranks of other hard-to-find electronic parts.

Changing Technology

Rapidly changing technology can make components that aren’t so old become hard to find. Electronic parts used in various key industries often must be obtained from other sources or replaced by alternatives. Businesses in these sectors quickly adopt innovative new technologies, to which electronic components manufacturers need to respond. OEMs seek to fulfill the wishes of these manufacturers, resulting in electronic parts often being phased out more abruptly.

Industries that experience rapid technological development in electronic parts include: 

  • Aerospace
  • Computer
  • Consumer electronics
  • Defense
  • Telecommunications

In addition, other emerging industries play roles that make finding components challenging. To find electronic parts for leading-edge technologies like the Internet of Things (IoT), automated technology, and augmented reality, for example, often require computer chips that consume less electricity while being smaller and more durable. This often results in electronic component manufacturers discontinuing older technology as their main customers move to more advanced systems. This results in hard-to-find electronic parts for the businesses still using them, which may require rebuilding old parts or finding replacements.

Increased Computer Chip Demand

Also known as semiconductors, computer chips are necessary for thousands of electronic goods, including appliances, computers, gaming consoles, medical devices, and smartphones. Since many industries require computer chips, OEMs produce massive amounts without considering their eventual obsolescence. However, when manufacturers discontinue their production, this makes obsolete computer chips hard-to-find electronic parts.

Finding Substitutions for Electronic Components

But what happens when a specific, necessary component is too hard to find? Electronic parts that are no longer produced can still be found. The first thing to do in such a case is for a company to expand the search beyond its usual suppliers. Diversifying one’s supply network makes it easier for companies to source hard-to-find electronic parts.

However, sometimes even expanding the search for substitute suppliers takes a lot of work. To find electronic parts that are both equivalent to the obsolete component and compatible with the application, it’s important to find a substitution. Ideally, this will result in finding what’s known as a drop-in replacement, a component with ratings that very closely resemble the replaced part.

Rough definitions for types of substitution parts include: 

  • Equivalent parts: These have identical or nearly identical electrical specifications as the component they’re intended to replace. Sometimes manufacturer part numbers will show that they’re variants of the hard-to-find electronic parts, though they may have different packaging or even some extra features.
  • Alternative parts: Though they might not have identical features, footprints, specifications, or symbols, these can be reconfigured to perform the same functions as the component they’re replacing.
  • Drop-in replacement: Usually having a variant of the manufacturer part number, drop-in replacements are essentially either an alternative or equivalent to the hard-to-find electronic components they replace. These parts have the same footprint for their printed circuit board, pinout, and symbols as the component it will replace.

Finding an equivalent component that satisfies a drop-in replacement is the most advantageous outcome. These parts will require no redesigning. Unfortunately, not all hard-to-find electronic parts have direct equivalents that can also act as drop-in replacements. In such cases, an alternative part that functions much the same way as the one for which it’s substituting must suffice.

Contact the Experts at Solid State Inc.

For buyers requiring hard-to-find electronic parts, Solid State Inc. is an honest and reliable distributor for various electronics manufacturers. We also offer high-quality electronic components like diodes, LEDs, rectifiers, transistors, and zeners under our own Solid State brand. We invite you to search our extensive inventory via the manufacturer or part number or contact the electronic experts at Solid State for your electronic component needs.