In today’s fast-paced manufacturing industry, the availability of electronic components can make or break a project. However, there are times when the exact component you need is unavailable, obsolete, has too long a lead time or too expensive for your budget.
This can be a disrupting but common occurrence simply due to the life cycle of products when measured against their component parts, particularly if the application has a long qualification, production or in-service live. This was highlighted in a paper by the University of Maryland:
“Consequently, many of the electronic parts that compose a product have a life cycle that is significantly shorter than the life cycle of the product. The part becomes obsolete when it is no longer manufactured, either because demand has dropped to low enough levels that it is not practical for manufacturers to continue to make it, or because the materials or technologies necessary to produce it are no longer available.”
That is where finding alternative electronic components becomes crucial. In this guide, we will understand exactly what we are looking for and explore how to successfully locate suitable alternatives for your projects.
What is an alternative electronic component?
An alternative electronic component is one that works in an equivalent manner to the original component – offering the same level of performance and quality, while at the same time often either representing better value or being easier to source.
There are also a variety of instances in which you may need to identify an alternative or equivalent electronic component for your project:
- The re-use of an old design
- A new design with a high-demand component
- A component that uses a material in shortage
- A component that has extended lead times
- A component that had a limited production run
- A component that is no longer in production
- A component or material that is banned in your country
Whatever the reason you need to find an alternative component, it is important to source the right replacement part for the job, at a cost that suits your production budget.
Do I need to find an alternative or an equivalent electronic component?
In an ideal world when your out-of-production component needs replacing, you would find a ‘drop-in’ replacement – which is one with closely matching electronic ratings. However, this often isn’t available and so you need to source an alternative or equivalent part – the distinction between these is minimal, but important to understand:
An equivalent component either has identical or closely matched specifications as your unavailable component. It could be from the same manufacturer/brand, be an upgrade of the previous version or simply have added/altered features.
An alternative component is a replacement part that may have very different specifications or features to the original component but can still be utilised to perform the required function of the product.
How do I find alternative electronic components?
Most of the inspections undertaken within Cyclops Electronics facilities – or in vetted test houses we work with – are undertaken with highly specialised equipment.
Here are some relatively common electronics counterfeit giveaways to look out for when you are inspecting electronic components:
Understand component specifications
Before you start searching for alternatives, it is essential to thoroughly understand the specifications of the component you are trying to replace. This includes parameters like voltage ratings, current ratings, package type, and pin configurations. Knowing these details will help you narrow down your search for compatible alternatives.
Use parametric searches
Parametric search tools on electronic component distributor websites allow you to filter components based on specific parameters. This can be incredibly useful when looking for alternatives with similar specifications. You can narrow down your search by selecting parameters such as voltage range, package type, and more.
Consult manufacturer resources
Sometimes, component manufacturers themselves provide lists of alternative components for their products. These resources can be found on the manufacturer’s website and are particularly useful when searching for replacements for obsolete components.
Explore obsolete component services
If you are dealing with obsolete and hard-to-find components, consider specialised services that focus on sourcing discontinued parts. Cyclops Electronics can source obsolete components through our electronic component finder’s extensive inventory of over 1 billion components and access to a trusted global supply network.
Evaluate functional equivalents
While it is essential to match component specifications, also consider functional equivalents. These components may have slightly different specifications but can still perform the required function in your circuit. Make sure to assess the impact of any variations on your overall design.
Collaborate with suppliers
Don’t hesitate to seek advice and collaborate with suppliers who could yield valuable insights and recommendations – we are on hand to support with alternative electronic component sourcing advice if you contact our team.
The availability of obsolete and hard to find electronic components
While we hope that you are able to find an alternative component for your project, sometimes the process can prove more difficult due to the type of component involved.
Some parts, like passive components, are commonly available and easy to replace or substitute for an equivalent component. However, other parts like more complex integrated circuits, often don’t have readily available alternatives.
In these cases, an independent electronic component distributor like Cyclops Electronics can be an extremely helpful resource. Our expertise lies in finding and sourcing virtually any electronic part, helping our customers keep their supply chain moving even in the most challenging circumstances.