Getting (my electronic components) Organized

It’s been a year and a half since we started Sensorstar LABS and we’ve done a fair amount of hardware since then, but I’ve never felt like we came anywhere close to having a solid prototyping set-up.

I personally have never really had a good home lab, and between a resurgence of interest in analog (audio + RF mainly) and a lack of interest in hardware projects at the LABS, I felt it was time.

I’ll detail more when I get it set up, but wanted to make a quick post on some ideas about organizing components. One of my co-workers uses 3-ring binders with card pages, filled with bags of components.

Pluses for the binder system:

  • very compact - doesn’t take up a lot of space
  • easy to add to
  • relatively easy to reorganize (at least on a sheet-by-sheet basis)

Cons as I see them:

  • no idea what you have without flipping through the book (without maintaing an external list)
  • limited to small components - SMD and most axial lead compnents are great, TO*220 and up are pushing it. No large inductors or power transistors here.

At the lab in Baltimore one of the older techs was a big fan of the little pullout drawers. I’ve since seen how handy they can be for mechanical components as well, and I really like the visual of an array of tiny drawers all neatly arranged.

Pluses for the drawer system:

  • Easy to find compnents at a glance, especially if the cabinets are organized well. Additionally if the drawers are clear you can tell approximately how many of something you have.
  • Room for larger components, the smallest drawers are deep enough to fit pens and handle large potentiometers, small transformers, etc. with ease.
  • Can be wall-mounted to free up space on your bench.

Cons as I see them:

  • generally take up more room. Sure you can fit more stuff in each drawer, but they’re pretty big.
  • more difficult to extend/rearrange. Suppose you have a row of values and you add a new one somewhere inbetween, you may have to move all the drawers. This can get laborious.
  • more expensive
  • chance of flinging components everywhere when removing a drawer

Having said all that, I decided to go with the Akro-Mils 101** series of drawers. I got mine from Amazon, one each of 24, 44, and 64 drawers - there are two drawer sizes. I’m just really hooked on finding stuff quickly, and knowing what I have at a glance. I am however, adding a few things to try and stay organized as I build up the collection.

The first is just a spreadsheet. I have maybe 200 different parts right now, with another hundred on the way as I build up an N2PK VNA and the receiver. I’ve got some time right now and felt this was a reasonable amount to catalog, so long as I’m diligent about updating the sheet.

Part two is an SMD solution in the form of these little spring top boxes from Adafruit. I figured they’d fit in the drawers, and give me a little more granularity. I think even the smallest boxes will fit a couple hundred 0805 parts, we’ll see next week when I get my latest Digi-Key order. I like the idea of having one drawer per value with different tolerances, ratings, and packages together but separate.

Pretty excited about this. More to come on the equipment, and I still have to figure out a bench situation…