Thinking Outside the Digi-Key Box

Earlier today, I recalled a prescient conversation of the mid-1990’s that I had with a procurement person about how engineers select components. There in our San Jose R&D office on Brokaw, deep in the belly of Silicon Valley, she felt that engineers she worked with would only design in a component if they could order it from Digi-Key. With such a rich world of options out there, why, she asked, would otherwise good engineers trap themselves in the Digi-Key box?


Well here we are over 15 years later, and the answer is obvious. Digi-Key realized that the fastest way to get engineers to use them was to make the selection and ordering process easy. Digi-Key provided engineers with the links they need, and the late-in-the-day shipping deadline allowed them to design during Happy Hour and still have presents by 8am the next morning from the friendly brown truck.

The problem, though, is that we begin to have a monoculture in our designs. Like eating wheat, corn, and oats, we ignore kamut, quinoa, and millet. All are perfectly good, and some of those less common ones might actually be a smarter choice. But when we as engineers can go the easy path (nearly one-click shopping at Digi-Key), it’s easy to ignore the other options out there.

My challenge to the design community is to think outside the Digi-Key box. I know you’re all in love with Atmel, Microchip, NXP, TI, and a number of ARM-based processors for your embedded designs, but let’s not forget the broader landscape. Heard of Holtek for example? Yes, they’re on Digi-Key, but their processor line is not, so you might not even know about it.

If you search for “microcontroller” on Digi-Key’s site, they return 29,867 options from 27 different companies. Whoa. Ask yourself, how many of these companies have you actually considered for a design? How many do you have in your toolkit of tricks right now? Missing anything?

Maybe the kamut of processors out there has just what you need in your next design.

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