Parts, and Parts of Parts: The Untold Story

What to do with an overflowing cup of electronics

Favorited Favorite 0

Working at SparkFun has been a pretty wild ride. I mean, I worked out of a bedroom, with shipping in the laundry room. Wait, that was production in the basement. I remember stenciling on the dryer once. I still can't believe my wife let me do this.

My actual responsibilities have shifted dramatically since the beginning, literally changing from day to day. It's been anything but boring, full of new challenges that I had never considered. Some have taxed me, most are amusing, and creative problem solving is sort of it's own reward. So, you know. All in all, it's been pretty OK.

Here's something I'm looking at that I thought was interesting enough to mention. We buy parts, right? Lots and lots. Well, sometimes somebody's got to make a call on how many of something to buy based on demand vs. quantity discount. And sometimes that call lands you with more parts than you can use. Thousands in some cases. And a list of those, in fact. Wait, did I just give away the punchline?


Lonely souls on the island of misfit parts...


Interestingly enough, when I went down to get a pic or two, Bob was there to tell me that there are, in fact, even more parts that we can't use because they fell out of something, fell on the floor, etc. He's got drawers of the stuff.


Just look!

So in a nutshell, I've got an incomplete list of parts in large quantities that are stuck in inventory. They are:

And that's not including the things in the drawers (can't really use that stuff for production, anyway). The obvious question is what do you do with this pile? I suppose other companies would say that it costs more to do something about them than to just let them sit or toss them. True, I don't have a lot of uses for a 2.4GHz balun. But this just begs for something chocked full of awesome. Or stupid. I get the two mixed up sometimes. So how about it? A single product that encompasses... let's say "most" of these parts? (No, not the balun, man. I'm saving those for my Antimov entry.) And I can add stuff to make it more functional. Whatever, um, that function happens to be. And an awesome name. And LEDs... but I digress.

So let's see... the resistor can can be (and I think is) used in a buck regulator, so there's a multi-cell power supply. The hall-effect sensor... dunno. A switch for, um, a magnet. And you could multiplex three ADXL203's, and...maybe also a microphone coupled with the transformer. That logs to flash. And I'll call it "Frankenstain". OK, that's stupid.

That's the puzzle for today. I'm open to suggestions if you've got any. What would you do with these parts?

Comments 48 comments

  • TBaumg / about 14 years ago / 3

    Assorted Grab Bags! Luck of the draw! Got to be less than $5.00 each though. I'd add on a "grab bag" to my next order if it was in the $3-5 range, anything more than that, no way -- I have too much crap in basement already.

  • pkramer / about 14 years ago / 2

    Something that I have wanted to build for a while is a magnetic field imaging system. A dense planar array of hall effect sensors would be awesome (16x16); but that would be really expensive. But a goniometric array (perpendicularly planar aligned at various angles) would be less expensive (1 per 10 degrees = 36 total). Another option would to make a less dense (6x6) and use a computer to interpolate using a Linear Program. If anyone is interested I have a MATLAB functional example of how to implement a Least Average Deviation Linear Program; this would suit the aforementioned systems fairly well.

    • bbotany / about 14 years ago / 1

      Scanning sensor might work even better - a rotating arm (or two) with sensors on it, like a POV clock but measuring instead of shining. You'd be limited on how fast of field changes you could detect, but 30 scans per second is still much faster magnetic imaging than most of us have available at home - definitely beats iron filing or field strength sheets.

      • pkramer / about 14 years ago / 1

        I have been working on a goniometric gantry for spatial sensing using an analog sonar and sharp IR ranger for a robot at Washington State University... throwing on some hall effect sensors would allow a goniometric survey of magnetic field strength around a point. If I could find a small linear actuator I could do a planar scan of a field.

        • bbotany / about 14 years ago / 1

          "Small"? Older impact printers drive the printhead linearly over about 30cm. And unlike hard drives, the old floppies did have linear drives for head positioning - and throw in a free magnetic sensor on the end! Two to three cm can be obtained from them.

  • Kevin Vermeer / about 14 years ago / 2

    Um, sell them? Isn't that what you do? Nothing on that "incomplete list" isn't salable.
    Price it so that it's compelling enough to make a designer looking for a part select that part over buying singles on Digikey. This might represent a 50% loss (likely less, because you bought them at a discount, and you're competing with singles), but that's much better than 100%.
    The grab bag plan is not as applicable to these parts, because you have to build a board for most of them.

  • Cyrusm / about 14 years ago / 2

    If all else fails, everybody loves a good "discount grab bag of random parts!"

  • fhsavage / about 14 years ago / 2

    I say have a "monster garage" type competition where you list all your available parts and see who builds the best widget. The one with the best working project gets to have a cool front page story showing what a bunch of random parts can create.

  • ElegantElectrons / about 14 years ago / 2

    I like the box-o-junk idea.
    Or you can have an another sparkfun competition involving those parts. The challenge is to build something useful (or Antimov) from them. You buy into the competition and get a box-o-random, then you have to Frankenstein them together with only those parts (or allow X number of non-random parts).

  • sgrace / about 14 years ago / 2

    I would like to see orders over a certain price get a random item that you have listed.

  • Something like a midi accordion or piano can profitably use lots and lots of hall-effect sensors. Just sayin'.

  • CaseyGross / about 14 years ago / 1

    Are you guys ever going to sell more smd components, Resistors, Capacitors, Transistors, leadless ic's, etc? When the need hits to make a small and compact circuit board, you need these small components and it has always been a headache to find them. This would help out a lot.

    • We are really avoiding being a parts supplier. We carry a selection of products we normally use, but that's it.

      • Azayles / about 14 years ago / 1

        The random grab bag when x dollars or more is spent is probably your best bet then. By the way you owe me several dozen grab bags :P hehehehe!

  • Azayles / about 14 years ago / 1

    I, too, second (Third? Forth?) the random "grab bag" idea, either as items for sale, or a random gift if you spend $xyz or over.
    You already sell scrap boards in the dings and dents section ( so cheap/free components to solder onto these boards would be invaluable to people learning electronics and wanting to learn how to solder etc. Schools and colleges, I'm sure, will absolutely lap this idea up.
    Good for environment, good for our pockets, and great for your business, both as a friendly PR gesture, but also to promote and encourage the young/first time electronics hobbyist.

  • bbotany / about 14 years ago / 1

    Add an MCU and you've got a smart inertial power supply controller. Buyer adds magnets, concrete, and coils to complete the supply.
    Or in a slightly different configuration, you've got a bobsled that knows when to yell "Wheeeeee!", "Owwwwww!", and enough memory to detect moments for "Oh no, not again!".

    • ElegantElectrons / about 14 years ago / 1

      HAH. You can always do movie quotes.
      "Feel the rhythm! Feel the rhyme! Get on up, its bobsled time! COOL RUNNINGS!"
      "Sanka... you dead?" "Ya, mon."

  • mikeselectricstuff / about 14 years ago / 1

    1) Why not have a 'surplus bulk parts' section on the website?
    2) Ebay - plenty of people buying & selling bulk lots of components
    3) There are plenty of chip brokers, but chances are they all check ebay so option 2 with a sensible start price is probably at least as good an option.

  • If you build me one of those (that functions as specified) I will pay cost+$20 for it!

    • On second thought, I just calculated the total cost. Nevermind, I'm broke after my first Arduino (plus lots of other stuff) purchase.

  • CBD / about 14 years ago / 1

    Hey, just wanted to point out that the flash chip is 2Gb, aka 256MB!

  • Ben121 / about 14 years ago / 1

    POV for Bikes:
    Use Hall effect to sense tire position, multiplexers to drive LEDS, memory to store videos/sequences, accel to create responsive effects when the bike moves side to side.

  • afbc0m / about 14 years ago / 1

    How about a project "sponsership" program?
    People submit ideas (I know lots of work to read and evaluate) on a first come first serve basis for the aforementioned parts. There are several comments that indicate that people would be interest in the excess inventory for projects. Qualifying projects would be required to advertise the origin of the donation. Maybe throw in a few related or otherwise crazy items for a discount, and release a "project pack" that could be targeted to schools or hackerspaces or just plain everyone who likes to tinker. I don't know, I'm just going off the top of my head.

  • Bike avionics. Put a magnet on the wheel, measure and log:
    1. Speed
    2. Distance
    3. Climbs and descents
    Log it and upload it to Google Earth, etc. You know the drill. The NAND is well suited to sequential logging.
    Since you've got a very reliable motion indicator (the wheel rotations), you can use the accelerometer to gauge inclination for climbs and descents, which it's more suited to anyway.

  • TheMoogle / about 14 years ago / 1

    Here is what I would do.
    2GB NAND Flash chip --> Very obvious, use in my latest DJHI prototype.
    Or replace the 256mb nand in a didj or the 512mb nand in a lx and use it for native compiling. (seriously im looking for chips for this project lol)
    AN4881B Hall Effect Sensor + 0.11 ohm, 1/2W current sense resistor, 2010 package + CD74HC4067SM96, 1x16 multiplexer + MT4134 audio transformer --> Make one crazy modern core memory system!! use one hall effect sensor per core, use the multiplexers to reduce how many i/o you need for addressing. then all you need is the core driver and use the audio transformer for debugging
    if that fails you could always make a magnet controlled keyboard

  • Jamo / about 14 years ago / 1

    I don't know about all the surface mount stuff being in a grab bag, unless you put them on breakouts, and that's probably not practical. but why not put all the busted parts in the dings and dents you've already got? I'll put 5-10$ of what might be junk or might be a gold mine on every order.

  • TinkerGnome / about 14 years ago / 1

    How about, A Mutual Induction Levitation project.
    6 Hall Effects tied to the multiplexer, Multiplexer to an ARM/uC of choice, it reads its approximate distance to the magneto fields, and using an Infrared Signal Adjusts the magnetic pull On all Sides accordingly. So Even if u pull the object Out of skew, it will still be held there.
    I know Im mad. Don't worry it will work :-D

  • TLAlexander / about 14 years ago / 1

    I'd build an electric motor with those hall effect sensors! Then use the accelerometer to build a quadcopter with those motors. :)

  • Dan P. / about 14 years ago / 1

    if they cant be guaranteed to work, maybe make a sparkfun minifig army, 'sparkies'.

  • JeffC / about 14 years ago / 1

    Y'know, I've always wanted a device that would mount somewhere low on a bike, detect when a stoplight is using one of those metal-detecting traffic sensors, and emit a strong enough signal to trigger the sensor. It only needs to run when the bike's stationary (which the accelerometer could tell it) to save battery power. The sensors are supposed to detect bikes but often aren't adjusted sensitively enough, so a really clever design would somehow notice whether or not it needs to step in (assuming that's possible) and log the location of the misadjusted sensor. I don't know exactly where the mux fits in, but by the time you got something that fancy together there'd probably be a use for it.
    Or you could do an electronic version of the card in the bike spokes. Hall effect sensor to detect wheel rotation, accelerometer for bumps in the road, and play your choice of sound sample.

    • If sleep deprivation is not distorting my memory too greatly, a simple rare earth magnet mounted low on the bike will work to trigger the sensors (a large coil of wire whose impedance is changed by the large amount of metal/steel in most cars and less so with bikes of any design).

      • JeffC / about 14 years ago / 1

        Ooh, interesting--I wouldn't have expected a magnet to change the coil's inductance enough to do the trick. I'll definitely try it! Thanks for the thought!

        • Ilektron / about 14 years ago / 1

          Google this, there is a lot of debate over whether or not the magnets are snake oil. I'm personally of the opinion that they wouldn't work, because they wouldn't change the inductance.

  • HP / about 14 years ago / 1

    I'll take 10 or 20 of the multiplexers.. I need them for a project :)

    • afbc0m / about 14 years ago / 1

      I bet you're doing something with LEDs... just a guess

      • HP / about 14 years ago / 1

        Actually no, but i need 32 differential ADCs :) can be done using 2 muxes, but a few extra won't hurt anyone :)

  • Hugo / about 14 years ago / 1

    How about some magnetic levitation project using the Hall effect sensor?

  • Endikos / about 14 years ago / 1

    The fine folks over at American Science and Surplus have been doing a "Box of Junk" for a while, and I'd wager it's one way they mange surplus -er- surplus. So maybe a surprise bag of sorts could be in order. $10 gets you a bag of who-knows-what sorts of miscellany to have fun with.

    • Ookseer / about 14 years ago / 1

      I'd buy a box of junk!
      I've had great results with both AS&S's box of junk and Electronics Goldmine's "Super Electronic Surprise Box".
      Or prime some new "Great Internet Migratory Boxes Of Electronics Junk": Thrwo some together, send them out to hackerspaces, let them travel and evolve as they will...

  • OldFar-SeeingArt / about 14 years ago / 1

    Adding one or two other parts, you could do this:
    A board with an accelerometer, a flash chip, the mux, the current sense resistor and a small uC. Make the boards so they interlock in X/Y/Z fashion. A little code allows the gadget to be tossed around, rolled down the hall, play catch with, etc. recording accel data into flash. The mux with a few transistors drive LEDs using the .11 ohm resistor as a current source in the emitter of a transistor.
    After tossing it around a bit, it plays back the accel data via the LEDs. Wear one on each shoulder as an epaulet. Send the output data at appropriate speed through the audio transformer into a speaker. Use another audio transformer as boost supply for the LED power supply.
    Finally, use the hall effect sensor to provide user control via hidden magnets sewn into clothing etc.

    • Madbodger / about 14 years ago / 1

      When I got to interlock in X/Y/Z fashion, I started thinking digital dice! Put some LEDs on the faces, and use the accelerometers to figure out how they landed. You could just light the top side, use the RF stuff so they can talk to each other and always roll sevens, all sorts of silly stuff.

  • AlbertN / about 14 years ago / 1

    Hey Guys! First of all I would like to say that I have been reading Spark Fun's blog everyday for years now, it's great! Congratulations!
    I am developing a Single Board Computer based on the Atmel AT91SAM9XE (ARM9 core) as my final year project in Electrical Engineering (university of Sao Paulo). We have already soldered all the parts and made it boot into Linux, but there is no way we can buy those NAND Flash chips in Sao Paulo, Brazil (Digikey will charge me 45 USD only for shipping!!!).
    Would there be a way for you to sell me 4 of them or, if you'd like, discuss a partnership where we would put some Spark Fun ads on our presentations and posters in exchange for those chips?
    Thank you very much,

    • Albert,
      I might be able to help you with your shipping costs issues. I had similar trouble back in 2008 when I was developing my Graduation Project (I'm a gradutated EE from Poli.USP)
      drop me a line : diego(at)

  • R0B0T1CS / about 14 years ago / 1

    Ya know, 2.4 GHz antennas make for great fun in the microwave. You may still need a ground plane.
    A few secs in they go "Poof".

  • IrritableGourmet / about 14 years ago / 1

    Some kind of theremin-like box that reads a variety of sensors (motion, field effect, capacitance, magnetism, etc) and creates a sound?

Related Posts

2 Open 2 Sauce

Recent Posts

2 Open 2 Sauce


All Tags