Free electronic components from OEM sample programs have been a major benefit to hobbyists and electronic designers for decades. These programs are easy to use and provide access to the latest parts as well as the classic components. Sample programs are not the only place to find some great, free electronic components, although they do require the least mount of work, provide a very reliable development path, and are much cheaper than purchasing parts at local shops or online.
The Samples Programs
Most of the major electronics companies offer a samples program geared for design engineers and students. They idea behind them is to put a few components in the hands of the people who will be creating new products and those components should find their way in to the final designs where thousands or millions of components will be used. Even supporting students and hobbyists can yield great returns for these OEMs as they often enter jobs where they influence the design and find part selection. Some OEMs only supply parts to customers that they think are 'qualified' and require you to answer a survey that details the use, application, and potential sales that may be generated.
Benefits of samples programs
- Most OEMs offer free shipping, some even offer expedited next day shipping!
- Wide variety of the latest parts are available with good documentation, application notes, and support (free support forums are common)
- Free parts!
Limitations of samples programs:
- OEMs often put a limitation on the number of parts that can be ordered at once and over time. Texas Instruments has a 90 day limit on samples for example. The ideas is to support testing and prototyping, not small lot production
- Part form factor. The DIP form factor is the most useful for hobbyists since components can be directly placed in breadboards. However, many components are not available in a DIP form factor but only a variety of surface mount packages. PCB adapters can be used, but soldering skills are required.
Some of the big OEMs that have free samples programs include:
Other sources of free parts
- Old electronics are a great place to find electronic parts and components that can be extracted, salvaged, and repurposed for new projects. The advantage of scavanging parts is the exposure to designs, techniques, and how professional products have been put together which is an invavluable knowledge set when developing your own projects and products. Repurposing old electronics does take a lot of time, both in extracting the parts and in tracking down documentation or reverse engineering the operation of the component. Great skills can be developed this way but it will take some time.
Electronic Repair Shops -
Several businesses routinely discard electronics, especially electronic repair shops. Talking to the shop owner or staff can get you access to salvageable components for a project that are not worth their time to extract. Like repurposing your old electronics, this method will take a lot of time, especially finding specifications on the parts you find.
- One of the best ways to get free parts is to simply ask. Not every company is large enough to have a dedicated samples program to support designers, students, and hobbyists, but they all need to develop relationships with the people who want to use their parts in developing new products. A phone call or email to a manufacturer can yield some surprising freebies, parts, support and more! Since the worse thing they can say is no, asking should never be overlooked. There are several good search engines and industry listings that you can use to identify manufacturers of particular products and they are definitely worth a try if you are operating on a tight budget.