There's a middle ground in all this, and I've been working on finding it for over a year.
The newer parts from TI, National, Maxim, Intel etc. are coming only from their somewhat-controlled supply chains. But think about where their VOLUME is going. Not to you and me and the DIY or small production world. It's going to big manufacturers who are building many thousands of boards and assemblies. WHERE are they? In China, of course.
So where is most of the actual in-stock electronics parts volume in the world? In China, of course.
So where do I buy parts to sell to you guys?? In China, of course.
Shenzhen, China is the Radio Row (New York City history for us GrayBeards) of 2012. My partner is on the street in Shenzhen with cash (RMB) in his hand. There are 900 electronics parts shops in one building in Shenzhen. I'll post a photo (below).. I lived there for two years, and I decided that there must be a long-term connection between this environment and my Parts Junkie personality. This stuff is so cool. And so inexpensive.
I have 3 levels of choices for individual components: The big distributors (Avnet etc) Chinese branch, who don't want to talk less than 10,000 quantity, or the SEG Market guys and the other online TaoBao.com (Chinese Ebay) sellers, who would LIKE to sell 1000 of something, or the Bargain-Surplus-Backstreet guys who sell at a really low price and usually don't really understand what they are selling or if they will have it next week. There are some really good sellers, who buy components and really nice subassemblies and Arduino clones in pretty large quantities. They are pretty good at knowing fakes (they pull out their magnifier like a jeweler!). And they have a decent supply stream and are almost never out of stock, and warn me when some stock thing is getting funny. I have 3 of those guys we have settled on over the past year, and they are all good in their way. They don't speak much English and a lot of their online sales are to Taiwan and Japan.
Some Chinese Ebay guys and TaoBao guys sell at a very low margin. I don't know how they eat, even in China. But many of them don't know their sources, don't answer questions, and don't show How-To use the stuff (or just pirate some other sites alleged How-To Info). I have tried to find a middle ground. Low but reasonable profit, know the suppliers, immediately replace the occasional failed part/board, show as much How-To as I can find time to write. (http://arduino-info.wikispaces.com/
This wouldn't be worth it except for three things:
- The people who are doing this DIY electronics/Arduino 2012 are so cool and friendly, and they are from ALL over the world and I get to connect personally with them. Bending pipe in Bosnia, Teaching kids robotics in Lithuania, running a greenhouse in a small island in the Pacific, incubating sea turtle eggs in Mexico.. ect. etc. Way Cool.
- I get to play with all the parts, fulltime, shipping my tools and oscilloscope and boxes of components and books around, following my wife who is designing Libraries.. Africa, China, Middle East, Italy, and soon home to Vermont USA.
- I'm "retired" and I could wait a year to start making some money. This is NOT a business plan for the big guys.
The "Foreign Component Dealers" in China are where the stuff is stocked. Commodity components like 7805's, TIP120, 555s are sold in large quantities and they have to work or the bigger customers won't buy. We get almost the same price. Even new parts are in stock in volume, and some get sold to the middlemen who run a low margin. But the big value-add is in small boards and assemblies. Look at this: http://goo.gl/FQonZ
I know who makes these, and buy them about 50 at a time through Mr. Tang for about 34 RMB or about $5, and I sell them for $9. They are nice boards and good workmanship. Amazing. I have sold hundreds and the only return was for a broken switch. This kind of thing used to be a $50 part.
Sorry for the LongWind... it's a small world and an amazing time for a guy who built his first radio with a single 1S4, and started work the first day at a broadcast station in Connecticut that had 100% vacuum tubes.
For fun, go to http://taobao.com
and look around a bit. Then put "arduino motor driver" in the top orange box and click on the right side two Chinese characters. You don't have to read Chinese.. just look at the pictures. Or try 正品 单片机ATMEGA328P-AU