The Importance of Being Numbered

June 24, 2016 | 00:00
The Importance of Being Numbered
The Importance of Being Numbered
The bewildering complexity and diversity of today’s’ electronics is in perfect concert with the unstoppable habit of parts makers to develop (and market) new products for every niche-of-niche application a customer can get his head round to. And warrant an order for, on a Chinese production line. A fine example is the by now silly variety of MOSFETs — slightly overstating it there seems to be one for every micro-ohm of RDS(on) and every millivolt of VDS. Add more ‘selectors’ like temperature, case, pinout, dissipation, price!!, and you have a veritable Tower of Babel complete with  arcane type numbers as the SMD devices drop from their reels.

Not so long ago everyone was content with a dozen or so BUZxx and IRFxxx devices safe in the parts drawer row starting with F for FET. The simplicity of the type codes was also reassuring: BUZ was European nomenclature and IRF, well you should not have to bend over backwards to be able to tell it’s TEF reifitceR lanoitanretnI. And the higher the number after them three letters, in general the better the specs, and the more expensive, etcetera. Each device would cover a comfortably wide range in terms of electrical ratings. And you could actually read the type number, give or take a few digits and dashes added by the manufacturer to conjure up a unique product name and appear at the top (or the bottom) of computer-sorted lists (the Zilog trick). And to impress — because many engineers attach status to numbers (BMW 728i vs. 320; Tektronix 585A vs. 310, etc).

The easy electronics type codes have vanished, even from Elektor projects, and so has the interest in wideband, generic devices you could safely try in a circuit and get some basic response if the original thingamabob part had failed. Still, there’s nothing wrong with a plain BC108, 2N2219A, or ECC83 from the vintage dept. Prescribing a 3NZ128-Yg66n/-33P device for a plain vanilla 5-V, 100-mA relay driver in a DIY project for others to replicate I find bordering on FETishism possibly even snobbism, and a sign of weakness rather than “the culmination of many hours spent on finding just the right device”. Admit it, in reality the part was salvaged from a 1980’s Sony VCR you picked up the Thrift Shop :-). The same for the 5k10 0.05% anti-parasitic, GaAs-doped resistor where a plain 4k7 10% specimen works okay too.

Also gone are the adverts in electronics magazines from component suppliers displaying long lists of discrete parts and prices in incredibly small print. Now obsolete thanks to the Internet and the mail order giants, these lists I found to be not just educational, but also a source of inspiration as well as good reference material. It was like being on a market and comparing stalls to get the best deal on oranges (okay, that’s a few no-name 2N3055s). The smaller the print in the ad, the greater the reward of having found ‘it’.

While I realize that no drawer system can exist in the world to hold one of each of a zillion of electronic parts around today for everyone’s amusement, I am making a modest plea for a degree of rationalizing in the range of electronics components, at least as far as DIY electronics and repair is concerned.

Respond in the Comment box with the esoteric part you said No to recently and cheerfully substituted by something from the comfort zone called the parts drawer.
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