I'm a mechatronics engineer, and a big part of my job is searching for the right off-the-shelf (mostly mechanical) component for a specific purpose. It can be anything from vacuum pumps, flow meters, cable harnesses, motors, etc. I end up spending hours paging through catalogs from vendors I know, and asking friends/coworkers for pointers.

Does anyone have advice on tools or techniques I can use to search for parts more quickly? Do I just need more experience until I have a good idea of all the parts that are out there?

  • 3
    $\begingroup$ You just need to build up your “black book” of trusted suppliers. Comes with time. $\endgroup$
    – Solar Mike
    Jan 24, 2023 at 6:57
  • $\begingroup$ Experience. Haha, hours on catalogs? Some of us on here have spent hours just staring at ceramic capacitor datasheets from the same manufacturer. $\endgroup$
    – DKNguyen
    Jan 24, 2023 at 14:34
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Do you find lists like McMaster, Thomas-Net, Grainger, etc helpful? $\endgroup$ Jan 24, 2023 at 16:52
  • $\begingroup$ Usually, each component of a mechatronic system is a distinct market product. Often they are well googled, and in their catalogs, manufacturers offer additional filters by parameters, which sometimes provide significant assistance. And, as @SolarMike rightly said, over time, these catalogs are formed into a large and understandable database for you, which you can access if necessary. $\endgroup$
    – dtn
    Feb 24, 2023 at 6:13

1 Answer 1


Listings like McMaster, Thomas-Net, Grainger, etc. are helpful- IF you are employed by someone and have a budget that lets you pay full price plus shipping for the things you require. If not, read on...

There are shops that sell industrial surplus, these are often located at the edge of a large metro area with lots of hi-tech engineering activity going on within it. There you can find used hardware like vacuum pumps, solenoid valves, programmable controller modules, test & measurement electronics, digital timers, thermostat controllers, processing ovens, microscopes and the like. Some of these have on-line ordering, like surplusgizmos in Oregon and Marlon P. Jones & associates.

If you ingratiate yourself to the owner, then you have the chance to scoop up bargains and build useful equipment on a shoestring budget (an Omron digital timer module costing 200 dollars new at Mc Master-Carr can be had for twenty dollars at surplusgizmos, for example!).

Best of luck to you!


  • $\begingroup$ This is awesome advice, thank you very much! Very useful for my side projects. In the context of my job, my company is somewhat cost sensitive but certainly pays for any parts that I'd need. I find that McMaster and Thomas-Net are a bit hard to use for search. Any advice on using them more effectively? I often end up finding a catalog and then having to page through it myself. $\endgroup$ Jan 25, 2023 at 18:29
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @AchintyaAgarwal Ehhhh...If you find McMaster-Carr difficult to search I don't know what to tell you. Most places are far, far worse. How exactly are you searching on McMaster? $\endgroup$
    – DKNguyen
    Jan 25, 2023 at 23:24
  • $\begingroup$ I guess it's not the search, but the coverage. Sometimes I find things that aren't available on McMaster-Carr, so if I want to do a really comprehensive search for the best part (as opposed to just something that'll do) I feel like I need to dig in a bunch of different places. Have you experienced something similar or is that just me lol? $\endgroup$ Jan 26, 2023 at 1:04
  • $\begingroup$ most of the part sourcing I had to do was for startups with no money. I built tools and machinery out of salvaged junk I bought in surplus stores because we couldn't afford REAL tools! $\endgroup$ Jan 26, 2023 at 6:14
  • $\begingroup$ @AchintyaAgarwal It gets more difficult the more unfamiliar you are with the part. Yeah you need to dig i different places for weirder parts. $\endgroup$
    – DKNguyen
    Jan 27, 2023 at 15:11

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.