electronic components and small parts Electronics

How to store and organize small parts

Do you develop engineering projects either as a professional or as a hobbyist? Then you can probably relate to this post. Over time you end up accumulating dozens, hundreds or even thousands of electronic components, breakout boards, screws, nuts and many other small parts because they “may be useful some day”. They usually end up in a box together with hundreds of other parts. When the time to use them finally comes, you don’t remember which parts you have, how many and where they are. This article was written to teach you how to store and organize them.

Disclaimer: this article has affiliated links. By clicking on any of the links and purchasing any items you will be helping Zero to Hero Engineering with a small fee without any additional cost to you.

Troughout the years I’ve spent developing projects as a hobbyist, as a student and as a professional I ended up accumulating not dozens, not hundreds, but thousands of electronics components, breakout boards, screws, nuts, washers and many other small parts that could come to be useful someday. And when I mean thousands I mean thousands of different parts. Despite my efforts to manage this it always became frustrating at some point. I would eventually run out of containers to put things in. Or I would run out of space to put boxes with components. I would forget where I had placed component X. However, the thing that frustrated me the most was having to stop making the project when I was being productive or creative to go find a component that I really needed for the project and that I knew I had stored somewhere.

I needed to find a solution for this to be able to stay “in the zone” and be more productive while leaving behind the frustration of wasting time looking for components

This post is a short story of my search for a solution,

Solution #1: Plastic boxes with dividers

Small plastic boxes are great when you have only a small number of components

This is the easiest, cheapest and the most obvious type of storage when you have only a few dozen parts. You buy some small plastic boxes with dividers that you can easily store in a drawer or even in a small bag or case that you can even carry with you when going to your local hackerspace, to hackathon’s or to work in some remote place. Labelling the boxes will help you finding the components you need. When you have just a few boxes, you can go through all of them without wasting a lot of time.

At start it will work nicely but you’ll quickly find yourself needing more and more boxes. If you choose the small ones you’ll find problems with components that are too big to fit the compartments. As my inventory grew I had to upgrade.

Solution #2: Plastic drawer modules

Plastic drawer modules are nice but take too much wall space

Plastic drawer modules are a common solution that a lot of people use in their electronics labs. They were also usually seen in electronic component shops before they started disappearing since some years ago. I started buying stackable drawer modules and they increased my storage capacity quite a bit. The storage and organisation issue was gone for some time. I put a label in every plastic drawer with the component name to make everything easy to find. However, the portability benefit was gone.

Once more, as my inventory grew I faced another problem: the plastic drawer modules were occupying too much wall space. You can have a big workshop but the amount of drawer modules you can have is limited to the amount of free wall space. Time to find another solution again.

Solution #3: Bigger plastic boxes with dividers

Bigger plastic boxes with custom 3D printed dividing boxes are perfect for small parts

After the first two attempts I decided to go for a mix of the first two attempts. I went back to the plastic boxes but opted for bigger boxes with bigger compartments. This way I could fit bigger components into the boxes and still was able to take some with me in case I needed to. Stacked boxes still take some wall space, but at least now there is also depth as a third dimension, allowing me to store more components in the same wall space as before.

The boxes I use have a semi-transparent cover, which allows me to have glimpse of what is in each box and there are two models: one with fifteen compartments and another with only 3 bigger compartments. This gives me some flexibility to store different sizes of components.

Since most of the components are very small (screws, nuts, discrete components, etc.) I designed small bins with a middle dividers to turn one compartment into smaller compartments. This also allows me to change parts from one box to another without having to take them one by one. I used my trustworthy Creality Ender 3 to print the bins. Until now it has printed more than 1400 bins and shows no sign of giving up 🙂 . The Creality Ender 3 is an exceptional workhorse for an excelent price for both beginners and experienced users.

Creality Ender 3 3D printer still printing after 3D printing more than 1400 bins 🙂

In terms of organisation, I labelled each box with a letter and a number and keep a simple google spreadsheet with a list of all the components in each box. This way, I can easily keep track and find any component in a very short time from any multimedia device with an internet connection. I know that there are some apps for inventory organisation but I started with the spreadsheet and it has been working for me. Someday I’ll eventually look into those apps.

A google spreadsheet helps me keeping track of where everything is and I can check it from any Internet-connected device

Does it work?

It works for me! 🙂 With this storage and organisation solution I am able to easily keep track of about 3000 different components and reach for any of them in only a few seconds. It may seem like a lot of time is needed to keep everything organised but the time spent is nothing when compared to the time saved when looking for components stuffed in a big box or drawer.

Less time spent looking for components means more time invested in being creative and making projects without interruptions

Want the STL for those 3D printed bins?

No need to ask 🙂 Click the download button below, enter your name and email and you’ll get a .zip with all of them. It contains five models:

  • 1/5 with divider (38.5 x 61.5 x 34 mm)
  • 2/5 with divider (82 x 61.5 x 34 mm)
  • 2/5 without divider (82 x 61.5 x 34 mm)
  • 3/5 with divider (123 x 61.5 x 34 mm)
  • 3/5 without divider (123 x 61.5 x 34 mm)

If you need a custom size I can customize it for you. Feel free to contact me with the desired dimensions.

I made 3 different sized bins and the two bigger ones are available with and without divider

Parts and equipment used in this article

Below you’ll find a list of parts and equipment used in this article. By buying something from the links below Zero to Hero Engineering will get a small comission at no extra cost for you. Those comissions will be invested in parts and equipment for new tutorials, projects and courses.

Mário Saleiro
PhD in Computer Vision and Robotics. MSc and BSc in Electronics Engineering. Entrepreneur. Digital Fabrication enthusiast.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *