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Datasheets Are Terrible: Here’s How They Could Actually Be Useful

January 16, 2019 by Sam Holland

Whether you’re looking to purchase a 555-timer, switchgear, or a range of resistors for a personal project or on behalf of your company, chances are that you’ll need an official document from the manufacturer’s website presenting some information about the product. In this article, we are going to take a look at the typical electronic datasheet and suggest some aspects of this document that could be improved to become more helpful to users.

Whether you’re looking to purchase a 555-timer, switchgear, or a range of resistors for a personal project or on behalf of your company, chances are that you’ll need an official document from the manufacturer’s website presenting some information about the product. 

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Why Datasheets Are Important

After the conceptual design for a novel project or innovation of existing technology has been approved, an R&D team (comprising of engineers and designers) will compile a list of components required to implement the design, although the actual sourcing of components may be done by a procurement team.

Significant constraints influencing the procurement teams’ buying decisions include project costs and the pedigree of the manufacturer; however, the most important consideration is the technical specs of a product. Every component purchased must meet a project’s requirements, and electronic datasheets are the most important documents for obtaining this information.

What Information Does Datasheets Contain?

Electronic datasheets highlight the technical specifications of components, maximum and minimum operating conditions, safety information, and some typical applications. Whilst product characteristics differ, certain specifications are common to most components and the majority of datasheets contain sections for a general description of the components (for marketing purposes), features, schematic diagrams, and a few of the possible applications.

Some specifications contained in electronic datasheets include product names, serial numbers, batch codes, physical dimensions of the products, types of packaging, operating temperature ranges, pin configurations (for ICs), maximum and minimum ratings (current and voltage), power consumption figures, DC/AC ratings, I/O waveform diagrams, ideal storage conditions, hazardous regulatory data, and information concerning the manufacturer(s).

Why Datasheets Are So Terrible

The main problem with electronic datasheets is that there is no universal format for presenting the information they contain, and this can make it problematic for potential buyers to find information regarding products without further information from the manufacturers.

Language Issues

Many organisations provide datasheets written in a language that is specific to a region, and a potential client from a separate country might find this confusing. Others highlight product specifications in overly-technical language that is difficult to comprehend by non-engineering readers.

While the typical end-users of electrical/electronic products are engineers, the employees in charge of procurement might not have a technical background. It is absolutely necessary for datasheet information to be presented in a format that is as clear and concise as possible. This makes it easy for a reader to determine which components are suitable for a particular operation while not leaving out any technical details.

The Need for Standardisation

On their websites, several manufacturers provide official datasheets using symbols, units, terms, and definitions suitable to a particular region of the world, but not others. For example, specifying temperature in Fahrenheit will require a European buyer to make some calculations to convert the values.

How Can Datasheets Improve?

Whether stored in online or offline records, information contained in datasheets should be presented in an easy-to-read, yet comprehensive format. Manufacturers can also create multiple versions of the official datasheets to cater for end-users from diverse regions.

A good datasheet needs to avail a potential buyer with all the essential information regarding a particular product without requiring additional correspondence with a retailer or the manufacturer. The most effective datasheet format would be one that caters to the technicality of the product whilst implementing marketing best practices.

Datasheet Variants

Application notes are datasheet variants manufacturers can use to provide technical information about their products. Application notes do not only outline essential information about a product, but they also offer “real-life” applications that could aid engineers in their own projects.    

An application note provides essential information about a product in a “use case” format. A typical electronic application note is a technical document describing a particular application and shows how it can utilise a specific component. For example, an application note showing how a mixed signal IC used to design a System-on-chip (SoC) device.

Application notes are excellent choices for marketing purposes as a potential buyer can make an informed buying decision from simply researching past use cases for a particular product.

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Closing Thoughts

Gleaning technical information concerning products from official manufacturer datasheets should be a breeze. To make the information more relevant and accessible, manufacturers can standardise symbols, units, terms, and definitions used to suit the geographic location of target consumers. From a procurement standpoint, a potential buyer should be able to readily assess technical specifications of components, quickly run them by a checklist to determine the most suitable choice, as well as explore viable alternatives with relative ease.

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