Parts Nebula: a parts-tracking inventory system for makers

Bre sez,
At MakerBot Industries, we've been selling more and more MakerBots and we needed an inventory tracking system so that we could keep track of all the different parts of the machine and know what we have and where it is. Keeping inventory and making lists of parts for a project turns out to be really important for open source hardware folks because it lets you share what it is you're doing and leaves breadcrumbs for others to build on. It turns out that it's really handy to be able to share lists of parts, part numbers, and suppliers so that other people can build on the shoulders of your accomplishments.

Zach pulled together the Parts Nebula as part of Thingiverse, our digital design and project sharing website. If you're like me, half the time you're making something, you're pretty sure that you've got a certain part but you don't know where it is and so you have to buy another one. Well, this parts management system pretty much fixes that. Go forth and document your parts drawer full of junk and then make something with it and share the project!

Thingiverse: Parts Nebula Discovered (Thanks, Bre!)


  1. Now makers, hobbyists and tinkerers can experience the joys of MRP database maintenance, bill of materials creation, and documentation control.

    “Ceci n’est pas un BOM”?

  2. Cool idea, but the first part I searched for, a DPDT mini toggle switch, wasn’t in the database. Neither was the second part, a 2N3904 transistor (extremely common transistor, even sold at radio shack).

    When they expand the database I’ll try it again.

  3. This is approaching what I’d like to see: a database of parts makers can share. Why should you have to buy a 1/4 HP AC induction motor when I have one in their basement?

    The unsolvable problems appear to be: (1) Wouldn’t other pack rats just take all my most expensive stuff?, (2) What’s the benefit of me inventorying all my treasure?, and (3) How the heck do you measure parts such that someone can find “a DC motor around 12 volts, or maybe 24 is okay too, that could power a bicycle”?

    Internally, I already have an inventory management system and it’s a hassle, but I stick with it because I want to control it for backup purposes, customization, and privacy.

    —Jason Olshefsky

  4. The thingiverse and makerbot guys are great examples of good open source ideas and business in the OS hardware age. They’re smart enough to know that when everyone is doing their thing well, then everyone’s happy(their business is selling a reprap derivative/distro so it’s not surprising).

  5. @Jason

    1) the ‘abuse’ factor could be mitigated maybe maker points; Components are assigned value points; You give away 10 working 12v wall-warts, get 10 points toward that switching supply someone else is offering.

    2) If I knew what I had, I’d never go to radio shack again. I know I have more than a radio shack, especially nowadays.

    Don’t quite know how to take care of 3) though. The inventory system can’t quite share our imagination as a cross-reference guide.

    Nearest I’ve had to this kind of trade-equity is swapping old arcade machine parts. Lots of durable, universal components, such as monitor brackets and metal control panels.

    Always a need, and always an extra.

  6. Neat idea, but the database seems extremely limited. Neither of the first 2 parts I searched for, a DPDT toggle switch or a 2N3904 transistor, were there, and those are both common, standard parts.

  7. @lasttide this isn’t intended to be a compehensive database of components. there are plenty of those: see,, etc.

    what it is intended to be is a way for people to easily list their parts, and share those list with other people. this is a collaborative, community based part lister that happens to have a parts database. :) of course since you looked at it on day #1 there are going to be a few parts missing as we only added the ones that we personally use.

    Zach Hoeken
    thingiverse dev guy

  8. @webmonkees,

    I’m not really talking about “abuse” when I say pack rats will tend to take all they can. What I mean is that I — as a pack rat / collector — seek things that may be valuable to me in the future and that I fear will be not available in the future.

    Here’s a specific example: I saw an adjustable bed on the curbside a few years ago. I spent 20 minutes stripping off the electronics: especially the electric linear actuators that made the thing work. I have no present use for them, although obviously they’re really cool. If I saw them on Craigslist under threat of being thrown away, I would go and get them.

    Because people throw things away so much, how could someone be sure I won’t throw those actuators away? The solution: _they_ should be the guardian of the actuators. And if I were to put up a database for sharing, I fear it will cause a flurry of hoarding that really isn’t necessary.

    I am considering a “requirement” that if you claim something from the collection of another, you can “hold” it for a certain amount of time until you are ready to use it, and you need to convince the current owner that you’re actually going to make something out of it and not just hoard it yourself.

    What I don’t want is what you suggest: a sort of barter currency for parts. The problem with that system is that it requires the non-pack-rat to become one to join the club. I prefer the “my attic is your attic” model, even if it requires a bit more finesse.

    As for what you say about 2, “if I knew what I had, I’d never go to radio shack again.” There are databases available, many for cheap or free. So why have you not inventoried what you have? That’s the rub. I haven’t inventoried everything I have because it’s _hard_ and I believe I know where things are (even though I don’t). Because I’m setting up a business building a couple specific products, I developed an inventory system, but — like most inventory control systems — it works great for when you have 200 widgets and want to be warned when you get down to 50, but it’s terrible when you have exactly 1 of 200 different kinds of things.

    That said, I’m hoping my ReSassy Project will help me get one step closer to my dream. (That project is to take apart my old Civic and figure out where all the parts go.)

    —Jason Olshefsky

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