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I think I've seen questions saying something like "how can it be possible that the price for this one-off, fully assembled, and hopefully tested, unit/module/... is less than I can buy the key part alone in 1000/10,000 off bulk?"

I am not a long time member, and I don't read every question, but I think it seems to pop up every few weeks that I notice. Here is an example of the 'genre', though this might disappear.

Sometimes people start to answer, though AFAICT, it gets closed as off-topic relatively quickly. I understand that to professional engineers, it is off topic. However, to some newbies, especially young people who may have a simpler understanding of manufacturing economics (or counterfeiting) , it may seem like a legitimate, helpful question to ask of professional EEs.

It feels like a 'closed, duplicate', with a link to a good 'standard' answer might be a more helpful way to deal with them than 'closed, off topic'

I have seen some extremely helpful questions, posed and answered by some of the community. I don't feel experienced and authoritative enough to do an adequate job myself.

So I am asking, is their a process intended to create one 'standard' answer that 'sweeps up' most of the issues? Or is the general view that answering this sort of off-topic question 'only encourages more', and so 'shouldn't be entertained'? Or something else?

Edit:
I think the scope of an answer might include simple market economics, fraud, over supply, dumping, clearing obsolete inventory, sub-standard parts, unlicensed knock-offs, potential lack of continuity of supply, maybe 'sweat-shop labour' etc.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ While I myself am for providing such canonical answer, one issue with it is that at one point a decision was made not to answer questions related to shopping on StackExchange websites. \$\endgroup\$ – AndrejaKo Oct 12 '15 at 17:10
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    \$\begingroup\$ @AndrejaKo - I have no problem with not answering shopping questions. That seems like a very sane idea. However, I don't feel that a generic answer would actually be an answer to, what I think of as, a shopping question. It think it would be more about economics, fraud, over supply, dumping, clearing obsolete inventory, sub-standard parts, unlicensed knock-offs, potential lack of continuity of supply, maybe 'sweat-shop labour' etc. \$\endgroup\$ – gbulmer Oct 12 '15 at 17:21
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    \$\begingroup\$ Shopping question: where do I buy X, for price Y, or what item does Z. The last one being more case by case because we have no issue with "how do I do Z" when the answer is use item ZZ. This is clearly not a shopping question as defined by the faq. \$\endgroup\$ – Passerby Oct 12 '15 at 19:55
  • \$\begingroup\$ I'm in favor of a standard answer to this type of question without getting into any price comparisons, cheap-venue suggestions etc. Perhaps there are some good (external) articles we can link to regarding price negotiations etc. that take place in the industry. \$\endgroup\$ – Fizz Oct 12 '15 at 20:24
  • \$\begingroup\$ @RespawnedFluff - Yes, an external article would be fine. \$\endgroup\$ – gbulmer Oct 12 '15 at 22:57
  • \$\begingroup\$ Related electronics.stackexchange.com/questions/80872/… \$\endgroup\$ – Passerby Oct 12 '15 at 23:37
  • \$\begingroup\$ How someone can supply something for peanuts is not a valid EE question. \$\endgroup\$ – Andy aka Oct 13 '15 at 10:15
  • \$\begingroup\$ Read the Wikipedia article about Milo Miderbinder, a character in the book "Catch 22". He buys eggs at 1 cent, and sells them at various inflated prices. Sells to local market at 4 1/2 cents, where they sell to the public at 7 cents. Also sells to military at 5 cents. Nobody understands how he is making a profit on eggs that "cost" 7 cents. \$\endgroup\$ – Alan Campbell Oct 13 '15 at 11:27
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Passerby - yes, that is definitely part of an answer. \$\endgroup\$ – gbulmer Oct 13 '15 at 13:51
  • \$\begingroup\$ @AlanCampbell - I last read Catch-22 more than 30 years ago, but I do remember Milo. I think the character is bit too satirical, and somewhat likeable through much of the book, to be an easy to assimilate reference, especially for non-English readers. But thanks for reminding me; as is often the case, the book was better than the movie, though I did like the movie. \$\endgroup\$ – gbulmer Oct 13 '15 at 13:57
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Andyaka - Normally, I would bow to your superior knowledge. However, I don't think the questions are as open ended, or naive as "How someone can supply something for peanuts". I think it is more about manufacturing economics etc. (as I wrote in my question). So, for example, Passerby's electronics.stackexchange.com/questions/80872/… covers a chunk of it. I teach young people. I get these sort of question, which seem valid. Maybe it's simple. An answer with a few links to existing questions and the answer; I can't find one source so far \$\endgroup\$ – gbulmer Oct 13 '15 at 14:07
  • \$\begingroup\$ @gbulmer: Found something decent: ebnonline.com/author.asp?section_id=3758 \$\endgroup\$ – Fizz Oct 13 '15 at 23:10
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The linked question is NOT about shopping, buying, or purchasing recommendations.

It is about electronic engineering, one dimension of which is managing cost.

How you can reduce the cost of a product with one relatively expensive component is an entirely legitimate concern, though there are more factors to the answer than engineering.

It attracted a couple of answers that covered one or two relevant points including the possibility of counterfeit components but left most of the ground of process engineering and marginal costs, or the mechanics of a low cost business, uncovered.

And it was closed before I (and no doubt others) had a chance to answer.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I agree. It's not a shopping question and is on-topic, but it may fool the rather impatient reviewer. It's open again, by the way. Have at it before it's closed again :D \$\endgroup\$ – Ricardo Oct 13 '15 at 11:20
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    \$\begingroup\$ The problem with this is reasoning is that you are inflating the scope of the site. By saying "it is part of electronic engineering" you suddenly make everything on topic, including: comparing different vendors, comparing prices, discussing lead time and availability of components, discussing road maps etc etc. Or to the extreme: things like project management, version control, quality management, workplace issues, career advise... This site already suffers from a very broad scope without that. I think that the only questions that should be on topic are those that are directly technical. \$\endgroup\$ – Lundin Oct 13 '15 at 14:42
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    \$\begingroup\$ Managing cost is part of everyday life for EEs, supermarket shoppers, mechanical engineers, rocket scientists, estate agents, pimps (LOL), economists, charities, petrochem companies etc etc.. Why call it an EE thing when it is a basic in all walks of life? By at 3, sell at 5. You don't have to be an EE to understand this. \$\endgroup\$ – Andy aka Oct 13 '15 at 14:44
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    \$\begingroup\$ It is a question about buying. Why should it be suddenly ontopic just because it is about buying a part that we might be interested in? It is the same principle everywhere, no matter what it is that you buy and/or manufacture. Pants, desks, gravel, wine, etc. so the most appropriate site would probably be money.SE \$\endgroup\$ – PlasmaHH Oct 13 '15 at 15:38
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    \$\begingroup\$ @PlasmaHH - no it is explicitly a "how do you (OK they) cut manufacturing costs" not a "where and what to buy" question. The actual part or what it does is irrelevant to the question. Knowing something about the economics and costs can potentially help you design cheaper products - or at least understand why someone else can. \$\endgroup\$ – Brian Drummond Oct 13 '15 at 16:29
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Lundin : that is a good point and a separate issue. I would suggest quality management very well could be on topic - we have had good and useful questions like "I made a thousand of these, and 30 had the same failure, how could I eliminate that failure?" but your other subjects .... OK, workplace already has its own SE ... yes there's room to argue they would widen it too much. \$\endgroup\$ – Brian Drummond Oct 13 '15 at 16:34
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I agree with Brian, the underlying question is absolutely part of engineering. But questions about how to purchase any particular component are off-topic.

The best way to make this happen is for somebody (maybe you, OP), to post a question that will get to the right answer without breaking the rules. That would mean asking the general question instead of asking about some particular product. And also narrowing down the question so it isn't asking for opinions or asking for a book on product sourcing and manufacturing.

It's even okay to ask a question and then provide an answer yourself, if you think you have a good one.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ The underlying question is part of engineering and is common to probably all types of engineering (and much much more) therefore it isn't special to EE and this makes it off-topic in my book. \$\endgroup\$ – Andy aka Oct 13 '15 at 16:35
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Andyaka, control theory questions are also relevant in other engineering disciplines, but we accept those. Why is this different? \$\endgroup\$ – The Photon Oct 13 '15 at 16:38
  • \$\begingroup\$ Two wrongs don't make a right. If the control theory question had no relevance to EE then it should be closed. Don't expect me to be embarrassed if you can find one that I have answered though!! \$\endgroup\$ – Andy aka Oct 13 '15 at 16:40
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Andyaka, A control theory question can be relevant to both EE and other engineering disciplines. If the asker wants an answer from an EE perspective, they should ask on ee.se. Same with a source selection question. Same with a thermodynamics question. Same with a programming question. Same with a Verilog/VHDL question. etc. etc. There's lots of overlap between EE and other engineering disciplines, but that doesn't mean that questions in the overlap area shouldn't be asked on ee.se. \$\endgroup\$ – The Photon Oct 13 '15 at 16:50
  • \$\begingroup\$ Yeah I know that but shopping and economics is much wider than engineering. \$\endgroup\$ – Andy aka Oct 13 '15 at 16:53
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Andyaka, so is physics, but we allow some questions that could also be answered by physicists. And certain aspects of the economics of buying electronic components are specific to electronic components. Like where are the costs (materials, manufacutring process, or test) for a certain type of product. Or whether a certain type of product is batch processed or continuously processed, etc. \$\endgroup\$ – The Photon Oct 13 '15 at 17:03
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Such questions are explicitly off topic, as per the help pages.

it is not about …

  • a shopping or buying recommendation

The proper action is therefore to close/flag the question for being off topic.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I agree with @Brian Drummond, and others, that it isn't as mundane, specific, or transient as a shopping question. It is, at the least, about Engineering, and proper supply management. \$\endgroup\$ – gbulmer Oct 13 '15 at 14:13
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    \$\begingroup\$ Funny, your sole question asked is a product recommendation, and multiple answers by you are shopping recommendations. \$\endgroup\$ – Passerby Oct 13 '15 at 15:58
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Passerby You haven't managed to find a single such answer by me. Link them? Oh you can't? Turns out you are just lying? Also, I thought picking some user on meta who's opinion you don't agree with, and then go hunt through all their posts looking for things to downvote is a bannable offence on all Stack Exchange sites? \$\endgroup\$ – Lundin Oct 14 '15 at 6:24
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    \$\begingroup\$ The question does not "recommend" ebay / ali / etc. It merely asks why / how they sell modules, for less than the manufacturer's published "bulk cost". \$\endgroup\$ – Alan Campbell Oct 14 '15 at 23:35

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