Allied Who? RS Who? DesignSpark What?
If you come from America, you are probably aware of Allied Electronics, but RS Components may not ring a bell. If you hail from Europe or Asia, you've almost undoubtedly run across RS Components, but Allied Electronics may be unknown to you.
Let's take this from the top. Somewhere in the clouds, we have a company known as Electrocomponents PLC. This company boasts more than $2 billion of annual revenue, more than 1 million customers, and operations in more than 30 countries. The two main brands in the Electrocomponents empire are Allied Electronics and RS Components.
Founded in 1928, Allied Electronics distributes products from more than 300 suppliers across North America. RS Components, founded in 1937, distributes products from more than 2,500 suppliers across Europe and the Asia-Pacific region. I cannot tell you how many happy hours I spent rooting through the RS Components catalogue when I was a young engineer in England in the 1980s. Of course, this would have been a print catalogue, because the Internet as we've grown to know and love it wasn't around at that time.
Historically, Allied Electronics tended to be known more for the electrical and electromechanical parts used by machine designers and builders in industrial automation and control applications. RS Components was traditionally associated with electronic components. However, both companies have evolved over the years, and any distinctions between their areas of focus have become increasingly blurred. I now tend to think of these companies as two facets of the same global entity, but we digress.
In 2010, Allied and RS launched an engineering community called DesignSpark, which has grown rapidly and now has more than 250,000 members. Its stated mission is to provide engineering resources and tools and technical support (via forums). Of course, DesignSpark also is helping Allied and RS sell more components, but if that's a byproduct of making engineers' lives easier, I have no problem with this whatsoever.
The first tool offered under the DesignSpark umbrella was DesignSpark PCB. This free, professional-grade, highly intuitive PCB design environment allows you to capture multilayer boards up to one square meter in size. It includes both schematic capture and PCB layout (including an autorouter for those who like that sort of thing).