Distribution world – A big hand from the supporters

Distribution world – A big hand from the supportersDistributors are branching out into all areas of support in the design process through concept to device selection. Distribution World talks to some of the companies that are tackling this task….by Mick Elliott
Engineers in need of design and technical support, don’t worry, succour is at hand. Distributors will be queueing up to solve your problems. They don’t even mind how big those problems are (though that may well depend on the size of your requirement). They will get involved anywhere in your design process from concept through to the device selection.
Some are becoming design consultants to meet your requirements and it must be said those of their suppliers.
The impetus comes from suppliers moving bigger customers into the distribution channel and, following on from that, distributors these days don’t just meet demand – “we have to create demand,” concurs Chris McAneny, managing director of Arrow Product Services which encompasses the world number one distributor’s design and technical support.
Following on from its recent reorganisation Arrow has taken an interesting approach to design services.
It has segmented its product portfolio to address differing demands from both customers and suppliers.
Each will attract a high level of design support from Arrow’s field applications engineering force; the further up the complexity chain the more intense that support will be.
Arrow’s matrix has differentiator products and architectural products.
“In the first case it can make a difference to a customer’s design, in the second it is significantly different to make the customer’s design proprietary,” McAneny explains.
The investment is relatively high in the first category where the strategy may be industry application driven.
For proprietary products, the investment is high, no question.
“We are seeking to influence the design, and that means software and hardware implementation plus the support tools,” McAneny explains.
McAneny is even looking at a super architecture segment containing custom ASICs.
To add a touch more zest to proceedings Arrow has established two modules within Arrow Design Services which focus on specific companies.
One four strong team solely responsible for designing in Altera products was established last year.
A new team will focus on the Texas Instruments digital signal processor (DSP)devices.
McAneny foresees at least two more such modules being established around architectural products and both with one of the acknowledged market leaders .
He acknowledges all these strategies represent a significant investment. “We have a field application engineering force of 54 people.”
The modules plan will however be supported by the suppliers.Support of this kind has long been sought by distributors. The engineering investment while crucial to sales can sap margin. Charging for such support is not on many distributor’s radar at present.
One industry giant will buck this trend.
Avnet Design Services was established last year by Avnet Inc. ASIC designs are already under way.
According to Brian Hilton, president of Avnet EMG’s operations in Europe and Asia/Pacific, “Customers can outsource their product design to us.”
Hilton is clear about his company’s strategy.
“The first goal is to generate the most cost-effective solution for the customer,” he emphasises.
Hilton and Arrow’s McAneny recognise this brings distribution into the design game much earlier.
“We are now engaging with customer’s at the concept stage,” they agree.
This marks a new turning for broadline distribution.
Talk to the narrow line focused distributors and they can be dismissive about the broadliners ability to support technical solutions.
Arrow, Avnet, Veba Electronics, Future, SEI and their broadline cohorts would disagree.
They see an enormous opportunity in technical support, not least because of the resource they can bring to bear.
Russell Webb, north Europe distribution manager for Fujitsu Microelectronics has been tracking an increased commitment into technical support from distribution.
“Of course we the suppliers all want more support and focus on our own products.”
He cites EBV’s team of “super FAEs” who take charge of a specific product technology like RF devices or ASICs and hunt down prospective users.
“It is creating demand for our products and can give us successful design wins,” he adds.
Nick Lidington, general manager at Tekelec Sequoia Europe is clear about the need for top class design support in distribution.
“One it will continue to grow as a requirement . Two, it will sort out the men from the boys. Three, design is what we do. There is a continuous and growing stream of products appearing and all are getting more complex.”
He cites as an example DSP and GPS products which are becoming increasingly more difficult for design engineers.
“They need assistance with the application of these devices.”
“We have the collective ability to take those products to our customers.”
“Design-in as a practice is growing in distribution. We think we have suppliers and products which influence the design of our customer’s products,”
Sandeep Ram , Tekelec Sequoia’s marketing manager points to “a unique brand of engineering support. We see the project through. Recently we undertook a complete design for a customer and then took on all the engineering tests, including in-circuit, emc and pcb board functions.”
Lidington feels Tekelec Sequoia’s strategy brings them closer to suppliers. “They know we work closely with customers on upcoming project so the suppliers are happy to share product road maps with us. We have a number of NDAs (non disclosure agreements) with suppliers at any one time.”
SEI-Macro marketing director Jacqui Ellmore sees the product design-in stage predominant in her company’s technical engagements.
But she points out, “The first contact gets you into another project where support will start earlier in the design stage.”
Her experience is that most OEM and other customers have an idea of the device they require.
“What they really want is some impartial advice.”
The SEI/Macro FAE team is focused on specific product families, for example MCUs, DSPs, FPGAs.
Like all distributors, SEI Macro is pondering the cost of such support.
“Do we charge?”Ellmore remarks. “No we don’t, that’s not to say we would not like to.”
Avnet Design Services consultancy services which is concept design oriented will charge in some circumstances. The company does not charge for product design-in advice.
Also Avnet, SEI Macro and other companies with a broader product range may look to recoup its investment by supplying other devices to customers.
Ellmore has 17 design engineers in the SEI/Macro team. They cover a customer base which ranges from OEMs, sometimes with a partnering contract electronics manufacturer in tow to the more traditional small to medium size enterprise (SME).
Some will argue that focus is more important than size.
Mike Carlucci is managing director of Azzurri Technology, a one year old start up which has three suppliers – NEC, Dallas Semiconductor and Clear Logic, an IDT-backed business , which produces drop-in alternative to Altera FPGAs.
“Our suppliers don’t have a share of mind problem with us. We are dedicated to getting their parts designed in.”
Another specialist Coventry-based DTElectronics is taking a different approach.
“Our experience is in broadcast and telecommunications, and we argue we are better placed than many to help design engineers in those sectors,” Tony Frere, managing director of DT explains.
The passive and interconnect community have different agendas
Richard Curley, European distribution manager for capacitor maker Kemet concedes design-in is not so crucial but does not pooh -pooh technical support for his company’s products.
“If for instance there is an opportunity for a Kemet product in say a power related device we want the distributors engineer to understand that and win the socket for us.”
Martin Ford, marketing director at distributor SEI/Nortronic agrees. “We have to make customers aware of the technical innovations coming into the market,” he says.
“Device performance may not change but packaging and size is important for design engineers.”
Arrow will have two design engineers committed to then interconnect products.
“There are enough technical issues in interconnect for them to address,” asserts Chris McAneny.
Ford agrees, citing surface mount technology as an issue for customers used top using more conventionally mounted connectors.

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