It isn’t easy to be an engineer these days. You have to be on top of rapidly-developing technology while creating devices and systems with the latest in functionality and integration. At the same time, you also have to ensure that your design has cost-effective manufacturability, keeping in mind component alternatives and supply-chain vagaries. Designers are forced to wear more hats in their organizations as well, often dealing with procurement and production in addition to their other duties. What’s an engineer to do?
One resource that has always been there for the engineer is the electronic component distributor. The middleman in the equation since the electronics industry began, the role of the distributor has grown and developed with the industry it serves. Just providing parts doesn’t cut it any longer in the new industry reality, and you the engineer should take advantage of that fact and use the impressive array of value-added services today’s distributor offers.
One of the most obvious value-adds provided to the electronics engineer by the distributor are design services of one kind or another. Distributors such as Arrow, Allied, Avnet, Future, and Digi-Key can work with you from concept to completion, providing not only design support with their staff engineers but also with online tools.
Reference designs and white papers are another design resource provided by distributors on their websites, often allowing the engineer to order the parts involved directly. Some sites, like Newark’s Element14 and Avnet Technical Forums allow you to collaborate with fellow engineers online in a community environment. Development kits are yet another way you can get help from your distributor, and some also make their own as well to support devices created by the manufacturers they serve.
Some distributors even offer matchmaking between their customers, pairing like-minded companies with complementary technologies with one another to develop new products. This is often provided in conjunction with staff engineering support as intermediaries and design consultants. Services like creating ASIC or FPGA designs with foundry support can also be found at distributors such as Arrow Electronics and Digi-Key.
At the end of the day, of course, the primary function of the distributor is to provide products at a good price with timely delivery. To aid this function, distributors like Allied and Mouser offer real-time online lookup of component availability with integrated ordering and tracking in several languages. Of course no parts site would be complete without spec-sheet lookup and lists of related products and support materials, and most distributors offer that functionality as well.
Distributors like Digi-Key, Arrow Electronics, Newark, and Mouser provide their customers custom variations of parts such as batteries and cables, often providing complete subsystems to the engineer’s specific requirements. Chip and crystal programming, BOM evaluation, and kitting are all services you can find. For good or ill, today’s engineer must also be a businessperson, and today’s distributor can also help you manage your parts supply chain to ensure cost-effective manufacturability of your design. Some distributors will also allow you to upload your BOM directly into their site and see all parts availability at once.
Training and reference
We all know the value of white papers, reference designs, and application notes. Distributors like Digi-Key, Mouser, and Avnet offer not only papers but also training modules provided by the manufacturer but also created by the distributor to aid the engineer. Online tools such as those provided by Future Lighting Solutions also provide information like product lifetime and usable light from LED designs, for example. Webinars, live training sessions, classes at industry trade shows, and hands-on assistance from staff field engineers are other ways distributors provide support.
This has been a short overview on the many services your distributor can offer. We’ve given some examples of distributors in each case, but check with yours to find out what they can do for you!
Future Lighting Solutions: www.futurelightingsolutions.com
Arrow Electronics: www.arrownac.com