Tim BarberTo achieve true product differentiation in today’s ultra competitive global electronics market, OEM designers must go beyond smaller, faster, cheaper and take a more holistic approach to new product development. Though the Internet age has made component information more accessible than ever, wading through the mass of data sheets, application notes and marketing hype can be overwhelming. Few engineers have either the time or interest to participate in technology “commercials” disguised as technical training. At Avnet Electronics Marketing, we get that. “Accelerating Your Success” is more than just our tagline, but the core of our customer training philosophy as well. So, when a customer commits their time to us, we promise they are going to get more than just marketing jargon.

Bundle Up
The unique benefit distributors like Avnet bring to our customers is the ability to offer an independent forum to look at today’s most in-demand technology across multiple suppliers. Avnet pioneered this approach with our X-fest global technical seminar series. Though first conceived as a training vehicle for Xilinx FPGA product families, Avnet expanded the this program in 2007 in response to customer demand for more bundled technology solutions. Now, this global program provides engineers with an opportunity to not only learn about the latest FPGA advancements from Xilinx, but allows affords them unparalleled access to the vast ecosystem of vendors whose products complement and expand the Xilinx FPGA platform design possibilities. More than 5,500 engineers across North America, Europe, Asia and Japan benefited from this unique program in 2009-2010.

The overwhelming response to X-fest and the obvious appetite for deep-dive solutions training within the global design community prompted Avnet to explore like opportunities within other technology segments. Customers across the broad range of high growth markets that we support told us they need low-power high performance processing solutions. As a result, Avnet has launched a new Design Strategies for ARM Systems seminar series co-sponsored by ARM. The program will teach customers how to deploy ARM-based solutions to solve real world design challenges such as the need to enable “always available, always connected” power without sacrificing battery life. Other hands-on workshops will demonstrate new ways to integrate ARM technology into designs using supporting technologies from world-class technology providers, including Atmel, Freescale Semiconductor, Marvell, STMicroelectronics, Xilinx and Microsoft.

Building Blocks
Not only do these intensive training programs help engineers quickly overcome the learning curve of supplier’s new products in a system level environment, but attendees also have the added benefit of starting their designs with a real-world reference designs created and supported by Avnet. Often customers will integrate one of these design platforms - complete with operating systems and implementation-specific board support package - and integrate it into their product, allowing them to skip the building block stage of development and focus on their IP and product differentiation.

Interestingly enough, it has not only been members of the global design community who have expressed interest in more of these types of training events, but suppliers as well. Component manufacturers recognize that customers are building systems that use a variety of products and distributors like Avnet can help to bring those elements together in ways that a single supplier cannot.

Maximum Impact
Another differentiator in Avnet’s approach to customer training is our emphasis on software integration. As devices become more complex, software expertise is needed to unlock the true performance capabilities of a solution. Yet, software design remains one of the biggest knowledge gaps among OEM engineers.

To help our customers bridge that gap, Avnet continues to build a network of leading software providers, including Microsoft and our latest partnership with embedded software specialist RidgeRun. RidgeRun developed a real time operating system (RTOS) for our most recent FPGA-based co-processing Speedway workshop which featured TI’s dual-core DSP + ARM OMAP-L138 processors, Xilinx Spartan-6 FPGAs and Simulink model-based design tools from The Mathworks. RTOS, along with connectivity and audio/video codex, are the three most common software solutions that customers are looking for today. We are currently focusing our software solutions deliverables around these areas.

It’s also important to recognize that engineers’ needs are not one size fits all, so training cannot be either. Avnet is committed to satisfying the full range of our customers’ educational requirements through our diverse slate of on-site, off-site and web-based training opportunities.

Self Serve
For those customers who do not have the time or resources to travel for product/technology training, the web can be a very effective and time-efficient way to deliver various types of technical information and educational resources. Avnet’s online solutions provide users with access to hundreds of on-demand training videos and demonstrations, as well as technical webcasts and our Behind the Wheel product overviews featuring development tools from Avnet and/or our suppliers. The beauty of these resources is that they are available 24x7, so they can be viewed when it is convenient for the customer.

We also offer dedicated websites for design engineers focusing on emerging technologies, such as USB 3.0 or SuperSpeed USB. Our newly-launched USB3 site features the latest products, news and best-practices for designing with this emerging technology including design guides and access to pricing and availability of Avnet’s entire line of USB 3.0 products.

First in Line
Today’s OEM designers are clearly struggling with the demand to do more with less, and while everyone wants to be on the leading edge of new-technology adoption, many customers are wary of the pitfalls being the first one on the bandwagon. There is no room for trial and error in our industry. Fortunately, Avnet customers don’t have to go it alone. One of the biggest advantages we bring to the customer base is the benefit of the respect we have earned from our suppliers, not just from a business perspective, but on the technical front as well. Suppliers recognize the value of our technical expertise. They train our technical team exactly as they do their own internal staff and include us in their new product planning and introduction. When they bring a new technology to market, we have the development kits, training and software solutions all ready to mobilize to support our customer base the very first day a new technology is introduced.

How big a competitive edge can this create for Avnet customers? A customer in the medical electronics market recently shared the following experience with us: After being trained by Avnet FAEs, the customer was able to integrate a newly-released Avnet video design into their product and get a working prototype done in just 30 days – virtually unheard of in this field. The customer estimated Avnet’s support saved them at least 60 days of design time. Imagine what this kind of head start could do for your next product launch!