3 February 2012
Avnet Memec FAE Marc Edwards often helps customers tailor solutions to their technology needs, but one customer’s solution had to fit both technological and cultural requirements.
The small, private company prides itself on bringing products to the table that are made and designed in the U.S.
“The customer’s product was manufactured locally, in their own facility,” Edwards said. “It was important to maintain their product chain, and we wanted to be cognizant of using components and processes that would be compatible.”
The customer began working with Avnet after attending a seminar on one of their microcontroller lines, where 8-bit microcontroller vendors were offering a workshop focused on embedded design.
Local Avnet branches hold these one- to two-day long seminars to focus both existing and potential customers on specific technologies, offering technical information, hands-on labs, new product information and often development kits. Seminars are free or subsidized to attendees, delivering product and technology education from experts without an up-front investment on the customer’s part.
This customer, which makes surge protectors for commercial equipment, had almost no experience with digital electronics and had primarily focused its business on using power analog electronics.
“They make a sophisticated product,” Edwards said, “but they use little to no digital electronics. They came to the seminar to learn more about the manufacturer and how to add more digital electronics and communications to their product to differentiate them from their competitors.”
After meeting with the customer several times to better understand the product, the budget and the company's vision, Edwards and the Avnet sales team were able to identify the right device and present competitive options.
While the new project wouldn’t be the company’s first interaction with digital circuit protection technology, it was the first time this particular group had expanded into a digital and analog integrated interface.
“As with any person, your foundation influences the kind of things you’re trying to do,” Edwards said. “It helped a lot to have the Avnet team available to give them an idea of what’s possible.” The Avnet team helped the customer through the analog world to develop smarter circuit protection technology.
“Originally we were just going to take the data and display it on a small screen, but then we wanted computer connectivity, too,” Edwards said. The product was deployed with power quality, data logging and a wired computer interface.
Edwards, who has been with Avnet for more than four years, utilized a full chain of Avnet’s services to meet the customer’s needs. He not only worked with Avnet’s Memec sales team, which is focused on specialty semiconductor lines, but reached out to the broad line sales team to bring in IP&E suppliers and put together the building block components.
As the customer was new to digital electronics and microcontrollers, programming parts was not a part of the company's usual design flow. Avnet’s programming team stepped in, helping to build aspects, such as serialization, into their product. This allowed them to transition from prototype to production more easily.
“We made sure this customer picked a part that was not only right for the current application, but was with a vendor and a family that could take them years down the road in terms of future projects to build upon this new digital framework,” he said.
The experience not only exposed the customer to new technology, but leveraged that technology to make a truly differentiated product, setting them apart from competitors in that industry and deepening relationships with their end customers.
The project also deepened and integrated their product development process. As the company's end customers recognized the extent of the company's capabilities, they became more involved, suggesting additional features to be included in the next generation.
On the customer’s next generation of product, Avnet has enjoyed a close relationship as the first choice for new solutions.
The next generation will add more advanced power monitoring technology and surface mount technology, which is another new endeavor for the group. They may even add wireless communications to the new product.
“A lot of their competitors aren’t doing this,” Edwards said, “but while they’re innovating and adding features, they have to be careful not to outpace the market in terms of what customers are comfortable with paying. As they roll out ideas to their customers and understand what costs the market will bear to bring some of these new features to the table, they're feeding that information back to Avnet, and we’re able to present solutions that fit into that budget.”
Looking ahead, Avnet will be able to service this customer with both design and supply chain right from their local market. The customer calls a local sales person to place orders, the Avnet local supply chain analyst manages inventory and bonding, and the programming center in Phoenix programs the parts they need.
“It’s a success not only from an engineering standpoint, but as a made-in-America and supported-in-America approach,” Edwards said. “From end to end, we were able to do a lot.”