13 July 2012
Avnet Field Application Engineer (FAE) Ann Worthington said her job can put the “fun” in “functionality.”
That’s what happened with a recent case, when a new customer asked for a full range of solutions for their new product line.
“It’s always fun for us as FAEs to go through these complex designs,” she said. “Each option, each part becomes a puzzle piece, and you have to figure out the best way to put it all together.”
The big picture
The customer — a consumer and industrial electronics company — approached Worthington with a challenge: help us build this product from the ground up.
“With cost and time-to-market critical, they came to us early on, bringing ideas that were still very much in the marketing stages,” Worthington said. It was a small group of engineers from a newly formed engineering group that inherited few previous design versions.
“There were so many things they had that were undefined,” she added, “but they knew a general direction they wanted to pursue.”
Worthington explained that early in the project, they sought to understand all the possibilities and examine existing technologies.
“At that stage, we’re looking at very high-level blocks, giving suggestions for each optional approach and rough estimates of the costs involved,” she said.
The project spanned many different technologies, incorporating, for example, wireless, displays and microprocessors. To present all possible options, Worthington took a look at the Avnet line card to suggest what types of parts and suppliers the customer could select, how each part of the solution would interact with the rest, and what features and software requirements were involved. She then provided a cost estimate for each approach.
Worthington came back with a range of feature options and costs, incorporating WiFi, Bluetooth, segment display and LCD display options, while looking at trade-offs in costs and design complexity.
Narrowing the focus
Once the customer decided on some feature sets based on all of their discussions, “then you start getting into more of the details, looking at actual parts,” she said. “You identify that for this functionality, here’s one manufacturer’s part versus the other, you highlight the pros and cons of each, you highlight the technology or interfaces or ease of use, as well as cost for each part option.”
Once through the design phase, the customer begins to select major components before selecting a supplier.
Worthington pulled in all her resources, from a team focusing on displays to a microprocessor specialist to a wireless and radio frequency specialist. “We get all those people involved as well; we’ve got a virtual design team for them,” she said.
When a supplier has been selected, Worthington can also draw on the manufacturer’s resources, which can yield more detailed information about that specific part.
Putting the pieces together
Thinking especially of wireless protocol options, the customer selected a type of modular-based solution. Incorporating either a WiFi or Bluetooth module provided the flexibility to have differentiated products within their customer base.
“Cost and time-to-market — this customer’s crucial considerations — often conflict,” Worthington said. “The first round of a product might feature a modular setup that costs a bit more but is easier to design with. A lot of them are functionally correct; you just put them in your board and you go.”
In less than a year, Worthington’s Avnet support teams were able to provide programming, supply parts and engage the supply chain with the contract manufacturers to see the customer’s product to full production.
Furthering the relationship
Worthington said the result of the partnership was “first and foremost, that the customer had a working product that they could ship and get to the market.” The customer reached a time-to-market goal and is selling and shipping that product today.
“The next stage, looking forward, will be about cost reductions,” she said. “Now that they have something in the market, they come back to Avnet and say, ‘Based on the modules that are there, what can we do to reduce costs? Instead of using a module, can we design it ourselves?’”
With the crunch for time-to-market softened, a customer has the flexibility to review an existing product portfolio, assess what features have been successful and what cost reduction methods make sense for that specific group of features.
For Worthington, the complex design puzzle was fun to help solve, and with the success of the first product stage, she knows Avnet will get the first phone call for cost-reduced design revisions on the product.
The Avnet advantage
“What we bring to the table is help to a solution,” Worthington said. “The customer may not feel strongly about particular parts by themselves, as long as they have the right features and work well. They just want a solution.”
Engaging Avnet at the beginning of the design process means this customer received a fully tailored solution with help from Avnet experts.
Avnet also serves as a central point of contact for customers – one place where they can go to get information about hundreds of their suppliers. That can be a huge value, considering customers’ limited resources in purchasing and supply chain departments.
This advantage became a central focus in the last few years, with recent natural disasters, such as the earthquake in Japan and flooding in Thailand. Avnet is able to act as an interface with customers and numerous suppliers that may have been impacted by natural disasters, helping to identify possible supply chain casualties and alternatives.
Leveraging Avnet resources, a customer receives information from all of their Avnet suppliers to understand the impact of supply chain disruptions and seek solutions.
Avnet’s resources from early design phases through manufacturing, supply chain and shipping help to bridge the gap between Avnet’s customers, suppliers and the end markets they serve.
By Rebecca Jones, contributing writer