14 November 2011
Avnet Field Application Engineer Sean MacGregor had a lot to prove in a chance meeting with one customer, whose business was done primarily through a competing distributor.
When the customer happened to mention a challenging design they were pursuing, MacGregor said, “I have something that can help you with that.”
The customer’s design was a high-speed data acquisition board, going to an FPGA. They needed a PCI Express routed to a backplane and an interface to high-speed DDR DRAM. The Xilinx Virtex-5 reference design proved to be the perfect fit, with a PCI Express and a SODIMM module already designed in.
“Their whole design, basically, could be done based on what we had,” MacGregor said. “I ran outside to my car, got the reference kit, came back in and showed it to them.”
Grappling with a new architecture
While the customer was working on a tough design, Avnet had already put together a reference design that met their needs. Avnet also released all the schematics and source code, so customers can use either the reference design board or download the design to make their own board.
Although Avnet was able to displace the competitor’s solution, the reference design wasn’t solely responsible for the win. After all, switching components is non-trivial and can mean all new procedures and tooling – a risk for the customer.
It turns out that MacGregor himself was a key part of the solution: He had worked with Xilinx FPGAs for 15 years as a design engineer, and he was able to provide hands-on support for Virtex-5 FPGAs.
"I would say that I understood – engineer to engineer — exactly what they were asking for," MacGregor said.
There were other factors involved in this success: Along with the reference design kit and MacGregor's expertise, Avnet offered the support and expertise of its engineers, who actually made the reference design. This cooperation would give the customer a first-hand look at how Avnet Design Centers learn about a supplier’s part before it’s released, incorporating that knowledge into reference designs and their support.
Avnet was also able to bundle the kit with a third-party product, an IP core from Northwest Logic, which helps accelerate the PCI Express channel. Avnet's breadth and size allowed the customer to design in a key core at a lower cost because of economies of scale.
The combination of all these factors enabled the customer to market faster.
It’s no surprise that because of Avnet’s design engineering advantage, the customer’s business with the distribution competitor has almost been entirely displaced. “It hasn’t tipped, but it isn’t totally lopsided now,” MacGregor said.
For MacGregor, it was a chance opportunity. “This particular customer was on the outside looking in, working with an Avnet competitor,” he said. “They agreed to see us and mentioned what they were working on, and the reference design had just come out. The timing just worked out well.”
Louis Copley, Avent district manager, notes that the company's biggest success was in changing the position of Avent and the customer "on value by providing value."
–Rebecca Jones, contributing writer