Many distributors have added design engineering support over the years. Large distributors such as Arrow Electronics Inc. in Melville, NY and Avnet Inc. in Phoenix, have launched design services specifically to attract and keep customers who turn to distributors for help in designing and testing products. Last year, Avnet bought a smaller distributor, Memec, specifically to enhance its offering to the design engineering community.
Yet, even small distributors and catalog distributors are now bolstering their engineering services. This is partly because components and the products they go into have become more complex, but it is also because distributors now compete on more than just price. Support services — in both supply chain and design — have become major differentiators in the distribution industry.
Avnet — Design Resource Center
Avnet recently opened the Design Resource Center. It’s not a place. It’s a virtual set of tools created to help customers design and test products and systems. The goal of the center is to give design engineers streamlined access to design support. The resource center brings together hardware evaluation kits, reference designs and product documentation to speed the design cycle and help customers get new products to market faster. “The Design Resource Center brings multiple technologies together with multiple partners and offers an unbiased solution,” says Marc Gsand, VP of marketing for Avnet’s Semiconductor Business Group. “We brought a lot of software solutions to a place where customers can easily access it.”
Arrow — Collaborative Demand Forecasting
One of Arrow Electronics’ newest services is the collaborative forecasting and replenishment program. The goal of the program is to help customers streamline their inventory flow so it more closely reflects the manufacturer’s actual demand. “In the past, distribution has been just a pipeline of purchase orders with a lot of manual activity, so we didn’t always get great delivery,” says Rob Ende, Arrow’s directory of supply chain optimization. “Now we want to help our customers move to responding to customer demand and a just-in-time inventory model.” Part of the effort is to shorten lead time from six-to-eight weeks down to four weeks. That alone will drive supply levels down. “Any time you plan on less lead time, you’re storing less inventory.”
Digikey — Engineering Support
Digi-Key Corp. of Thief River Falls, MN. lately has enhanced its engineering support for customers calling or e-mailing. “Our engineers work virtually by communicating with our customers by e-mail, phone and fax,” says Steven Tsukichi, VP of marketing. “There is no waiting until a field application engineer can fit you into the schedule.” Tsukichi also notes that Digi-Key’s engineers are supplier agnostic. “Our engineers are specialized by manufacturer and factory trained, but they are not paid commission or given incentives,” says Tsukichi. “Their job is to solve the customer’s design problem regardless of whether it is their manufacturer or not.”