Distributors Take “Solutions” To The Next Level With Education

May 18, 2012
As electronics distributors heighten their “total solutions” offerings, training and education are quickly moving to the top of their value-added services list.

Distributors have long moved beyond being simple box movers to become service and solution providers for design engineers around the world. As that trend continues, most distributors are finding their role as educators taking on an even more prominent position in the supply chain, and they are adding services, expertise, and innovative programs to keep up with demand for total solutions-based customer training.

Gone are the days of training on a particular product or single piece of technology, say many industry experts. Instead, design engineers are demanding end-to-end solutions, encompassing everything from software to processing to communications training. The idea, says Avnet Electronics Marketing Americas’ Tim Barber, is to provide applications-based solutions that help design engineers embrace the newest products and technologies to address their particular needs. It’s about becoming the go-to source for all the information an engineer needs to tackle new projects.

“If we come in and we talk to them about a single part, we’re really not bringing them much value,” says Barber, Avnet EM’s senior vice president, global design chain business development. “But if we can come in and talk about an end-to-end solution, then we really bring them some value.”

This year’s SourceESB Top 50 Distributors are focused on providing a variety of training options for customers, and most have multi-pronged approaches (see “Top 50 Electronics Distributors 2012: In a Softening Market, Leading Companies Invest and Innovate"). Newsletters, new product and technology videos, live events, online seminars, and a host of technical and design resources are common offerings. Combining these formats is yet another way to meet customers’ growing need for total solutions. As one example, Barber points to the blending of workshops, all-day training, and introductory videos depending on customer needs.

“We have different approaches,” he says, pointing to the distributor’s one-hour “lunch and learn” programs, full-day “Speedway” hands-on training, and its “behind the wheel” interactive online product and technology demonstrations. “It really depends on what the supplier wants to accomplish, the customers’ needs, and the complexity of the product.”

Hanging over all of this is the lightning speed at which electronics technology is moving—especially when it comes to semiconductor technology. Barber points to advances in LED technology as one example.

“The biggest thing we’re seeing is, based on the products, [many end users] are adopting semiconductor technology they’ve not seen or used before,” says Barber, noting that distributors are increasingly filling the role of educator in these situations, helping those customers understand how to design the best light possible, for example. A further challenge is the need to educate a growing range of design engineers with expanding job responsibilities.

“That could require simpler training for the new designer all the way to the high-end [designer] that wants to go to the next level,” says Barber. “We want to make sure we cover the whole gamut.”

Future Electronics’ executive vice president Lindsley Ruth agrees that customers’ education needs are changing, and he points additionally to supply chain issues. Particularly as product lifecycles shorten, distributors are challenged to deal with more and more forecast and technology changes. Educating customers on those issues is a crucial part of the distributor’s role in the supply chain, he says.

“We can deal with that by having more inventory for customers and also by making sure we have the best trained engineering force,” says Ruth. “Also, when we sit down with a customer, we don’t just talk about part numbers. We want to be their consultant when it comes to the supply chain, making sure they see us as an extension of their company.”

Barber points to product obsolescence as a similar issue, noting the growing need for training on how to deal with those kinds of product lifecycle issues. As one example, designing for manufacturability is on the agenda for X-Fest 2012, a technical seminar series Avnet hosts in conjunction with Xilinx Inc. The series of free, day-long seminars began in April and will be offered in 22 cities around the world. The series offers a solutions-based approach to design engineering challenges for FPGA and embedded designers.

The 2012 X-Fest is built around the Xilinx7-series and Zynq-7000 solutions. The series is in its fifteenth year, and Barber emphasizes its focus as a “deep-dive training event” and not a marketing event.

Offering these kinds of resources is at the heart of what Avnet and other top distributors view as their key mission in such a fast-paced industry—and one they hope will endear them to more and more customers around the world.

“We look at [training] as one of the biggest value-adds that we bring to the market,” says Barber. “This is one of the biggest value adds for our customers and our suppliers.”

Training On Tap From Top Distributors

Here’s a sampling of upcoming training and education events from some of this year’s Top 50 distributors.

Arrow DSP Solutions Forum
Free event sponsored by Arrow Electronics
May 1 to June 7, 2012
Chicago, Dallas, Boston, Baltimore, San Jose, Los Angeles

X-Fest 2012
Free events hosted by Avnet Electronic Marketing Americas and Xilinx
Beginning April 1, 2012
Various cities in North America, Europe and Asia

element14 Design Flow Series
Webinar series

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About the Author

Victoria Fraza Kickham | Distribution Editor

Victoria Kickham is the distribution editor for Electronic Design magazine, SourceESB and GlobalPurchasing.com, where she covers issues related to the electronics supply chain. Victoria started out as a general assignment reporter for several Boston-area newspapers before joining Industrial Distribution magazine, where she spent 14 years covering industrial markets. She served as ID’s managing editor from 2000 to 2010. Victoria has a bachelor’s degree in English from the University of New Hampshire and a master’s degree in English from Northeastern University.