Designs, Decisions & Dollars

When was the last time you were looking for something and finally gave up the search after visiting too many stores or Websites?

For me, it was earlier this summer. I was searching for a leather repair kit that was advertised on TV (you know the type — it's only $19.99 and if you order now, they double your order). I did an online search first, and a number of stores claimed they carried this kit. Five stores — retail, hardware, auto repair, overstock, furniture — and 30 miles later, I gave up and decided to live with a crack in my leather furniture.

Had I found this kit, it would have resulted in a sale and possibly my undying loyalty for life. (I finally did find a kit in an obscure store that carries last year's everything.) Multiply this experience by however many line items you have in your bill of material, and there's a lot of potential for lost sales.

Design engineers bump up against the same problem all the time, according to research conducted by Technology Forecasters Inc. for element14. The most difficult data to find, engineers say, is detailed and highly specialized information, including reference designs; applications notes and technical papers; simulation models; and component pricing and availability. Additionally, says the report:

Engineers also cited performance failure rates and component lifecycle data as particularly difficult to ascertain from any source. Compounding this difficulty is the lack of consolidated online tools and databases that enable engineers to quickly locate and compare more specialized technical information, as well as a lack of standards across component manufacturers in how technical data is recorded and presented to the engineering community.

There are plenty of online tools to help engineers sift through data. But even those have shortcomings, according to the report. The top three:

  • The inability to easily compare component and design options
  • The difficulty of staying on top of quickly changing regulatory laws by country
  • Limited access to all available data sources, such as those that require a fee.

Theoretically, my online search for leather kits should have saved me time. Instead, I went to a bunch of stores that advertised they carried the kits, but actually didn't. I also spent hours in my car.

I'm not sure there is any site or organization that would have simplified my search for a highly specialized repair product. Within the electronics supply chain, though, distributors are trying to assist designers in culling reams of data. Distributors have been working with suppliers for decades to get the most up to date components information available, including pricing, availability, and end-of-life roadmaps. The channel, in turn, is trying to provide that information to customers in a meaningful way.

Next Friday, EBN will be taking a look at how distributors are doing this in a Webinar. Our panel includes a distributor, a supplier, and an embedded software company. Please join us — it's only an hour, and it may help save you time in the future.

22 comments on “Designs, Decisions & Dollars

  1. AnalyzeThis
    September 23, 2011

    Barbara, I do agree that design engineers waste a lot of time trying to find reference material and component information. And comparing different options head-to-head often seems like an impossibility due to the varying quality of information available.

    Like you say, I'm not sure if there's any specific site or organization that could solve all these issues. This is a very common problem, however, and while some distributors are making great strides in making useful information available in an easier-to-find way, there is still a lot of work to be done: even if one does find the information they need, they often need to go elsewhere to finish the job.

    But since I can't claim to be fully informed as to what's going on in this space — especially from the perspective of people outside of my profession — I think a Webinar is a great idea!

    And I hope you're eventually able to fix that furniture!

  2. _hm
    September 23, 2011

    Yes, this is very true. This more true when looking for speciality application like military application or high temperature parts. We do loose our sleep for few weeks until we get suitable parts. After locating this parts, it is very difficult to get parts and its literature. That is life of design engineer but it is very good.


  3. t.alex
    September 24, 2011

    Isn't it time to build up a very smart search engine dedicated these problems?

  4. prabhakar_deosthali
    September 24, 2011

    Most of this knowledge about the reference designs, parts availability , literature is lying with all of us – the design engineers . It may be a good idea to form an on line forum where all of us can exchange this knowledge. Together a repository can be created which can be shared among all of us the design engineers. Do share that hardearned knowledge with your peers and make your own task easier.

  5. Kunmi
    September 24, 2011

    Barbara, Sorry for your frustration. With regards to your concern:” I'm not sure there is any site or organization that would have simplified my search for a highly specialized repair product” It would have been better to have such a resource that can make our lives easier but have you ever though that some of these manufacturers may not want you to have all the information on the table? At times in adverts, they will tell you that you can only order on TV and that the product is not in the store or any other place. I will consider some of these as marketing strategies but at times odding the information may hurt in return.

  6. Kunmi
    September 24, 2011

    If any of the available search engines can pick up this loop hole and resolve it, it will draw many of the end users. I am sure Barbara, the author of this article will be one of the most happiest person.

  7. t.alex
    September 24, 2011

    An online discussion forum is a great idea. I believe there are many of such forums available (eetimes is a great place). With a forum, people will respond to the questions. I believe what we need is even more intelligent system which can analyzes and aggregrate all the design engineers wisdoms.

  8. Anna Young
    September 24, 2011

    “Theoretically, my online search for leather kits should have saved me time”.

     I agree Barbara, I think it is a mammoth task finding a site or organization designed to simplify or resolve “highly specialized repair products” The manufacturer would prefer you return the product to them for repairs or a replacement. It is a marketing strategy. In the case of Barbara's leather furniture, the manufacturer would rather want you to replace the product as often as possible. Similarly, design engineers do not often share their specialist knowledge or provide easy access to data or a simplified literature for ease of reference. I think this ought to change. Perhaps this webinar organized by EBN will serve as a guide to resolving many of the issues raised in the article.  

  9. _hm
    September 24, 2011

    Online forum is very good idea and it mat be very effetive. However, do we have rights to republish data which we do not own? If organization participate themselves, it is works well. At some point, data is also classified and governmenta authority may not like  freely share data.


  10. Himanshugupta
    September 25, 2011

    the usual way of enquiring about a product is do an online search first, call the store and inquire about the availability and price and (depending on the kind of product) fix a time for the transaction. I wonder why Barbara skipped the second step of calling the store which could save all the time and hassle. 

  11. elctrnx_lyf
    September 25, 2011

    the most simple and effective help which is allowed by all the distributors and few component suppliers like tyco is to provide online support via chat. I think it is really an effective one being used it many times already.

  12. Nemos
    September 25, 2011

    “When was the last time you were looking for something and finally gave up the search after visiting too many stores or Websites?” I have faced the same problem as you described many times, and I have seen that if you are looking for information relative with education is easier to find rather than if you are looking about products and shops.

  13. Parser
    September 26, 2011

    As you mentioned the stores that claim online that they had the kits did not had them. 

    Our information gathering systems are only as good as the information entered. Most reputable distributors/suppliers show their on-hand stock which is updated the second some makes a purchases. 


  14. SunitaT
    September 26, 2011

    Theoretically, my online search for leather kits should have saved me time. Instead, I went to a bunch of stores that advertised they carried the kits, but actually didn't.

    I think search engines should also be improved so that it throws up the right results all the time. If a vendor is posting false information search engines should be programmed to penalise that company by pushing it down in the search results.

    September 26, 2011

    I agree with your article.  I see some companies placing a lot more emphasis on helping their potential customers sift throught the mounds of info available on their websites to quickly choose and use the correct part.  Spending dollars on this backend activity is sometimes seen as more valuable that upfront dollars on designing new products.  For some companies this is indeed true.

  16. Daniel
    September 26, 2011

    Barbara, in component or store website they may provide some of the details of items, but it may not be descriptive. Normally they may not provide any comparison chart or pint point details. Such details may include only with the packing content. In most of the cases schematic diagram also missing from website.

  17. jbond
    September 26, 2011

    I can see your frustration and agree completely. It seems like the more complex the search engines get; the tougher it is to find the not so common item. Search engines are designed to give you vast amounts of information quickly and sort them by relevance. It appears like there are countless numbers of sales lost due to improper information, and many hours wasted in research trying to find something that is not so common.

  18. Tim Votapka
    September 26, 2011

    The online chat concept is definitely worth looking into, and it could become the differentiating point between one resource and his closest competitor. The trick is, if you do set this up and promote it, be certain you have the line worked out so it's real.

  19. Ariella
    September 26, 2011

    @Flyingscot, I agree. What good does having the product do you if your customers don't know you have it or can't find it on your site to purchase it?


  20. stochastic excursion
    September 26, 2011

    I'd be interested to see how industry groups can improve on available search technology, allowing on-line customers to bring up reliable results.  For a lot of topics, one size definitely doesn't fit all when it comes to search engines.

  21. Taimoor Zubar
    September 27, 2011

    “I went to a bunch of stores that advertised they carried the kits, but actually didn't”

    I wouldn't deem this to be a technology issue on the part of websites. I think it's the flaw in the business processes to not update the website based on current inventory holdings. Most websites today are dynamic and they just need to be linked to the inventory systems to correctly reflect product information on the website. It has to be failing on the business side to not take advantage of this.

  22. t.alex
    October 7, 2011

    Will it be resource intensive to support via chat? I guess an online forum is better because the content is archived and can be searched back by others.

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