Easing Design Chain Pain

The electronics supply chain was designed, in part, to ease bottlenecks associated with order and production delays. But what about the holdups at the front end?

Engineers face as many speed bumps (if not more) in the design process, recent research reveals. In fact, design engineers spend nearly half their time on concept development, according to a report, “Design with Efficiency: Toward a Streamlined Process for Electronics-Industry Design Engineers,” released today by {complink 12809|element14} and Technology Forecasters Inc.

“We wanted to gain greater insight into the needs of engineers,” Jeff Jussel, senior director of global technologies for the distributor Premier Farnell (parent of element14), said in a phone interview. “We wanted to know where they spend the most time and become a place they can go to get their design information, rather than wait until they have a design and come to us with a list of parts.”

The distribution channel links information from hundreds of suppliers with hundreds of thousands of customers. Though designers can get information anywhere, much of it is fragmented, outdated, or incomplete. Distributors are increasingly aggregating, qualifying, and augmenting information in a single place to assist in the design process. The channel is also positioning itself to be the first choice for engineers and buyers when they ultimately place a design or production order.

Some highlights from the study:

  • More than 70 percent of design engineers visit online forums, blogs, and engineering communities to collaborate with peers and share insight on components and design processes.
  • Engineers spend about 50 percent of their research time online, with the remaining time spent talking with vendors and customers and using internal tools.
  • A majority of respondents cited the earlier stages of design as the most challenging, with an average of 41 percent of design time spent on concept development.
  • Specialized information, performance failure rates, and component lifecycle data are particularly difficult to collect.
  • A lack of consolidated online tools and databases makes it harder to make accurate comparisons.

“Engineers are under intense time pressure, and in order to find answers, they have to go to suppliers, distributors, other engineers, standards bodies, and many of the places everyone starts with, such as Google,” says Jussel. “What comes back is reams of data, and not only do engineers not have the time to go through it all, but they find the information is incomplete, outdated, and inaccurate.”

Element14 uses in-house resources to cull this data and present it in a uniform fashion. Its knode also provides search automation and configuration for project-specific design flows, development tools, application reference designs, operating systems and stacks, CAD tools, and PCB services and test solutions.

“It differentiates us from the pack, because we can now provide the design solution in advance of the purchasing decision,” Jussel says. “It's in our best interest to provide the best solution to our customers, rather than push a single component or supplier. We can also introduce our suppliers' products to engineers that had no idea that product could be used for their application. We are creating an opportunity [suppliers] didn't know they had.”

Jussel will be among the panelists on the EBN Webinar Designs, Decision and Dollars: How the Channel Can Help on Sept. 30 at 2:00 p.m. EST.

3 comments on “Easing Design Chain Pain

  1. jbond
    September 15, 2011

    This is a very interesting article that brings up an often overlooked area of the chain. Design engineers are often given tasks that are hard to follow strict timelines. They are given the ideas, and then have to spend a majority of their time doing research before they can even attempt to implement changes. This can definitely cause a slowdown in the process. As more companies shed light on this issue, I'm sure there will be more services available to the engineers to help ease the congestion.

  2. prabhakar_deosthali
    September 20, 2011

    One of the key information a design engineer seeks , while finalising the concept design is to know at what stage of life cycle the various components used in the design will be at the time of taking the product to mass production. Every design engineer's wish is to use the latest available technology at the best price and avoid  obsolescence in the eraly stages of the product life cycle.

    If such information is also made available then it will ease the task of component selection to a freat extent

  3. Kunmi
    September 20, 2011

    prabhakar_deosthali : In the process of design, have you ever experience a situation where the key conponent to be used in the process of design has gotten an upgrade before you complete production of a product line? That when your product hit the market, a better product is already following. What are the challenges that a company may face in such a situation? I am just asking because I know you have flare for engineering designs  and I want to know more. Thanks

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