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OUTLOOK 2017: Design engineers; use your distributor as a knowledge centre

Graham Maggs, VP Marketing EMEA, Mouser Electronics

Do you remember when, in the dim and distant past, the world wide web had just been spun? An early and oft-quoted commentator described the internet as the world’s largest library in which all the books were on the floor and the lights were out. Today, we are more sophisticated and sites are user friendly, better flagged and more readily searchable. Yet one is still sometimes left with the uneasy feeling that the information you need must be out there somewhere – but where?

Further back, beyond the birth of the internet, electronics design engineers used to get their information from field application engineers (FAEs) employed by device manufacturers. Then distribution started to take over, with leading companies employing highly skilled and qualified engineers to provide design applications support. Eventually, the economic model shifted and FAEs became too expensive for most distributors to employ. But industry’s needs had also changed. Now, with increasing pressure on time-to-market, design engineers simply don’t have the time to spend with multiple FAEs, each of whom can only be expected to understand a few product lines intimately enough to be of real service.

Hand-in-hand with these developing trends is the so-called ‘democratisation of design’. The emergence of Open Source hardware and software has freed design engineers from being limited to a few suppliers due to the expense and complexity of the design tools. Instead, multiple technologies and approaches can be evaluated using inexpensive and simple-to-use development kits and tools, often supplied by a third party partner to the device maker. While this is a liberating development, it also means that engineers need a different type of support.

As a company that focuses on the design engineer, Mouser has striven to understand what the design community really wants and needs from distribution – and Mouser has concluded that the best role it can play is that of a knowledge provider.

As a caveat, it is important to point out that it is vital for Mouser to have available a wide choice of parts for rapid delivery. In this respect, Mouser is amongst the leaders in the field, with more than 4million products online at Mouser.com from more than 600 manufacturers. Products are usually delivered across Europe (and globally) within two or three days of being ordered.

Mouser believes that engineers need distributors that provide devices and the design ecosystem – including tools, dev kits and modules – required to implement solutions. But, critically, Mouser believes engineers need distributors that can provide the knowledge, the learning – perhaps even the inspiration –that will help them identify the best approach, and then the best technology and, finally, the best semiconductor solution for their project.

“Mouser has striven to understand what the design community really wants and needs from distribution – and has concluded that the best role it can play is that of a knowledge provider.”

Graham Maggs

The web is, of course, the best – and currently the only – way to deliver this knowledge. This is often referred to as ‘content’, as it includes different types of resource delivered using articles, videos, schematics, code files and more. But we return to that opening conundrum: how on earth can a time-pressed design engineer find what they need?

As far as Mouser is concerned, one of the best places to start is the Applications & Technologies section of its site (eu.mouser.com/applications). This is a resource which is constantly increasing, both in terms of the number of topics that it addresses and the breadth and variety of content. To begin with, you’ll be asked to select from one of 11 applications (audio, automotive, broadcast, communications, computing, industrial, instrumentation, lighting, medical, motor control and security) or 23 different technologies, including hot topics such as energy harvesting, the IoT, low power, robotics, sensors and USB 3.0.

Let’s take an application at random – automotive. Under the Automotive Applications blue button, you’ll find 13 sub-sections with block diagrams detailing: advanced driver assistance systems, HEV battery charging, infotainment, digital radio, rear view systems, instrument cluster, braking, power steering, keyless entry and more. Again, picking at random, if we look at the HEV battery charging block diagram, we can click on the processor element, which leads to five pages of possible parts from Texas Instruments, NXP/Freescale, STMicroelectronics and Infineon, all linked to full data sheets, design references, pricing and availability information. As with all other sections, the automotive heading also includes articles and technical resources, including videos, tutorials and white papers.

If you take the technology route, there are corresponding resources designed to help inspire an idea, formulate an approach and select a possible device starting point. One interesting example is the Open Source Hardware section, which enables engineers to quickly compare products from leading device makers including Intel, STMicroelectronics and Texas Instruments, as well as third party providers such as Addafruit, Arduino, BeagleBoard, Seeed and UDOO. Full projects, such as synthesisers, tricorders, solar harvesting and teaching programs, can be downloaded, along with a full BoM and development code.

Content creation is one of the areas where Mouser is continually investing – not just in block diagram concept designs, not just in reference material, white papers and articles, but also in ‘open-the-box’ videos and webinars

(recent subjects include the Geniuno 101 from Intel and Arduino and ST’s STM32 Open Development Environment). But it also understands that design engineers are busy people, so content is targeted accurately, so they aren’t bombarded with information that is of no use. So, if you sign up to join the Near Field Communications forum, for example, you won’t be pushed to join one on LED Lighting.

For a long time, Mouser has been promoting the idea that distributors not only need to provide the devices that drive design – semiconductors, sensors – but also the design ecosystem, including design tools and development hardware and software. Mouser is the preferred source for engineering development tools from industry leading manufacturers and an authorised distributor for ADLINK, Altera, Analog Devices, Arduino, Atmel, Digi International, IAR, Keil Tools, Maxim Integrated, Microchip, NXP, Olimex, STMicroelectronics, Texas Instruments and many more. As new technologies proliferate, pressure to be first to market with products based on them increases, so ‘one-stop’ access to dev kits and evaluation boards enables design creativity and drives innovation. Mouser prides itself on being able to deliver new dev kits ahead of the competition and aims to deliver anywhere in Europe within three days. Achieving that needs a pretty slick operation – along with huge inventory and freely available to buy kits. An independent survey indicates Mouser leads the market in this respect.

The fastest way to access these products is to visit (eu.mouser.com/Development-Tools-Center), where you will also find details of the Mouser edition of MultiSIM BLUE. This design tool, developed in partnership with National Instruments, includes more than 100,000 electronic components with intuitive simulation features and SPICE analyses. With MultiSIM BLUE, engineers can create schematics, simulate circuits and build PCB layouts, all with one powerful integrated tool. MultiSIM BLUE gives the ability to scheme and simulate, plus it handles Bills of Materials (BOM) and purchasing.

Mouser knows that content goes stale quickly and that tools need updating regularly in order to keep up with technology change. But if design engineers can find the time to interrogate the Mouser web site – to drill down through a couple of relevant sections – they will find the content and tools they need today. The information is out there!

Mouser Electronics
Mouser Electronics, a subsidiary of TTI, is part of Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway family of companies. Mouser is an award-winning, authorised semiconductor and electronic component distributor, focused on the rapid introduction of new products and technologies to electronic design engineers and buyers. Mouser.com features more than 4million products online from more than 600 manufacturers. Mouser publishes multiple catalogues per year, providing designers with up-to-date data on the components now available for the next generation of electronic devices. Mouser ships globally to more than 500,000 customers in 170 countries from its 750,000ft2 facility south of Dallas.

Author
Graham Maggs

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