The test equipment industry is a key element within the overall electronics industry. It needs to deliver the equipment developers, manufacturers and maintenance operations need to enable them to function.
Traditionally high-end equipment was always bought directly from the manufacturer. Oscilloscopes, spectrum analyzers, and in fact almost anything beyond basic multimeters would have been bought from the manufacturer.
This is changing and there are many new ways in which equipment can be bought. The instrument rental companies have become increasingly flexible. Not only do they lease equipment – an ideal option for many companies with shorter term requirements, although these can often slide into being well beyond the original intentions. However rental companies often offer some attractive lease –buy options or even sell equipment in its own right thereby broadening their offerings.
We can see other ways of buying test equipment by looking at what is happening in the electronic components market. In recent years the electronic components market has seen major changes. Traditionally resistors capacitors and general components were bought from distributors, but anything more specialist, or components that were bought in quantity were bought directly from the component manufacturer.
Nowadays with equipment manufacturers needing to manage inventory much more tightly, the expertise and distribution capabilities of distributors have brought many benefits. They can significantly reduce the number of suppliers and this brings many cost benefits.
In the test equipment market as well, various forms of distribution are playing a much larger part. Nowadays, various forms of distribution are handling test equipment with much higher values than they were previously. Although some distributors have handled test equipment sales for many years, the trend for handling test equipment sales via general distribution is increasing, although not as fast as many would like. Both the quantity and the selection are improving, with much higher value test instruments being stocked.
Thus instead of going to a test equipment manufacturer, it may be possible to go to a component distributor for all the test equipment needs.
Increasingly test equipment manufacturers are looking at this route as well, especially where margins may be smaller. It makes sense to use the sophisticated inventory management and sales techniques and organisation that exists. Many have online catalogues that receive many millions of users and in this way utilise the exposure that this gives. Utilising this expertise and reach makes a lot of sense, particularly for repeat orders or lower value items of test equipment.
With many test equipment manufacturers offering online methods of configuring the required, the distributor is able to process orders and take orders in a very efficient manner. Currently a wide variety of what are thought of as component distributors are now offering a very comprehensive range of test equipment - even Amazon has a wide range.
Not only are changes happening in the supply chain, but people engineers and other users are increasingly open to buying equipment from distributors, especially where there are cost benefits.
Nevertheless, for higher value items people often feel more comfortable talking to the sales engineer who is able to guide them through the selection of the right product and the options needed.
Although the trend to use distribution has many advantages, there are other issues to note as well. Buying test equipment is not just about getting the best price. There is more to it, especially for high value items. To ensure that the optimum test solutions are obtained it is valuable to build a relationship with the test equipment supplier. They are able to provide a lot of valuable insight, not only into the operation of their test equipment, but also test techniques in general and new technologies (after all they need to keep ahead of the game so that they can provide equipment for research and development of new technologies such as 5G).
Also suppliers value their customers and genuinely want to build relationships with them. This benefits both the supplier and the user. So even if equipment is bought via a distribution channel, there is still value in keeping up with the developer and manufacturer of the test equipment. This can have a significant cost benefit, although it may be hard to quantify.
Commenting on this trend, Steven Edwards, Director Sales Operations & Marketing, Rohde & Schwarz, UK said: “There has long been a trend towards purchasing test products online but the take-up has been slower than expected. For transactional products and repeat purchases the web should be perfect for the customer, the question is whether the bar at which a product is considered transactional can be raised. Does an engineer still want to touch and feel a product prior to purchase? In many cases yes they do but increasingly, for certain products, they don't have to. If we as a test company can provide the engineer with enough content and an online experience that includes configurators and videos then that could, for some products, exclusively support his decision making. We at Rohde & Schwarz are certainly developing more products designed to be sold online with limited options and software keycodes that can unlock higher bandwidths and frequencies ranges as and when the customer needs them. I think this is challenge for the test companies to deliver on, an engineer’s time is precious.”
So, for the future we may not be going to the likes of the big names in test equipment quite so often. Instead we may be visiting the distributor or even Amazon for more of our test equipment needs. But also the big test equipment names are also trying to keep close to their customers to ensure that their needs are fully met. This may mean going directly in some instances. But it also provides challenges for the test equipment suppliers who are genuinely trying to understand the market and stay ahead of the customers needs.