There are obviously some electronic component distributors that are focussed on certain sectors of the market like development, large scale manufacturing, geography and the like, but they are all looking for ways in which they can develop their unique selling points and also provide a better service.
It is interesting to look back at how distribution has developed over the years. Back in the 1970s, I can remember that distribution was totally catalogue, or even book based. Dependent upon the size, distributors sent out quarterly or annual copies of their catalogues - these also tended to be a mine of basic product information - anything more than the basics had to be obtain directly from the manufacturer.
Datasheets and even data books were provided, especially by the semiconductor manufacturers. Some even included some useful application notes!
However, distribution tended to be used more for small quantities, and more often larger quantities were obtained directly from the manufacturers, although this was obviously not always the case.
As electronic manufacturing became more efficient, just in time inventory management was needed. To help manufacturers with this, there was a greater emphasis placed on inventory management that could be provided by many electronic component distributors. Balancing lead times with manufacturing requirements was never easy and shortage management on assemblies provided significant headaches for manufacturers. Using the expertise and abilities of distribution helped reduce these issues. In this way, distribution took on a much greater role within the manufacturing supply chain.
Around the beginning of this century, the concept of support became a major differentiator. Whilst distributors had always given support, its importance started to grow in a major way.
Many distributors started to introduce their own design packages for CAD, etc, These often linked directly in to the distributors inventory enabling designers to gain information on stock and delivery times, allowing them to order directly from the BOMs created if required.
In addition to this the overall level of support increased. Distributors became the first port of call for information about products, with distribution support engineers becoming real experts in the products on offer, receiving very in-depth training about them and how they could be used.
Now some distributors are taking a much greater role in the design cycle, advising developers, not only about the products, but also providing in-depth support at the beginning of the design cycle. Everything from the technologies that might be appropriate for their products to certification, designing for the lowest BOM cost, and many other factors.
There are many companies that may be developing electronic based products, but their fields of expertise lay in other areas. By incorporating electronics into their products they can develop innovative designs, but they may not have the in-depth knowledge about some for the basics needed. Also many other companies whose traditional area is within electronics can also greatly benefit from the expertise and advice offered by the relevant distributors.
Said, Martin Keenan, Technical Director of Avnet Abacus: "As the electronics industry has matured, distributors have evolved to meet the changing needs of equipment designers and manufacturers. Providing commercial, technical and supply chain support are still important aspects of a distributor’s role – but increasingly our customers require sophisticated, expert advice at every stage of the design cycle to make the best decisions for their challenges. Information today is widely available, but expertise is less so. At Avnet Abacus we have technical specialists trained on a focussed set of technologies to an expert level, across a number of trusted, leading suppliers in that area – and we have built up a wealth of experience in helping customers across a wide variety of applications get their product to market. We are uniquely positioned to offer each customer guidance on the best solutions available for their unique set of requirements, helping them to adopt new technologies, get to market faster and reduce cost and risk at every stage of their product development."