Trends in embedded design process: the evolving role of the distributor

For design engineers, a distributor can be a vital partner. Where once they would have provided the required products and accessories, now they can play an active supporting role in the research, design and development processes needed to create innovative new technology. Stefan Fuchs, general manager Germany, Conrad Business Supplies, tells us more

– through the entire lifecycle of the device. The initial engagement can then carry through the manufacturing process where the distributor might specify aspects or features before eventually the product is introduced to market and purchased by a customer. The distributor can then play the role of support and discussion partner with the end user to see how effectively they are using the product and if improvements can be made.

The modular approach For OEMs it is becoming more popular to purchase prebuilt modules than use individual components. These modules are getting more complex all the time in both their capabilities and their connectivity options.

Driving this popularity is the huge Stefan Fuchs C

urrent industry trends have been focused around two key areas. Firstly, the shift towards use of ‘plug & play’ modules is changing the shape and nature of embedded design, as the time to redesign an entire platform is greatly reduced with the easy switching one module for another. A second trend, which will have a far

longer-term impact on the industry is the way in which a new generation of developers is being encouraged by accessible, easy-to-use kits and Open Source platforms that actually permit more advanced development, testing and experimentation than ever before. Platforms, such as the Raspberry Pi, the C- Control from Conrad and the Beagle Board are very popular amongst students and within the amateur developer community to such an extent that we see these technologies getting further developed for use in industrial design sectors. The role a distributor can play now extends from early discussion with the manufacturer – to meet customer demand

14 March 2017

reduction in both time and money that they offer developers. Not only is the overall design process shortened by removing the need for de-soldering components and ICs, but it is possible for prototypes to be created quickly and easily in small or medium sized batches. This helps to substantially drive down development costs and speed up the time to mass production. Meanwhile by taking the modular approach, it is even feasible to present a ‘half finished’ solution in which the device is fully operational, but reliant on modules for some of the more complex features. Large distributors are able to take part in

this trend by providing their own development platforms directly to the OEMs themselves or to the wider embedded community. This process helps to shorten the time between development and testing and also to get the end products to market quicker than before. Companies like Conrad Business Supplies greatly values close customer relations and see the advantage in directly assisting their customers and showing interest in their experiences using specific modules or kits. By taking part in this conversation, it is possible to feed the

Components in Electronics

information back to those research teams working in the laboratories where new technologies and products are developed. As a distributor, Conrad believes that the right solutions deliver a balance of value, relevance and the capability to provide the most efficient and time-saving products for the end-user.

Teaching through building The evolution of embedded design can be seen clearest in the way that young designers, engineers and students are adopting platforms and kits that allow them to carry out increasingly advanced tasks and projects with ease and convenience. This is where the modular and expandable kits from developers such as Arduino come to prominence, as they encourage different types of experimentation that would be otherwise time consuming. This trend is part of a wider and

growing ‘maker scene’, populated by a generation of young professional developers that are well versed in these new technologies and in many cases cannot remember a world without them. It is the beginning of a knowledge and technology shift where smaller numbers of young, talented designers are able to push the boundaries of what large companies, with huge research teams, are still struggling to achieve. It is the innovation that comes from collaborative working that gives these young ‘Tekkies’ the advantage they need to innovate and to progress the wider industry. While the distributor can only play a part in this process, they can be key in providing the exact tools needed by the community. From Conrad’s in-house designed C-Control range come a

number of development kits and boards that give their users flexibility in how they can be used. Some of these boards have been created with full compatibility with Arduino modules and expansion shields. By offering this level of compatibility, it is easier for the user to switch technologies within a single test environment, such as the C-Control IDE (integrated design environment). With further integration of Wi-Fi connectivity, it is easy to create simple IoT devices, which can then be tested under a variety of parameters. Moreover, Conrad is stocking the latest boards and extension modules from relevant embedded manufacturers which allows customers access to optimal hardware solutions for any application or requirement. As the embedded design community continues to evolve and create new technologies, it is important to appreciate the roles that a distributor can play. No longer just a supplier, they can be a partner in development, testing and bringing the final product to market. From the perspective of the distributor, by building a relationship with ambitious, talented, young developers, they can potentially turn makers and design engineers into lifelong customers.

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