How working with a distributor can make retrofitting your lab easy

By Mathew Thorpe, regional sales director of UK, Ireland and Benelux, Farnell U

niversities and high-end commercial organisations looking to retrofit their laboratories and test facilities are faced with a potentially overwhelming

choice. Making the right decision of who to partner with is essential if a retrofit is to be as straightforward and cost-effective as possible.

The need to retrofit

There are many reasons why the upgrade of a laboratory or test facility can become essential. These can include the changing face of electronics, device obsolescence, operating system updates or the demands of memory or bandwidth. As technology evolves, new tests need to be carried out and as data rates increase, so do demands placed on the capabilities of equipment.

Additionally, the Internet of Things (IoT) has had a major impact on the electronics industry. Technology extends from consumer products and the automotive sector to aerospace, defence, instrumentation and more. Universities and high-end commercial organisations need to evolve to ensure students know how to use IoT compatible products and engineers have the right equipment to stay at the forefront of innovation.

A full retrofit of a laboratory or test facility can be a very costly exercise and choices between models and manufacturers are not always straightforward. The key is to source reliable, precision test and measurement equipment that meets the needs of users as well as other stakeholders, at the best price.

Partnering with a distributor When planning a partial or complete retrofit of a laboratory or test facility, a good way to ensure success is to partner with a distributor that has its finger on the pulse of the market and strong relationships with equipment manufacturers. A quality distributor with

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a high level of expertise can simplify the process of identifying products from various manufacturers that meet the user’s budget. Such a partnership, where the distributor is able to make unbiased recommendations that meet the customer’s specific needs, can save valuable time and resources.

Farnell’s dedicated test and measurement specialists work directly with customers in education and commercial laboratories to understand their exact requirements. Farnell draws on decades of experience to provide this unique and complete retrofitting service, helping customers access the most suitable equipment from the world’s top equipment vendors. After sales, Farnell can continue to provide support with additional services such as calibration.

Making the right choice

When the technical laboratory manager and buyer are looking for a distributor that can provide the level of support essential to a successful retrofit, there are two essential criteria.

Firstly, the experience of working with similar customers is key. Both users and buyers need to be confident that a distributor has the right experience to meet their retrofitting needs, whether the project is a full retrofit, a partial upgrade, such as refitting a single workstation or replacing a few items. They should ask: “Does my distributer have experience supporting similar organisations?” The type of upgrade and scale can also differ ranging from 30 to 100 workstations with upgrades occurring on a one-off basis, or at intervals of every five to 10 years. Every laboratory’s needs are different, and a distributor must provide a service that can cope with various scales of supply and demand. Secondly, good in-stock range and strong relationships with various equipment manufacturers is vital. It is extremely important that there is access to a broad product range

Components in Electronics

that can provide all the capabilities needed. A good distributor is one that can provide an unbiased view across a wide range of equipment manufacturers. Farnell has invested more than £4 million in test and measurement stock in the last 18 months. This has resulted in more than 4,000 products being added to the company’s portfolio of oscilloscopes, power supplies, signal generators, digital multimeters, soldering products, hand tools and 3D printers. Most recently, four new global manufacturers were added to Farnell’s network including Ikalogic, Hioki, Chauvin Arnoux and Schützinger.

Benefiting from experience Farnell has worked successfully with multiple universities around the world to help them create laboratories that meet the specific needs of their student. Each university had differing requirements for its retrofit and Farnell’s expertise continues to ensure such requirements are met.

The University of Plymouth in the United Kingdom partnered with Farnell to retrofit laboratories in its School of Engineering, Computing and Mathematics. The university wanted to update its test and measurement equipment to enhance the student learning experience by improving the management of laboratory activities involving documentation and configuration. In addition, the upgrade gave a modern feel to one of its teaching laboratories and presented a uniform look to each station in that environment. Martin Simpson, a senior technician at the university specialising in embedded systems, electronics and robotics, says: “We chose Farnell because we wanted to use a distributor that we’d worked with previously and had a good experience. The company was able to provide very welcome support in the preliminary stages of the project and will undoubtedly continue to do so as we move on to the tendering stage and beyond.”

Another leading UK university sought Farnell’s support to retrofit a lab where first and second-year students were struggling to use existing equipment. Carrying out projects was complicated because the lab had multiple brands and models of equipment which led to results being recorded in different ways across the various workbenches. When re-evaluating its teaching strategies following an increase in student numbers, the university identified the need to increase the number of available workstations and coordinate equipment so that each test bench was set up in a uniform way. At the same time, the university wanted to reduce the equipment footprint on its benches. Farnell identified multi-purpose equipment to save bench space and arranged product trials to help the university decide which equipment was best suited for the teaching environment. The new equipment enabled staff to design and implement highly interactive learning programmes. A similar level of support is provided to private businesses. Farnell worked with a development engineer who was setting up a new lab. The engineer wasn’t sure if the product he was considering would meet requirements, nor what software and probe options would be required. Farnell was able to arrange a trial of the device before a purchase commitment was made and supported the selection of software and probe options. For organisations looking to retrofit their laboratories with the latest test and measurement equipment, there are many benefits to working with a reliable, experienced distributor. Distributors such as Farnell can provide a holistic and independent approach to identifying and sourcing the equipment that is closely aligned with a user’s needs. Laboratory equipment buyers can work with a distributor as a sole provider, eliminating the need to spend valuable time and resources dealing with multiple suppliers.

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