To get those details right, OEM engineering teams need quick and efficient access to specialist expertise outside their core competencies. This role has traditionally been fulfilled by field application engineers (FAEs) on the supplier side – a highly effective solution, but with some practical limitations. Demand will always outstrip supply, operating costs can be difficult to control, and of course, a customer can never have their FAE’s undivided attention often enough or for long enough.
Appropriately enough, the electronics industry is harnessing the power of technology to overcome these challenges. Online there is no need to find the right number to call, request a visit, or await attention. The support available is changing quickly as the web continues to evolve. What started as a convenient mechanism for distributing datasheets has grown into a vast repository of diverse resources that harness multimedia and are interactive. Even now, we are probably only scratching the surface of its potential. No-one should underestimate the power of web-based support, and the competitive advantages that can be gained: a customer’s question answered quickly is another design-in won.
Maximizing the value of digital support
There are many advantages to digital support: it can be provided at a low cost per customer, and accessed easily, quickly, 24/7 and free of charge to the user. Multiple customer engineers can access the same assets at the same time, from anywhere in the world, unlike a human FAE. There is no effective limit to the quantity of information that can be made available at any one time. Diverse types of content can be presented, from articles and tutorials, to videos, digital models, and tools such as product selectors, schematic capture tools or simulators.
The greater the product portfolio, the greater the potential benefits of using online well. KEMET is an example of company working hard in this space. Its engineering pages aim to provide a state-of-the-art online support experience for circuit designers. As an aid to technical component selection and circuit design, it provides an example of a rich source of ‘analog knowhow’ that, in a digital world, is increasingly rarely found as part of an OEM engineering team’s native skillset.
Opportunities to support and inform can include application guides and technical articles that can be read online or downloaded. There are blogs that comment on topical subjects which may be on engineers’ minds. There are videos that are designed to be both entertaining and to answer questions in a succinct way that cannot be done so efficiently and effectively through text and diagrams. And there are a variety of electronic design resources such as models, simulators and calculators that assist product selection and would be extremely expensive for customers to acquire for themselves.
Of course, there is almost limitless scope to continue extending and expanding the content available to electronic design engineers via the web. Perhaps more importantly, in the case of websites such as KEMET’s, it is essential to take advantage of the nature of the web to make the diverse resources easy to navigate and to access specific information quickly and in just a few clicks. There are multiple routes to the information users need, for example searching by market, product type, design discipline or circuit function. In addition to guiding engineers towards what’s new, such as the latest videos or technical articles. Searching by application area, across topical subjects such as automotive, audio, power conversion, drones, wearables, provides another intuitive route to information and answers.
Exploring the scope to innovate
Searching the web successfully usually requires the seeker to pose specific queries. Sections such as KEMET’s technical blogs, recent terms, recent queries, and random glossary help engineers expand their knowledge by suggesting subjects that others are enquiring about and that perhaps they, too, might benefit from understanding.
KEMET’s ‘Ask an FAE’ videos take actual questions posed by engineers, and use the significant power of the medium to explain some of the underlying subject matter; we know that a lot of engineers are dealing with the same issues, but they may be tackling them in different ways.
Access to a variety of EDA tools that are specifically related to designing with capacitors not only allows engineers to use powerful resources to complete their work, but also helps them choose the most suitable components from specific product families. It can be a very efficient way to get product selection advice, which could otherwise take several calls back-and-forth to a support desk.
KEMET’s capabilities such as its K-SIM simulator and lifetime, aging and FIT calculators help evaluate multiple “what if” scenarios and supply the data to tweak the design to get the reliability needed. Initiatives such as that between KEMET and Modelithics provides a good example of taking things even further. This system models capacitor behaviour in RF circuits – a complex and specialised field. The power of Modelithics is that it can also consider many details of the application that can affect RF performance, such as pad sizes and substrate thickness, as well as the device properties themselves. 3D mechanical models of standard capacitor ranges, in the widely used STP format, are also available.
KEMET’s SSD configuration calculator is another example of a powerful and applications focused tool that helps engineers get the best answers to their questions. Choosing hold-up capacitors for a solid-state drive is not simply about selecting the biggest one to get a longer hold-up time, but is about getting the best balance between available space and energy storage.
Beyond design needs
Away from pure design considerations, the ability to search, compare and price parts is an important and potentially time consuming process for engineers and procurement specialists, and an area where sophisticated online support can help. Tools such as KEMET’s ComponentEdge parametrically compare parts and check pricing – both from manufacturer and distributors so that the most convenient supply chain option becomes part of the selection process.
The latest website architectures allow electronic component manufacturers to go significantly beyond providing traditional look-up tables, to facilitate direct and convenient comparison of important device features to aid the development of BoMs with both primary and second sources of the most suitable parts.
Overall, we can see that the role of the visiting FAE is diminishing at quite a rapid rate. The demand for technical product support and component selection however, is certainly becoming more urgent, more individual, broader, and deeper.
The Internet represents an exciting opportunity to develop sophisticated new ways to help engineers find the answers they need in the way that best suits them. This can be simply by reading articles, guides or blogs, actively asking questions, mining accumulated design experience in various ways, or taking advantage of online tools to find out for themselves the effects of their component choices and design tweaks. At the same time, there are opportunities to connect more closely with customers.
The Internet is still young but evolving incredibly quickly, giving enormous scope for further innovation. It is vital for suppliers to keep working to unleash its full potential and the electronic components sector is a great example of where the benefits can be felt the most.
About the author:
John Boan is VP of Marketing at KEMET – www.kemet.com