The changing face of electronics distribution

14th May 2014
Nat Bowers

Distribution is changing; customers are demanding more from the traditional component distributor from full end to end solutions with technical information, software and hardware support, components in a range of volumes and a variety of delivery options. The customer is changing too; the line between supplier and customer it blurring. Distributors are responding by changing their offering, creating solutions that support customers’ right the way through the design cycle.

By Mike Buffham, Global Head of Product and Pricing, Premier Farnell.

The age of the development kit

The age of the development kit is very much upon us. Offering customers readymade, low cost boards allow them to test their designs with a variety of components. Farnell element14, part of the Premier Farnell group, has invested heavily in its development kit proposition from the top suppliers in both Analog and Embedded design.

Our proposition includes a comprehensive range of hardware development platforms for ARM processor-based MCU design and ARM development tools including IDEs, Compilers, Debuggers, Simulators, Performance Analysers and RTOS.

The democratisation of manufacturing is quickly becoming a reality. Development tools and single board computers are putting powerful design tools in the hands of private innovators. Finished products are getting to market quicker than we have ever seen before. This is a seriously disruptive change impacting our industry.


What comes first? Software or hardware? The lines are blurring and software is increasingly being implemented at the start of the design with hardware designed around it and Farnell element14’s partnerships with Segger and Micrium open up RTOS and debugging to the solutions we already offer.

Volume Production

Significant investment in inventory in 2013-14 means Farnell element14 is able to continue to support the customer in the mid to low volume arena through the prototype stage and on into production. A number of peripheral services have been developed to ensure this process is as efficient as possible.

Date and Lot Codes on products are being rolled out across Europe enabling 20,000 components to be dispatched with new bar-coded product labels and dispatch notes representing the most popular semi and passive components across all major franchises.

Enabled by the newly implemented voice pick system within a specified zone of the UK warehouse, uniquely Date and Lot Coding is provided automatically on all relevant components and is important in industries where traceability is essential such as medical and aerospace.

Leaders in legislation

Farnell element14 has long been the go-to place for information on current legislation and upcoming changes. From conflict minerals to RoHS, The Community is a great resource for design engineers. Most recently the Dodd-Frank Act, Section 1502 and the implementing Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) rule requires companies reporting to the SEC to file reports on Conflict Minerals in May 2014.

The Community

The online Community element14 is made up of 230,000 engineers and is a resource tool with discussion, data sheets and new products. Regular road tests put products in the hands of real design engineers and genuinely support product development. Engineers have less and less time on their hands and The Community has been designed to engage them in the rare moment they have availability by providing access to their peers for resolving problems.

Supplier becomes customer

The foundations for the strategy to support customers from design through to production have been laid down through the acquisitions of CadSoft with its PCB design software, Embest and the CooCox ARM Cortex development tools which are proprietary to Farnell element14, and most recently AVID Technologies, a design services company with experience in the areas of analogue, wireless, power management and embedded technologies.

Suppliers are becoming customers. Whereas in the past we used to talk to Corporate Distribution and sales teams about NPI, we are working with our suppliers’ product development teams, adding value through producing development kits to support customers in a variety of applications.

These strategic partnerships are a unique proposition to Farnell element14 combining Embest’s ARM Cortex embedded design specialism with the world’s top silicon manufacturers. The benefit to the silicon providers is it allows them to proliferate more boards giving them access to a greater customer base.

Farnell element14 is further strengthening its relationships by signing Master Service Agreements, most recently with Freescale Semiconductor. This agreement is the first of its kind in the electronics distribution space and the relationship saw the two companies launch 15 new products together in 2013, the latest being the MEMS Sensors Evaluation Board.

By working with some of the leading suppliers in the industry in this way we are able to ensure our customers have a greater range, and in many cases exclusive access to the latest development kits and services, alongside the high-level support they’ve come to expect.

The Internet of Things

The Internet of Things is a key trend we are embracing this year and development kit accessories that support connectivity, power consumption and touch form part of our core offering. Two example accessories launched recently include the Texas Instruments (TI) HapTouch BoosterPack and NXP EXPLORE-NFC.

The TI BoosterPack allows developers to rapidly integrate haptics technology into their designs combining MSP430TCH5E haptics MCUs and TI’s DRV2603 haptic driver into a familiar game controller form factor.  Priced at £15.20, the BoosterPack can be plugged into TI’s MSP430 Value Line LaunchPad evaluation kit to demonstrate the ease of configuring capacitive touch buttons that provide audio-to-haptics feedback.

The high performance full NFC expansion board implements external user interfaces for industrial and consumer devices that meets NFC compliance with Reader mode, P2P mode and Card Emulation standards. Based on the PN512 NFC solution from NXP Semiconductors, the board features an integrated high performance antenna and is supported by an extensive software package (libnfc) while offering a flexible SPI interface. Applications for NFC include contactless payment, meter readings, loyalty cards and more.


Distribution is changing. The age of the simple component distributor is dead, customers and suppliers are demanding a manufacturing partner and full design solution as well as the high service they have come to expect. Farnell element14 has anticipated this trend and has responded with one of the most comprehensive customer and supplier solutions in the market today. Our strategic partnerships with some of the world’s largest semiconductor businesses as well as our extensive development kit proposition will continue to grow throughout 2014 and onwards.

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