Customers value long term availability information above details of equivalents according to Steve Rawlins, CEO, Anglia Components
“Comparisons are odious” has now been extended to the component comparisons that were so popular even a few years ago. Customers have moved on. If an ST or AD device is specified on the Bill of Materials (BoM) an ST or AD device is what they want – they won’t accept anything else. They regard commodity components like chip passives as generic, and are manufacturer specific for silicon. Whilst even five years ago they might have accepted an equivalent replacement if their first choice device wasn’t available, now they only use comparisons to benchmark pricing. Distributors have a key role to play in helping customers specify the BoM so that the need for equivalents arises infrequently, if ever.
Getting the Bill of Materials right
A lot of messing about finding equivalents is a consequence of the original specified device being made obsolete – and can be avoided. As a distributor, we see our job as helping customers make the correct long term choices.
To make their decision, customers need to know which devices are likely to be available for the lifetime of the design. Online, you can readily obtain small pack quantities of devices which have actually already been discontinued by their manufacturers. Great for service engineers – dangerous for designers. Switched on distributors like Anglia provide detailed availability information alongside the technical specifications on their website. In addition to notifications of product change notifications (PCN) or product termination notifications (PTN), this should include live current stock levels, stock due and the expected arrival date, and the supplier lead time.
Having reviewed this information, customers need quick and easy access to samples of all of the alternatives that they are considering. With short design cycles, waiting a week or two for a sample or a dev kit to arrive can add considerably to time to market. Services like Ezysample from Anglia provide free samples on a same day shipment basis no questions asked.
The decline in component comparisons is a reflection of the growing diversity of solutions available from semiconductor manufacturers as well as increasing awareness of the risks amongst customers.
In a highly competitive market, semiconductor manufacturers differentiate their solutions by adding functions and enhancing performance to address specific perceived market opportunities. This means that fewer devices from rival manufacturers really are fully equivalent – increasing the risk when selecting an alternative to the original device on the BoM. Even if a device is electrically equivalent, and a match in terms of form, fit and function, there may still be a variation in the detail of the specification that makes a difference.
As a result, more and more customers recognise that selection of devices on the BoM is fully a design decision and purchasing isn’t qualified to second-guess their choices. Any ‘equivalent’ should be assessed by the original design team to ensure that it really is acceptable in the context of the design.
If designers ensure that the parts on the BoM are actually available on the open market, purchasing can focus on obtaining the specified devices from competitive suppliers that they regard as reliable sources of supply. They will consider reliability of supply, long term competitiveness and flexibility as well as support with managing inventory levels. Relationship is key – dialogue can make an immense difference when lead times lengthen and allocation bites.
Anglia has historically invested a lot of effort into identifying equivalents to popular parts – but we now find that customers make little use of this type of information. What they really value is solid, reliable forward availability information – allowing them to make the right long-term choices around which to build their design.