In an effort to spur OEM designs to market, Avnet Applied Computing (AAC) has opened its first Technology Showcase, part of a proving grounds for emerging systems that the group hopes will help customers shrink their product development cycles.
The showcase, tied into AAC's new engineering prototype lab in Tempe, Ariz., and created in partnership with IBM, Intel, Motorola, NEC, Sharp, and others, is a hands-on facility for demonstrating real-world applications in controlled environments. Demos are intended to inspire new designs, identify applications, and address compatibility issues that may arise through the use of flat-panel displays, single-board computers, and other products.
"A new NEC flat-panel display may show information coming from an IBM storage system through a PC104 interface," said Troy Blanchette, vice president of marketing at AAC, a subsidiary of Phoenix-based electronic-components distributor Avnet Inc. "By studying how these new components interact in real-world situations, AAC customers can apply what they learn in the Technology Showcase to remove time-intensive testing cycles from their own designs in the lab, which reduces overall time-to-market," he said.
With AAC's flagship showroom launched in late December, the plan is to open a Boston facility in February, followed by other technology showcases scattered throughout the United States and possibly Europe during 2001. The distributor hopes it will soon secure additional support that will lead to other suppliers providing AAC with technical assistance and access to engineers.
By housing the showroom inside AAC's lab, customers can immediately apply what they've learned in the demos to their own designs, AAC said.
For the Motorola Computer Group (MCG), AAC's showcases could mean a substantial increase in sales, according to Bill Badger, North America channel manager for the division of Motorola Inc. in Tempe.
"You can demonstrate product features such as high availability with a slide presentation, but it doesn't really show the true benefits," Badger said. "The equipment is big, and it's not really something you can easily tote around to various accounts. It's a whole other animal when you can walk into the showroom with a potential customer and show them a working application that's similar to something they want to build."
The room AAC has dedicated to Motorola showcases an 8216, a 16-slot CompactPCI chassis targeting telecom applications. ACC's showcase enables MCG to demonstrate the chassis' so-called high-availability capabilities-a high level of hot-swapping that enables users to pull out the CPU, I/O, or board without shutting down their system.
The room also features an FPD connected to an MBX2000, a multifeature board that allows designers to create custom applications for products such as industrial robotic controllers. It's difficult to find a 5.5- x 8-in. board that combines the power of a large PC with the ability to run a display and a Windows or NT operating system without fans or moving parts, Badger said. Such devices are sought after in clean-room and medical environments, which are particularly susceptible to particulates, germs, and other contaminants.
MCG buys components from Avnet Electronic Marketing, makes board-level products, and pushes them through AAC. Badger would not quantify MCG's sales through distribution, but said the division plans to increase the number by 40% in 2001 with the help of the Technology Showcase.
Badger predicts the Avnet project will become as important for MCG as distribution itself. Limited resources are forcing the division to concentrate on large customers, leaving smaller volumes to distribution.
When potential customers consider which channel partner to choose, speeding designs to market is a major consideration, said AAC president Ed Kamins.
"Product life cycles today are speeding up like crazy and sometimes they're shorter than the product's design cycle," Kamins said.
AAC's answer to shorter life cycles is to begin the design process at a higher level of integration. Instead of engineers laying out a circuit design or board, they begin with a standard microprocessor and standard-board technology, write the software instead of hard-coding, and integrate commercially available sub-components to create their product.
"Many OEMs have realized creating the design from the ground up and doing it all in-house isn't the most efficient way," Kamins said. "Customers, who last year built products in-house ... now ask us to help them create a design with a standard microprocessor, IBM storage device, and flat panel to build an appliance more quickly than anyone has done in the past."