Mr. Steiner, what can be achieved with digital FAE support?
I’ll start with what it can’t achieve—it doesn’t let us test components under real conditions with our customers. And the intuitive hands-on experience is also lacking, especially with many electromechanical components. Displays are something that you need to have seen in person before you choose to buy them—even the glossiest brochures, websites, and data sheets will not suffice here. This is why we have a comprehensive warehouse with demo products, which our customers can borrow and test in their application.
And the personal aspect of face-to-face meetings is also missing. Digital meetings are simply not a full-blooded substitute for them.
Nevertheless, everything else works just as well online—some of it even better, in fact. We keep discovering that we are often able to answer our customers’ questions more quickly in Web meetings than we can during on-site appointments. In this regard, our FAEs prepare for every meeting even more intensively than they ever have. In the future, we aim to make use of other communication methods and tools such as messaging services, ticketing systems, and virtual/augmented reality solutions. This is how we aim to engage with our customers on an even more individual level—a beginner and a digital native simply has different expectations and preferences to a veteran with decades of experience.
If everything is done online anyway, can’t a developer or purchaser simply use Google, search through an online shop, or ask in forums? I mean, you can find everything online these days.
That is not quite true. Sure, you might be able to find a lot of information, but it can easily take hours to find what an FAE could answer in a few minutes. Not only that, but you need to be able to understand the context of the information, which takes knowledge and experience. Each of our customers is an absolute expert in their field, no doubt about that! However, their core expertise is not in the continuous and intensive observation of the component market. This is a time-consuming task, which our FAEs perform by actively engaging with the component manufacturers and with the collaboration of our product and line managers.
This is in part time-consuming because the diversity of product models and the complexity of the components has massively increased in recent years, while life cycles continue to be ever shorter. It’s not enough to be familiar with the latest components—the manufacturers’ road maps are also important. Being unaware of these may result in a component being incorporated into a design, even though it has already been discontinued when serial production starts. Our FAEs always have an eye on this, and on delivery times. To avoid unpleasant surprises, they also recommend alternative components as a second source—and not just with focus components, either. C-parts are just as prone to causing production stoppages, as recent months have shown repeatedly. It is also important to be able to assess the opportunities and limits of components, which takes experience, and knowledge of the latest technologies. These often enable entirely different solutions for certain requirements.
You cannot just google all of this. What is more, we often notice how component decisions have focused on the same components for years, even though these components have since ceased to be technologically relevant or have ceased to represent a major cost factor. Others end up left unnoticed, with the same components being used repeatedly, even though there is considerable optimization potential for the solution as a whole. With an outside perspective and backed by a comprehensive product portfolio, our FAEs can take a holistic perspective of the solution and consider the total cost of ownership.
And there’s another very important aspect: time to market. The points that I mentioned all help to ensure a rapid market launch. We also support our customers with in-house-developed development kits, demo boards, and complete solutions, for example with an MCU platform for AI-based edge applications.
You mentioned short development cycles. Which product segments do you think are seeing the most dynamic performance?
I would say that everything in the Wireless segment is among them. The new wireless technologies such as 5G, WiFi 6 and the Bluetooth developments provide entirely new opportunities for networking, which as we know is a key element of IoT and Industry 4.0. In addition, ideas that were too expensive, too complex, too large, or too power-hungry a couple of years ago are now often becoming feasible. When it comes to semiconductors, the wide-bandgap materials such as SiC and GaN are providing considerable momentum, but the passive and electromechanical components are also enjoying a lot of movement thanks to the new types of rechargeable batteries and supercaps.
While we’re on the topic of products — how do component manufacturers benefit from working with a distributor?
First, many customers do not have the volumes to enable a manufacturer to serve them all directly. This is where we like to serve as the long arm of the manufacturer in order to grow their customer base. Because of the reason. Rutronik has a worldwide presence, we can reach additional regional markets, not to mention vertical market segments—it often happens that we recommend a module for a medical engineering application even though it is actually designed for automotive applications, simply because the features are a perfect match.
Ultimately, the goal is always to develop a competitive final product. The more successful our customer’s application, the more components they need, and that is ultimately what everyone involved wants—device manufacturers or development institution, component manufacturers, and distributors.
It’s precisely where these interests meet that a distributor traditionally does their best work. What changes are you observing here?
Flexibility has become more important than ever. The pandemic has once again shown that, even with state-of-the-art planning tools, there is no such thing as absolute planning certainty or absolute security of supply. In general, even the largest European OEMs do not enjoy priority handling in component delivery from component manufacturers—compared to the needs of American and Asian manufacturers, they simply represent too small a share. As a distributor, we have more sway due to how we bundle demand and with our close partnerships of many years with the manufacturers. And we have the expertise and the solutions to withstand component shortages. The closer customers work with us and the more they share their plans, the better this works.
Finally, let’s take a look in the crystal ball. How will the work of the FAEs change because of the rise of digitalization?
The traditional “field” aspect with personal on-site consulting will cease to exist in its established form in the future. Instead, a mix of analog and digital communication methods, varying from customer to customer, will take root. New tools will be used for this purpose, allowing us to respond more quickly and more precisely—I have already named a few examples. There will almost certainly be more to come—it will be interesting to see how this goes!
Carsten Steiner, Director FAE/BDM Global at Rutronik
"Ultimately, the goal is always to develop a competitive final product."
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