The design tool, which used to be in the realm of CAD, CAM and EDA providers, is no longer restricted to proprietary, complex, expensive and suite-level solutions. Although they differ vastly from their CAD/CAM/EDA predecessors, design tools provided by suppliers and distributors have the same goal in mind: making it easier for designers to get to market faster.
Supplier and distributor offerings – most of them free and available online -- run the gamut from straightforward libraries of parts and products; to design kits, evaluation boards and reference designs; through concept-through-prototype offerings such as element14’s The Knode. This week, NKK Switches partnered with CADENAS PARTsolutions, a global provider of online product configurators, to migrate CADNAS’ 3D switch library and configurator directly to NKK’s website, www.nkkswitches.com.
As part of NKK’s online switch library and configurator, the upgrade places the 3D configurator directly on product pages to give the most up to date information and a streamlined customer experience, NKK said in a press release. The upgrade also allows users to stay on NKK’s website, enabling engineers to easily navigate, discover and download the information they need to make the design decisions that give them a competitive edge.
"This improved embedded design not only provides a better user experience, but by making the 3D library and configurator exist on NKK’s website users can more easily download and integrate complex models into their designs at no charge,” said Jennifer Lintner, marketing manager for NKK Switches. “NKK keeps the same quality of content that is available through the CADENAS PARTsolutions configurator but it becomes a much more integrated experience.”
Also this week, distributor Digi-Key Corp. announced enhancements to the Scheme-it circuit design tool, available at no cost on the Digi-Key website. The tool was co-designed and built by Aspen Labs LLC, a business-media company focused on the needs of engineers.
Today, it’s all about digital user experience, said Tim Thomas, CEO, CADENAS PARTsolutions, and the web has enabled many types of companies to provide design assistance. “We have customers who have seen a 300 percent increase in digital product downloads simply by moving their catalog to an embedded design within their website,” Thomas said. “When you simplify the process for customers to access the information they need, usage increases significantly.”
For distributors, design tools can also provide a pathway to purchases. In particular, catalog and low-volume distributors such as Digi-Key, element14, Allied and Mouser can highlight their device offerings within the design-tool domain. Digi-Key’s Scheme-it design tool, which is free to use, provides users with a way to record their circuit design idea in a shareable, electronic form. The tool implements the entire Digi-Key catalog, allowing users to design with actual parts available for immediate shipment from Digi-Key.
Element14’s the Knode operates on a similar premise. The company wants to engage with customers at the early stage of the product design cycle and become the go-to place the next time an engineer embarks on a project. Once a design is done, element14’s parent company, Premier Farnell, can provide production-level fulfillment services. This one-stop-shop approach – in addition to ease of use for engineers – also keeps designers from jumping from site to site. Element14 surveyed customers and found they were visiting hundreds of sites to get the information they needed. Distributors have the opportunity to pull these things together in one place.
“The impetus for developing a tool like Scheme-it revolved around lowering the barrier to design, allowing users to move their design from back of napkin to bill of materials,” according to David Sandys, director, Digi-Key supplier marketing. “Integration with the Digi-Key catalog truly differentiates the tool from other free options, as designers are able to design parts into their circuit with the knowledge that they can move right into ordering them from Digi-Key.”
Suppliers such as NKK are also seeing an advantage. Since 2009, NKK has been systematically expanding its online 3D switch library and configurator to include a full range of NKK’s product lines. Design engineers use 3D models to improve design productivity and reduce the time needed to redraw standard parts. Approximately 90 percent of the company’s product lines are available as 3D models in the catalog. CAD files for remaining products will be made available upon request.
3D CAD models are available in a variety of popular CAD file formats including Catia, I-DEAS, Inventor, Pro/Engineer, SolidWorks, and Unigraphics, as well as universal file formats such as STEP, IGES, and SAT and others.
The 3D switch library and configurator may be accessed on the NKK website, the Autodesk® Supplier Content Center, Machine Design Magazine CAD library, and other online libraries. NKK products will also be available within PARTsolutions 3D Part Catalog Management solutions, allowing NKK Switches to introduce their products to new prospects worldwide independent of the CAD technology they may be using.