The electronics industry has recently tapped in to a growing population of small entrepreneurs, do-it-yourself (DIY) hobbyists and ‘makers’ that could be developing the next breakthrough high-tech device. Design tools have sprung up that make it faster and easier for users to bring these products to market. But two marquee names in the design chain say in general, these tools lack the scalability and flexibility required to bring these inventions to production.
Mentor Graphics Corp., a global leader in EDA software, has teamed up with low-volume, high-mix components distributor Digi-Key Corp. to develop a set of tools that bridge the gap between concept, prototype and production. The jointly developed Designer Schematic and Designer Layout tools became available exclusively from Digi-Key earlier this week.
“The professional entrepreneurs, as we call them, rely on low-cost tools to get their work done,” said Jim Martens, product marketing manager for Mentor Graphics, in an interview. “They have needs that [existing] tools aren’t addressing. Some of these are database-sized, or they force you to go to a specific manufacturer or fab; or require that you store designs in the cloud where they’re visible to everyone. These are professional-level tools available at a low cost that users can count on for reliability and scalability.”
For the first 90 days, Designer Schematic and Designer Layout will be available exclusively through Digi-Key at a 30-percent discount, starting at $199 and $449, respectively. A bundling package is also available. Product licenses are sold as an annual subscription. Designer Schematic and Designer Layout come with free access to Mentor Graphics’ PartQuest, a fully integrated website that merges Digi-Key part numbers into symbols and footprints, reducing manual errors and saving time and cost.
Martens emphasizes the scalability of the tools and their ease-of-use with component libraries. About 360,000 part numbers can be downloaded immediately or a library can built seamlessly with Digi-Key’s catalog of 4 million devices. The tools aren’t limited to Digi-Key; users can build libraries from anywhere. But as part of the intensive collaboration and product development process, Digi-Key and Mentor Graphics completed thorough beta testing which included more than 300 participants around the globe. As a result, the companies validated the need and market demand for an affordable professional-level tool for the design engineer.
“For 42 years our value proposition has been to the engineer,” said Chris Beeson, executive vice president for sales and supplier management at Digi-Key, in an interview. “What we are trying to do is position our service proposition globally. Part of this effort is enabling offerings such as design tools. Mentor is one of many examples of our expanded services to the engineering community, and what makes this [collaboration] different is it is tied to enabling smaller organizations and start-ups as well as mature organizations.”
“Small companies need to grow,” added Martens. “Users need to be assured that their design can be easily imported and exported — that there is someplace they can go with their design.”
Distributors have gradually been expanding their engineering support to include products and services that bring designs more easily from concept to prototype. Element14’s Design Center – originally the Knode — provides a centralized online, end-to-end design solutions center combining product data and information, independent community content and software downloads with a search and select interface. Broadline distributors and their component suppliers collaborate on reference designs, board-level products and development kits.
Such offerings, of course, provide businesses with new opportunities for revenue. Digi-Key has been gradually moving into the small production and prototyping business where customers need higher order volumes than engineers but not high-volume fulfillment services. “Our model is well positioned in the early stage of design partnerships, but we want to service the market segment that requires a high-mix/low volume alternative where traditionally, organizations such as Digi-Key weren’t an option,” said Beeson. “This is a new sales channel for us,” added Martens. “Now we cover the entire portfolio with the addition of unique, low-cost tools.”
The tools’ utility isn’t exclusively limited to engineers: purchasing benefits as well, says Martens. Buyers can download a design schematic when the company is ready to start building its product; export a bill of material; and upload it to PartQuest. “That’s one of the nice things about this product: when users browse components they can download them right away,” he added. “We don’t want to slow them down.”