This year’s Embedded World Conference brought together the global embedded community, including leading experts, key stakeholders and industry associations.
As part of the conference, DigiKey, a leader and innovator in the distribution of electronic components and automation products, assembled a panel from the DigiKey team and its partners, including:
- Stefanie Kolbl, business unit director, TQ Embedded
- Karsten Bier, managing director, RECOM
- Ian Wallace, vice president, EMEA, at DigiKey
- Hermann Reiter, senior director at DigiKey
- Kevin Walseth, maker at DigiKey
The panel looked back at DigiKey’s 50-year history, how the company and the industry have evolved, current industry trends and what’s next for the embedded community.
The DigiKey Difference
The panel kicked off talking about what has made DigiKey successful over the years and enabled them to compete in this worldwide market. “It’s the culture, a can-do attitude, helping each other do those 1,000 small things each day correctly,” Ian Wallace, vice president, EMEA at DigiKey shared. “Being open to change and innovation, too.” This can-do attitude has made it a welcoming place to present ideas and try new things, which is an important characteristic for the success of a technology company.
Karsten Bier, managing director at RECOM, which develops standard and customized power converters and platform architectures, spoke about how DigiKey opened the door for him and his company. RECOM had found success in Europe, but they weren’t gaining traction in the U.S. market due to not having brand recognition. That was until DigiKey was open to talking.
DigiKey’s forward-thinking attitude and ability to recognize what RECOM had to offer, allowed them to enter the U.S. market. They’re now successful throughout the states.
“I would say it’s the American dream come true. And that’s not an exaggeration,” Bier added.
The Digital Transformation
The panelists discussed that while there is so much being automated and digital transformation is everywhere, service and a personal touch is still important. No matter where a customer falls on the spectrum between analogue and digital, strong relationships between suppliers and manufacturers will continue to be critical. DigiKey works to find that balance with each customer.
“I don’t think everyone’s ready for pure digital. Everyone knows that there are advantages to it, there are efficiencies to it, but you have to be ready and in the right place,” Wallace said.
Wallace also shared a story about visiting a long-time DigiKey customer last year. DigiKey had recently introduced a tool that automates quotes. While most of the team was thrilled that going digital opened up their time to focus on strategic work, a few important team members weren’t as sure and felt as though the automation took away the personal interaction and was actually pushing more work to their customers by making them generate their own quotes. All to say that you need to meet people where they are.
“Trust is a big thing where everybody has their favorite partners,” Hermann Reiter, senior director at DigiKey shared. “You have to build trust with your supplier base and your customer base and that’s what helps digital transformation.”
Current Industry Challenges
Like any industry, electronics companies face challenges that are often beyond the control of any one company. The panelists dove into some of the current challenges facing the industry and how they’re working to minimize the impact.
- Diversification of production: Before the pandemic, there was a huge reliance on APAC PAC for products. Everyone was comfortable with how things were and didn’t recognize a need to diversify manufacturing. Now that people realize something like a worldwide pandemic could happen again, companies are working to ensure there isn’t complete reliance on one geographic area.
- Avoiding bottlenecks: While sometimes unavoidable, bottlenecks create compounding issues. Companies, like DigiKey, that have a long-term outlook and strategy, are better able to mitigate supply chain issues by focusing on the allocation of inventories and having extra materials stocked.
- Communication is key: For the entire ecosystem to operate as it should, it’s all about collaboration between the manufacturer, customer and distributor, even if the market is unstable. This collaboration and having real time, interactive communication helps level out the demand in the market. “During this crisis, we as a customer, have learned who is really a partner and not just a supplier,” Stefanie Kolbl, business unit director, TQ Embedded “We need flexibility and have built strong partnerships with DigiKey.”
- An opportunity for innovation: There were smaller companies that had plenty of inventory when Covid hit. This allowed them to make a name for themselves, by innovating with new and exciting initiatives. “If there was a silver lining in all of the chip shortages, especially on the maker startup side, it is that it allowed a lot of companies that had plenty of stock, plenty of inventory, plenty of availability, to create new chips,” Kevin Walseth, maker at DigiKey shared. “They came out of the woodwork and they were able to help support a lot of customers that couldn’t get their favorite chip or whatever it might have been.”
The Next Generation of Engineers, Designers and Makers
Back in 1972, the founder of DigiKey was a hobbyist and engineer, now commonly referred to as a “maker.”
The panel talked about that 50 years ago, being a maker wasn’t as common as it is today. Now, the barrier to entry and ability to get supplies is lower than ever, opening the door for many young people to enter the industry.
“Educators and students are creating the next generation of products,” Walseth shared. “Students are going to take the things that they’ve learned in electronics, they’re going to take it to their career, whether they’re an engineer or in technology and they’re going to bring DigiKey with them. We want to support and grow with the students, they’re the next generation.”
The panel closed by discussing the success of the past 50 years and excitement for what’s next. Companies that can be flexible, evolve and continue to build relationships, even with the shift to more a more digital environment, will thrive in this ever-evolving industry. “DigiKey is really a good supplier,” Kolbl shared. “We are looking forward to the next 50 years and heading into the future together.”