Arrow’s distributor focus on development tools delivers cost and time savings for design houses and OEMs, says it’s general manager Dean Hassell.

Pressure on budgets and resources is forcing design teams to look to the distribution channel for ever greater levels of technical support. And that’s why companies such as Arrow Electronics are building a comprehensive selection of reference designs, development kits and evaluation programmes that simplify and speed customer designs in key application areas.

Many of today’s design houses and OEMs are built around small engineering teams looking to make best use of limited resources by focusing on core competencies. At the same time, these teams need to maximise competitive advantage by driving downtime to market and product development budgets. As a result, a growing number of engineers look to distribution to help simplify and speed design implementation. Reference designs, evaluation boards and development tools are critical to how successfully a distributor addresses this requirement.

Development kits and reference designs
By providing easy evaluation and prototyping, as well as pre-tested, working circuit layouts and BoMs, development kits and reference designs enable engineering teams to minimise the time spent on areas of a design that, albeit importantly, fall outside their core competence. Until recently, these kits and designs were largely the preserve of the supplier rather than the distributor of the underlying technology. Now, however, distributors are complementing the supplier’s own development kits and reference designs with their own offerings.

There are good arguments for distributors creating such tools. Most distributors work with many companies across a variety of application areas, giving them a wealth of experience of customer requirements. At the same time, distributors have access to underlying technologies from a multitude of suppliers, allowing them to choose the very best products for the task, be that components, platform level technologies or software.

In Arrow’s case, the company has established a dedicated group to create development boards and reference designs. Comprising engineering specialists from across Arrow’s operations in Northern, Central and Southern Europe, the Arrow Europe Reference Board Design team identifies customer requirements and, in conjunction with strategic suppliers and third parties as necessary, delivers platforms that allow customers to develop advanced products with minimum time to market.

Among the platforms that the Arrow Europe Reference Board Design team has created to date are FPGA based solutions for motor control and display applications and dedicated development kits for Arm and Intel Atom embedded systems.

Pablo is a powerful FPGA based reference design that enables the rapid prototyping of applications requiring integrated graphic and display controller functionality. At the heart of the baseboard is the image processing core which combines an Altera FPGA with two fully independent 32bit wide mobile DDR SDRAM memories.

The baseboard’s communications options include UART, SPI and I²C connectivity as well as user defined I/Os. LEDs, a touch digitiser, several pushbuttons and a joystick are also provided. Each Pablo platform is delivered with a design example that has been used to verify hardware functionality and that allows users to quickly begin developing their own application.

Earlier this year, Arrow, in conjunction with hardware and software specialist Everex, created a new development platform for high performance, multimedia embedded systems based on the latest Arm processor technology. This platform, shown below, left, is a complete hardware and software development kit available with options of a Samsung S3C2440, Samsung S3C6400 or Freescale i.MX31/32 host processor.

Designed to provide a flexible, modular solution, the kit comprises a credit card sized CPU board, motherboard with key peripherals and interfaces, a touch screen enabled TFT display and an embedded operating system. A CD-rom containing a user guide, full PCB schematics, BoM data and a tutorial covering building and debugging Windows CE applications is included.

Semiconductor support tools
A challenge for resource limited design teams tasked with developing semiconductor based designs is selection of the appropriate development tools. Such tools can be expensive but they can make the difference between delivering a product on time and within budget or a costly project overrun. With this in mind, Arrow created its Testdrive development tool evaluation program.

Providing access to over 400 of the latest development tools from major semiconductor vendors for a free 28 day evaluation period, Arrow Testdrive is said to be a risk-free solution to answering critical design questions early in the product development cycle. Through Testdrive, customers can gain hands-on experience in their own environment with potential development tools prior to committing the tool budget to a specific vendor’s solution and unproven silicon architectures.

Local delivery
As with all other aspects of the distributor/ customer relationship, the success of distributor developed kits, reference designs and tool evaluation programmes lies in providing access to them when and where they are needed. At the same time, there needs to be recognition that many customers looking for support will be start-ups, developing companies and other small to medium sized enterprises. In Arrow’s case, a regionally focused branch network of locally focused offices supports local delivery and support. Local FAEs, for example, are key in the Testdrive programme whilst Arrow Advantage caters for the specific needs of UK SME design houses and OEMs.

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