Electronic component distributors form a key part of the supply chain for providing electronic equipment manufacturers with the components they require.
Distribution is a complicated process and getting components in the right place at the right time is a major key to a successful operation.
While component manufacturers do not have the capability to interface with thousands of companies large and small, distributors are set up to handle the supply of different components from different manufacturers to a large number of companies.
What is a distributor
Although no two electronic component distributors are the same, they provide a variety of services that make the component supply chain easier to handle. Some of the capabilities they provide include:
- Supply wide variety of components: Traditionally the supply of components can be split into two main broad areas:
- Small quantity supply: The supply of small quantities of components was the area where many distributors started. Manufacturers of components were not willing to supply small quantities and as a result many distributors set up. The supply of small quantities of components is often required for activities including development, prototype or small quantity production and service / repair.
- Large quantity supply: The large quantities of components are required for large production runs. Originally these components would have been bought directly from the manufacturers, but now they may be bought via distributors to improve the supply chain operation.
- Provision of supply scheduling: Electronic component distributors are often set up to enable component deliveries to be scheduled for when they are required. Manufacturing philosophies like Just-In-Time, JIT require accurate scheduling of components, otherwise the benefits of running a JIT line are lost.
- Support: Increasingly distributors are finding that they are the point of contact for technical support. Many have set up departments in conjunction with manufacturers to provide the support that is needed both for making decisions about the right electronic component, and secondly for solving technical issues.
- Take back of excess stock: In some instances the electronic component distributors can take back excess stock. For example if a production run is cut short then the manufacturer may be left with considerable quantities of excess stock which he cannot sell. The distributor may be able to handle this. This is normally only undertaken for large quantities of excess stock.
When choosing an electronics component distributor for a given project, line of components or part type, it is necessary to consider what they can offer against the requirements. Size, support, quantifies and all these type of parameters need to be considered.
Types of electronic component distributor
When considering which component distributor or distributors to use, it is worth considering what type of distributor they are. This can have a large bearing on the approach they will take. This may or may not meet the needs at any given time.
It is very difficult to have hard and fast categories, because the electronic component distribution industry is changing fast, and the various companies are changing their approach to gain additional market share and also match their offering to the changing market requirements.
- High service distributor: This type of electronic component distributor tends to have a very number of stock items. Often several hundreds of thousands and they are willing to ship small quantities and very quickly - often a day or so. This type of distributor is generally used for development and small production runs.
- Broad-line distributor: This type of distributor is more geared up for dealing with companies that require stock for reasonably large production runs. Scheduling of product and storage when not in use will all be considerations when looking for this type of distributor. While they are moving to have a greater capability to supply small quantities, they will tend to target the large quantities more.
- Specialised distributor: This type of distributor will have expertise in a particular area. For example there are a number of RF and microwave distributors that will have expertise in this area and stock the more specialist components associated with their speciality. They often adopt a more traditional approach to component distribution.
- Independent sales and marketing organisation, ISMO: This type of organisation can be considered more as an agent who can arrange for the supply of components when required. Carrying no stock, these organisations fill a gap in the marketplace and are useful in a number of circumstances.
It should be remembered that these categories are very broad and no one distributor will aim to fit a given category - instead the company will aim to meet a number of market needs and goals they see.