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Q&A: Avnet Goes All-in With Support for the Makerspace

11 October 2017

Over the better part of the last year, Avnet has been ramping up its support for the makerspace with a variety of acquisitions to broaden its portfolio as well as rolling out its own maker boards and kits for budding tinkerers, hobbyists, engineers and do-it-yourself enthusiasts.

The global distributor acquired rival Premier Farnell in October 2016 along with its element14 community where makers exchange ideas and provide technical advice. It acquired, a place where makers can build and share platforms for internet-connected hardware, founded the MakerSource Web site that showcases new products and knowledge sharing, and has formed an agreement with Kickstarter to use its tools to help budding creators better create products they can bring to prototypes.

Along the way, Avnet has also been making its own development platforms including its Visible Things kit for industrial internet of things (IoT) applications and making deals to bring MikroElektronika’s boards to the Americas for the first time.

Dayna Badhorn, vice president of emerging business for Avnet, sat down to chat with Electronics360 to discuss Avnet’s big leap into the maker market, its platform for enabling hobbyists and makers to get parts and its many acquisitions into the makerspace.

1) We have seen some companies end their support for maker boards and microprocessors (Intel being one of them), yet Avnet seems to be increasing support. Why is the company taking this approach?

Dayna Badhorn, VP of emerging business at AvnetDayna Badhorn, VP of emerging business at AvnetAt Avnet, it is important that we support non-engineers and engineers alike in their quest to learn about new hardware technology. Working with developers in the idea stage – whether that is through trainings, project examples, articles, etc., lends to the success of the developer. Avnet is also a partner of the Raspberry Pi foundation and has had a lot of success working with customers on learning programming through a variety of projects and training.

2) How important is the maker community to Avnet in terms of its long-term strategy?

The maker community is extremely important to Avnet’s long-term strategy. More than 10 years ago – there were no such things as the Raspberry Pi and the Arduino Board. These development boards and others, have enabled a new generation of entrepreneurs. They allow entrepreneurs to bring Minimal Viable Products to Market when they have new ideas. They are responsible for generating so many new and exciting technology advancements. These makers and hardware creators tend to be unconstrained by convention, which allows them to come up with some amazing ideas. As we’ve seen, the challenge is getting these great ideas to tangible prototypes, and then getting the prototypes production-ready. Avnet is uniquely positioned to partner with these makers and creators to provide the help they need as they turn their ideas into products. Avnet has made significant investments in resources to help support makers/creators, and we would like Avnet to be seen as the partner of choice when a maker/creator is looking to bring new technology into the market.

3) As a distributor, do you find that it is easier to get the products you are selling into the hands of tinkerers, inventors, hobbyists and makers, than say a single company selling a few products?

As a global distributor, it does allow us to provide a wide variety of technologies to this customer base. For example, our Premier Farnell brand has many different technologies and tools that can help the maker and startup community.

4) Can you talk about the services that Avnet provides from prototyping to actual product development?

Avnet can help creators and startups with product selection, design and BOM optimization to ensure that a product is technically sound and optimized for performance and delivery. Premier Farnell can offer the customer small quantities to use for prototyping and assist in finding the right contract manufacturing partner. This allows the creators and startups to start to validate their product through beta-testing. Our Dragon Innovation division specializes in helping early-stage companies/creators navigate the difficult journey of prototype to production, or as the Dragon team likes to say, going from “one to many.” Avnet also offers supply chain services to help these creators understand how all of the pieces come together, with an end result of physical product reaching customers.

5) In the past year, Avnet acquired a number of different resources, and Premier Farnell along with its element14 division. What role are these resources playing in the maker community?

Avnet acquired Premier Farnell (including its element14 community) and to reach further into the conception, design and prototyping processes. These are stages where innovators can benefit most from an exposure to the hardware that will help them bring their products to market. In addition, the launch of Avnet’s online resource directory provides individuals and startups with access to a comprehensive ecosystem of the strategic and tactical resources needed to turn a pioneering new product vision into a marketable reality. And most recently, Avnet announced the acquisition of Dragon Innovation, strengthening our role in developing new technology products by simplifying the manufacturing process, particularly for those projects that advance IoT.

6) Speaking of Dragon Innovation, how will this new platform further Avnet’s digital strategy for the maker community?

The Hexiwear development board from MikroElektronika is now available in the Americas for the first time. Source: AvnetThe Hexiwear development board from MikroElektronika is now available in the Americas for the first time. Source: AvnetDragon Innovation has a digital tool called Product Planner. Through this cloud-based platform, paired with a team of hardware manufacturing experts, Dragon Innovation can manage the full manufacturing process, from strategy and planning for earlier stage products to factory selection and production oversight. Customers can begin gaining insights such as high-level cash flow analyses, breakeven reports and more. In addition to being useful during early manufacturing planning, Product Planner continues to serve as a system of record throughout the entire production lifecycle. This platform, coupled with human experts in the loop, greatly simplifies and de-risks the journey from “one to many” for those wanting to create something and take it to large-scale production.

7) Avnet also signed an agreement with MikroElektronika to bring the Hexiwear IoT board to the Americas. What does that board do and what are people using it for?

Avnet’s agreement with MikroElektronika is just one of several recent moves to expand the portfolio of components and services available to our customers. For MikroElektronika in particular, their focus on developing devices that offer the performance and technical sophistication required for next-generation IoT devices is a huge benefit to our customers of all sizes, from the small startup to professional designer.

8) What are some cool innovations that makers and hobbyists have been creating using Avnet resources?

Owlet baby sock was one of the innovations created through Avnet's maker tools. Source: OwletOwlet baby sock was one of the innovations created through Avnet's maker tools. Source: OwletAvnet is helping guide entrepreneurs, inventors and makers as they bring truly innovative solutions to market. For example, Owlet developed a baby sock that tracks heart rate and oxygen levels in infants, designed to notify parents if levels fall outside preset zones. Avnet helped with design resources and supply chain services to guide their unique product to market. Avnet works with a company called Ubicquia to make cities smarter by embedding streetlight sensors that detect threats such as gas leaks, radiation, and gunshots to alert response teams more quickly. These same sensors alert rural African communities about the approach of dangerous animals.

9) What’s next for Avnet in terms of its support for makers?

Avnet continues to work with the maker and startup community to understand where there are gaps and how we can help overcome those challenges. Based on their needs, we evaluate where we can best help these customers using our current core competencies to deliver new technology partners, solutions and services that really add value.

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