In today’s dynamic world, the need for newer and faster electronics has created a need for effective support services for the electronics industry. With this, the industry has witnessed a rapid upsurge in the offerings of electronic component distributors. In order to stay ahead in the competition and meet the growing needs of customers, distributors have gradually stepped into diverse offerings like design and engineering services of the products. Krishna Navuluri, chief operating officer of Menlopark Technologies in an exclusive interaction with Baishakhi Dutta of Electronicsforu.com Network shares how the company plans to stay ahead in the highly competitive electronics distribution space. Excerpts follow…
Q) Brief us through Menlopark’s areas of business and the business model
Our parent company, Embedded Software Development Systems, is into engineering services in aerospace and automotive space. Our primary solutions include vehicle infotainment systems for the automotive. In the automotive systems, we do design development as well as manufacturing. We have our own manufacturing facility as well.
The division MenloPark handles the distribution as well as the integration of a complete range of solutions from the actual hardware to the real-time operating systems. For instance, in avionics, we have a couple of real-time operating systems from a company called DDC-I, which is flying a large number of aircraft at present. For the automotive space and security purpose, we have autoserv base platform and some security OS. And then we have a set of compilers and debuggers for the various architectures, design tools, testing tools, and modules.
Q) Which countries are your main business destinations?
We deal with manufacturers globally. We support them here in India as well as in the Asia Pacific region. We have our own sales teams spread in Korea and Singapore. We also have an engineering team in the U.S. The only country that we don’t operate in the Asia Pacific is China.
Q) Any major automaker who is your client for in-vehicle solutions?
Hyundai Motors is one of our major automotive clients. The in-vehicle infotainment (IVI) systems that come in their vehicles are manufactured by us. We started out engagement with Hyundai way back in the early 2000s as a software provider.
Q) How are you capitalising IoT for your business?
We see IoT from two different paradigms. One is in the automotive space, where we are going pretty strong with the IVI platform, telematics and fleet management. In terms of industrial IoT and Industry 4.0 applications, we have the complete infrastructure that is needed for managing PLC and automated system – and the toolchain that is needed for them to build their end application.
We have all the tools or the infrastructure that is needed – be it a controller, cloud infrastructure, security toolchain, and crypto-libraries and other things alike.
When it comes to integrating these elements, it becomes a job for our engineering team. So, when a customer comes to us with clear specifications, we can provide the complete solution to them too, majorly designed and developed by us and bits and parts built along with some partners.
Q) Who are your main distribution competitors in India when it comes to components like evaluation boards? What market trends have you learned from them?
We have been in the distribution business of evaluation boards, commercial off-the-shelf board or starter kits for nearly 20 years now. So, it is Digi-key, Element14, Mouser, and Avnet who are the major players in the market. In this tenure, we saw Avnet also launch its online access model. We have well learned that everyone is going to the internet to boost sales.
However, an essential part of selling the evaluation boards is the field application engineering, where you take the board and actually show it working with the required software and application. That is not something that is being done by the internet-enabled stuff. It’s more of a stock-and-sell model.
So, Menlopark has come in a space where we are growing as a solution provider, by selling the evaluation boards as well as giving customers the required toolchain to use these boards. For instance, the customer may need certain software modules or code optimiser compiler for their program, a specific debugger, testing tools and many other elements along with the boards. We have the bandwidth to support the full-scale requirement.
Q) So does your end-to-end services also help provide customers with full-scale IoT platforms like the Renesas’ Synergy?
The Synergy platform is one kind of a solution. All the silicon providers in the world can come out with such a complete platform with all the middleware and other important elements built in it. Now, Synergy is not something which you can put it on and plug and play. You need some kind of hand-holding to fully utilise it. So, we support platforms like Synergy too.
We sell such platforms as well as provide the required hand-holding to the customer. This reduces their time to market and time to complete development. Without the handholding, customers have to spend time figuring out how the fully built module works, rather than spending time on their core application areas.
Q) Electronics component distributors are gradually getting into the design space now. Why this shift has started in India and what will be its impact on our ecosystem?
Through my years of experience in the industry, I have seen that in European countries or in the North American market, players like Arrow, Avnet, and others have their own design teams. The Indian market and to some extent the south-east Asian market have not primarily received the active design level support from any of these major silicon providers for all these years. That was all dealt with by the system integrators or the independent design houses.
Now, there are many activities in the product life-cycle which are of too small a scale for the amount of investment that a customer was going to put in while going to independent design houses. That’s the space where companies like us have been getting into. And now, distributors are able to get into the design phase with an evaluation board and actually ends up either at the testing level or even at the finished product level.
Q) How does this alter the skills required in the technical sales teams of the distributors?
So far, a majority of them have been trained to get into this lead-based selling – get some lead from elsewhere, go to the customer, collect the requirements, give them a quotation and take the order. A majority of people in the distribution space have been used to this particular model, which is not the actual space to be in as a distributor
As a distributor, you are representing a product based company – so you will have to make the customer realise the technicalities, functionality, and benefits of the product and take a production license back home. So that’s the actual crux of being a distribution partner. The skillsets have to be developed.
We at Menlopark have started our career in engineering services and we still have our foot in the engineering space. We can see the importance of this aspect. Without technical expertise, one may end up being stuck at one or two products and will not be able to offer a complete spectrum of solutions. They should have the complete toolchain and the bandwidth to address the customer at the technical level and at various interfaces primarily.
Q) Do you provide testing services as well?
Yes, we do have our own testing tools – both for software and hardware. On the software front, we have two categories – one is the dynamic level and the other is the static level. We partner with some global test platform providers to bring these technologies to India.
We also provide test engineering services. We write the design and the test cases for customers and deliver the report as per the required time standards. So that’s one chapter.
On the front of hardware testing, we have a Bluetooth testing chain and ethernet testing chain that have been getting into automotive lately. These are more or less replacing the primary communication modes. We have partnered with a complete toolchain company in Germany called Technica Engineering – which has been used by the auto major BMW.
Q) Tell us about your team structure in India
In India, we mainly have the sales field application team and the product support team. The marketing team is part of the sales wing. We also have an engineering team, which is based out of our Bangalore office, where we provide testing services and the engineering services for IoT platforms. But our core business on the engineering side is still the IVI area.
Q) What are your future plans in business?
We plan to bring all the engineering services that are needed in our own products into Menlopark. We aim to do it in the next couple of quarters. We will primarily focus on the IVI platform and expand in that space.
Q) Any production unit planned for India?
We have our own manufacturing and staff in Taiwan. We are planning to set up a production team within a year in India and also manufacture the IVI systems for one of the automotive clients from Korea – KIA Motors. They have some major plans for India. We have won the design contract for them. So if the design phase goes well and the testing phase and other operations happen within the anticipated timelines, we are actually planning to set up a facility in the way we are supporting Hyundai motors from our Taiwan office. It will be a kind of Greenfield project.