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Using Suppliers To Do Your Work

By: Chris Popp
Director of Sales and Marketing
DieQua Corporation

Engineers are smart people. They are analytical and can understand specifications when they read them. In most cases they know what they want or think they want. The flip side, though, is that they are extremely busy, in charge of more engineering disciplines than ever before, and don’t really have the time to stay on top of all the technical developments or emerging trends.

There are certainly strategies and techniques that can help you keep up with all the new developments the marketplace spews out. We addressed one such strategy last month. But when you have a project and have identified the criteria of a specific element of the design, the real work begins to pick something that is going to work.

Lets assume you’ve done some research on suppliers that have what you think you want, or perhaps you already have a supplier from which you buy similar products from time to time. What most engineers then do is download catalogs and start poring over specifications, hoping to find the correct model that meets the requirements.

Or perhaps they find some sizing software on a website and start entering application data, assured that the holy grail will be found once they hit the “Enter” button.

Those activities work to a certain extent and have for many years. But a potential pitfall, other than being extremely time consuming, is that the best solution to your problem or issue may not be realized. Why? It’s because you aren’t an expert in applying those products.

Suppliers, on the other hand, should be the experts on the technology you are searching for. They should know how to apply their products for a successful result and often know the competitive technologies that can achieve similar outcomes. This can be good or bad depending on whether they have your best interest at heart.

The fact is there are many ways to solve a problem or satisfy an application requirement. While you can wade through all the options yourself, it makes much more sense to let a potential supplier do the work for you. They are eager to provide the service and show you they want to earn your business.

But you have to be willing to share information. That “My application is confidential” response to probing questions about the design and performance requirements is not helpful to you. And you need to know enough about those performance requirements to answer the questions critical to picking out the best solution for your needs.

So, how do you use your suppliers to help get the best solution for your conundrum without having to do all the work your self?

Here are a few tips:

  1. Do some basic research on the technology you are looking for so you are familiar with the terminology and implementation to avoid being sold what the supplier has instead of what you need.
  2. Know what you want to accomplish and why. They are going to ask.
  3. Have application performance and design criteria ready to share.
  4. Its ok to let them know your initial opinion on the product you think you need, but then ask what they think about it as a solution to your problem, both pros and cons.
  5. Don’t get locked in to a design idea or specific component technology. Consider the possibility that changing complimentary components or attacking the problem a different way may lead to a better design.
  6. Share your must haves, can’t haves, wants and “in a perfect world” requirements. This gives the supplier a better picture of what you want and what you can live with.
  7. Ask them for alternative solutions and the reasons for each so you have something to choose from.
  8. Share your budgetary constraints. They aren’t going to gouge you. Since most suppliers work off standard price lists, this will save you from discussing solutions that don’t fit your cost structure. And they may cut you a deal to get your business.
  9. Let the supplier do his job. Once you’ve given him what he needs, he’ll do all the legwork, calculations and product selection for you, saving you all but the final decision.

When you find a supplier you can trust, one who anticipates your needs, understands your goals and instills in you confidence in their abilities, then stick with him. At least until a more creative one comes along. Times keep changing and technology right along with it.



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