Independent Electronic Distributors Address Industry Concerns at Annual IDEA Meeting

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The Independent Distributors of Electronics Association (IDEA), an organization created for the purpose of offering comprehensive solutions for quality control within the independent distribution sector, held its annual meeting in Las Vegas this May. The meeting was primarily targeted toward discussions regarding the enhancement of quality initiatives within the industry. Perhaps the most notable development was the presence of a considerable number of Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) and Electronic Manufacturing Services (EMS) providers, interested in emulating IDEA standards to boost their already stringent quality control procedures.

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New Participants Welcomed at IDEA Meeting
The presence of OEMs and EMS providers was well received at the IDEA annual meeting. "There was no doubt that this year's annual meeting generated a lot of interest among the OEMs and [EMS providers]," says Debra Eggeman, IDEA's general manager. "Each year we take on more and more responsibility, and I know that we made a bigger splash this year than last year. Everything came off perfectly for IDEA."

According to Eggeman, the OEM and EMS presence at the meeting this year was in response to a rising interest in the adoption of IDEA-STD-1010-A, an inspection standard introduced by IDEA in October of 2006, as a part of its own operating procedures. Initially, IDEA members were the only companies to conform to the procedures set forth in the Standard manual. However, as other industry players saw the benefits and accessibility of the comprehensive inspection processes, the standard became a more widely recognized protocol; in fact, it was so widely accepted that many manufacturers began to require that companies be compliant with IDEA-STD-1010-A in order to secure a slot on their Approved Vendor List (AVL). In a two year span, the revolutionary standard has become an industry tenet; and IDEA has proven that it has the capacity to hold the future of quality control and business practices among the industry's leading independent distributors.

IDEA: An Industry Champion
IDEA is an organization that was developed to address and provide solutions for some of the common concerns about the credibility of independent distributors in the electronics market. The group was established in 2003, and was founded upon a commitment to:

[…] promote the independent distribution industry through a media advocacy campaign, to improve the quality of products and services through a quality certification program, educational seminars and conferences, and to promote the study, development, and implementation of techniques and methods designed to improve the business of independent distributors (www.idofea.org).

IDEA has set the precedent for distribution excellence through the development of industry standards and procedures dedicated to promoting quality awareness and ethical business practices. Since its founding, IDEA has issued various pieces of literature to this end, including but not limited to: a set of ethics requirements and recommendations to be met by all IDEA members, an Electronic Components Inspection Manual, an expanded Inspection Guideline and Recommended Inspection and Product Handling Equipment List, and various white papers addressing industry compliance with new environmental requirements (e.g. WEEE, RoHS, and similar legislation). After 5 years, IDEA continues to gain strength, and has made major strides to enhance the reputation of key industry players, including Smith & Associates, one of the organization's founding members.

With 36 members currently, IDEA is not a large organization. However, its size does not undermine its credibility. IDEA is an incredibly selective organization, with strict guidelines and qualifications for membership. Out of the many independent distributors in the market, there are only a handful that qualify. This selectivity is an important element in the organization's ability to quickly gain the respect of other industry players: "We have no intention of ever being big, we have the intention of doing good," says Eggeman.

An IDEA to solve prevalent industry concerns
IDEA’s set of goals pertaining to quality control and business ethics is an important component to promote the independent distribution sector, especially given growing market concerns over the emergence of counterfeit parts. The push for quality has been of heightened concern as industry players have been continuously threatened by the proliferation of suspect parts entering into even the most secure distribution channels. Innovation and the emergence of new technologies continue to change the electronics marketplace. As the industry becomes more and more dependent on a vast number of global participants, it comes with little surprise that key players are changing their practices in order to combat increasing threats to the security of the market's tightly linked supply chain: recent events have led to an increased "awareness of the number of security threats for all types of logistics chains" (MarketWatch Quarterly, Vol. 1 No. 3 "Security along the Supply Chain: The logistics of best practices").

Historically, independent distributors bear the brunt of security threats, often being blamed for the entrance of counterfeit parts into distribution channels. However, there is considerable evidence to support the fact that suspect parts enter the electronics market through a variety of different channels, and is a problem plaguing the electronics market on an international scale. In a recent scam involving counterfeit Cisco parts, "[…] the supply chain […] brought fake equipment from China into the U.S. through a variety of means, including domestic and foreign distributors, authorized and non-authorized Cisco partners and even eBay" (http://www.crn.com/networking/207602683). The presence of these OEMs and EMS providers at the IDEA meeting was indicative of the growing concern over the threat of suspect parts in the marketplace as a whole. Perhaps more importantly, their presence at the meeting provided evidence that the quality initiatives pursued by independent distributors might be beneficial to emulate, given the rigorous processes they must go through to ensure that stringent quality control is continuously and impeccably maintained. In many cases, independent distributors are more trustworthy, which Debra Eggeman acknowledged in her discussion of component inspection within the independent sector: "The best component inspectors in the world work for independent distributors. Unlike their counterparts in franchise distribution, independent inspectors have to concern themselves with more than quantity, part number, and date code" (MarketWatch Quarterly Vol. 1 No. 2 "An IDEA Whose Time Has Come: Focus on Quality").

A Credible IDEA in the Independent Sector
The truth is that the independent sector is a vital component in the fluidity of the electronics market. Independent distributors provide essential services to electronics manufacturers including an unparalleled proficiency in the sourcing of hard-to-locate parts, the provision of solutions for excess inventory and obsolescence issues, and a variety of other areas of market expertise. In fact "from a logistics and security standpoint, the importance of partnering with a top-tier independent distributor, such as Smith & Associates, is two-fold: assured security best practices for shipments, and ability to diversify the supplier base with a trusted vendor through their trusted value chain network" (MarketWatch Quarterly, Vol. 1 No. 3 "Security along the Supply Chain: The logistics of best practices").

The presence of OEMs and EMS providers at the conference proves that there is a growing interest in IDEA members' ability to not only provide these key services, but also to uphold a core competence of quality control that is unparalleled in the industry. "An independent distributor that has a robust quality process and stringent incoming inspection that screens out bad parts will get more business from open market buyers" (http://www.purchasing.com/article/CA6511758.html). IDEA's revolutionary processes and industry-changing standards make each IDEA member more than qualified to achieve AVL status for the industry’s top manufacturers.

IDEAs for the Future
IDEA was certainly successful with the creation of the IDEA-STD-1010-A. Next up: the ICE-3000 Standard. ICE-3000 is an elite inspector certification program that was developed through the efforts of the IDEA member committee, and is a viable next step in assuring the distribution of legitimate electronic parts. The requirements for IDEA Inspector Certification are numerous, and like all IDEA standards, strict adherence is a necessity. In order to be considered for ICE certification, applicants must demonstrate:

  • Parts inspection as a primary job responsibility
  • Keen sense of general industry knowledge
  • Proficiency in the utilization of inspection tool
  • Understanding of and adherence to inspection criteria
  • Recognition of non-conforming conditions
  • A score of 95% or better on the final examination to pass

This year's annual member meeting included a workshop in which ICE candidates were educated in a variety of different areas in preparation for the exam. The four part workshop included instruction in the areas of: providing an introduction to IDEA-STD-1010-A, a focus on inspection processes for the open market, hands-on microscope inspection training, and comprehensive disclosure of exam expectations. The ICE-3000 certification program is the next step in furthering IDEA's commitment to equipping independent distributors with the appropriate tools to address current market concerns.

Continuing IDEAs
As always, IDEA is a hotbed of innovation geared toward ensuring independent distributors' reputability. IDEA faces 2008 with the prospect of a broad marketing campaign, targeted toward not only independent distributors, but also the OEMs and EMS providers that have shown increasing interest with the trajectory and developments of the organization. IDEA is committed to upholding quality principles and business ethics in the electronics market and remains a strong foundation for independent distributors. Through membership in IDEA, independent distributors are able to ensure that not only can they provide a channel of distribution for the right parts at the best prices, they can also be depended upon to provide impeccable quality control and unparalleled business ethics in all interactions within the electronics industry.

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