The electronic components industry is comprised of over 20,000 businesses that employ over a million people and represent more than $470 billion in annual revenue. Its products are used in many sectors including medical, energy, lighting, communications, consumer product automotive, agriculture, aerospace and defense and much more.
“So many applications are exploding with the usage of electronic components. Automobiles are a tremendous market driver. Cars have a greater chip or electronic component content than they did just a few years ago, and with the internet of things, you are seeing electronics in almost anything that you touch, buy or use,” said Bill Bradford. The newly-appointed chief executive officer of the Electronic Components Industry Association (ECIA) brings a wealth of private sector experience.
The ECIA provides resources that help optimize business performance. It performs advocacy, promotion, networking, education, sustainability, fair procurement practices and authentication to ensure the viability of its members and the industry as a whole.
The association was established in 2011 when the National Electronic Distribution Association (NEDA) and Electronic Component Association (ECA) joined forces. While ECIA has typically had a North American focus, it now hopes to have a greater impact by adopting a global perspective.
“The majority of our members are global, and those that aren’t, certainly interact with global companies, and a lot of the issues that we face are global in nature. So now we are trying to expand our mission and our membership to other key regions in the world,” said Bradford, citing a focus on Europe and Asia as immediate targets for growth.
“The ECA was historically an organization focused on the passive component industry, so it dealt with non-active semiconductor products. Since the merge, we’ve been attracting semiconductor companies, which play a huge part in the overall electronic component industry,” Bradford said. This is an area of growth for the association and a strength of Bradford’s, as he spent much of his career in the semiconductor market.
ECIA encompasses nearly three hundred manufacturers, authorized distributors and representatives, as well as associate members. The association confronts issues faced by its members and the industry.
“We have six councils, several different committees and four hundred individual volunteers from our member companies. While we have a relatively small staff, we’re blessed with a very active community of members that jump in and bring their expertise and their passion for the industry,” said Bradford.
ECIA responsibilities include establishing best practices, collecting statistics and business analytics, developing government relations, providing authentication and product standards, hosting networking opportunities and events and addressing issues related to counterfeiting, conflict minerals, environmental regulations, supply chain inefficiencies, cybersecurity and enhanced science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education.
The association’s mission starts by engaging its members. Much of its success comes through the work of its various councils. The global industry practices council (GIPC) is especially important as it addresses supply chain inefficiencies.
“A goal for the organization is really to make sure we are viewed as the leader that our association is – really taking a stand on industry issues, opportunities and challenges. Our best vehicle is through this newly launched global industry practices council, where we’re drawing on subject matter experts from our many member companies to try to proactively get out in front of these things,” said Bradford.
“We provide things like market data, lead times and directional inputs from our members on business conditions. We also address many of the challenges they face in the industry that can be better handled by cooperatively bringing members together to solve them.”
One such challenge was solved by implementing a 2-D barcode labeling system, which the ECIA website refers to as “the latest symbology for machine-readable information on shipping labels and documents.” The association’s barcode certification portal enables its members to meet new industry standards of efficiency, cost and traceability.
Bradford noted that something of this magnitude could not be implemented on a member-by-member basis. “That was a perfect example of bringing our members together and coming up with a standard that everybody would adopt and customers would accept,” he said.
This also holds true for Europe’s new General Data Protection Regulation (GDRP) legislation related to collecting and storing customer data. “All of a sudden there is real data privacy legislation that is affecting what and how they can do that, so we are studying this on an industry-wide level to figure out how we can best respond collectively to make sure companies are compliant,” said Bradford.
Another focus of ECIA is blockchain technology, a secure method of recording data in alter-resistant blocks. Blockchains permit a permanent and certifiable record that can be added to with new blocks that link to the previous ones.
“There are a host of things that we’re looking at. One that’s quickly coming to the top of the list for us is blockchain technology and its applications in a supply chain environment to be able to ensure authentic authorized components through the supply chain using a distributed ledger capability,” said Bradford.
One of the association’s most significant efforts to date has been ECIAauthorized.com, a website that provides real-time access to an inventory of over seventy-five million authorized products that are offered by industry-leading distributors.
Each day, 22,000 users access the platform, for a total of twenty million searches per month. “In an environment where supply is tight, the site is a good source for them to search the distribution channels for product rather than having to rely on a more dangerous grey market,” said Bradford.
“The stated mission is to promote and improve the business environment for the authorized sale of electronic components by manufacturers, their reps and distributors. So I would say there is heavy emphasis on the authorized sale. We really try to promote the whole authorized channel of parts to make sure that parts that go through the supply chain are authentic.”
This prevents counterfeit components and provides unmatched traceability. ECIA will be endorsing the authorized channel globally by participating in the Embedded World Show in Nuremberg, Germany and Shanghai Electronica in China. “Both of those markets will be kicking off a regional advocacy council with local members of our member companies that will help to set the charter and identify the issues we need to tackle in those areas,” Bradford stated.
Forming regional advocacy councils will help the association grow globally. Bradford hopes that by rallying existing members and resources in these areas that ECIA will be able to attract more local companies to the organization.
“We’re not taking what we do in the U.S. and forcing it on regions; rather, we’re looking at our overall mission of supporting the authorized channel and really understanding through our regional advocacy groups: What does that mean in China and Germany? How do we leverage the research of other associations to further the charter as effectively and cost efficiently as we can?”
Bradford will draw on his experience in achieving this. “I spent a good chunk of my career in this industry in global roles. So to be able to leverage those relationships and the understanding of how various markets operate, that is the part that is personally exciting for me – to see the direction of the association going that way now. It’s going to be a lot of fun and very beneficial to our members.”
ECIA is also a strong proponent of STEM education and sponsors events like FIRST®, a high school level robotics competition that is attractive to students. Attracting young people is one of the foremost priorities of association, as these will be the next generation of industry professionals.
“The electronic components industry used to be the hottest high-tech marketplace for graduating engineers to enter, and today, so often, other sexier-type industries, the Googles and Facebooks and other more software-based companies– we are competing for talent with all those other, newer high-tech industries,” Bradford said.
“Associations tend to be more supported by the baby boomers. So it’s a challenge and an opportunity for us as an association to try to employ more tech mobile apps and social media to try to get the younger generation, the millennials, involved,” he explained.
It works to appeal to diverse demographics including veterans, which is done through a partnership with Hiring Our Heroes. “We promote the industry from the standpoint of trying to attract workers, students, new graduates as well as veterans. When there is an avenue to reach technical talent, we try to attract people to our industry.” The goal is to enhance the association’s impact as the baby boomer generation continues to retire.
As an organization with a vision and a defined path to get there, ECIA is poised to take full advantage of the market’s potential. “2017 was a very strong year both in the distribution channel and for our suppliers. Many of the product categories have been seeing very stretched lead times and a lot of constraints on capacity relative to demand,” Bradford stated.
“It takes a while to add capacity, and it’s expensive to add capacity, so companies have been cautious in doing that, which has had the effect of continuing conditions where demand outstrips supply in this past year and now into 2018.”