How Digi-Key is innovating to strengthen customer support through the COVID-19 pandemic

Author : Ian Wallace | Director, EMEA Business Development | Digi-Key Electronics

01 June 2020

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The COVID-19 pandemic & subsequent stay-at-home orders designed to limit its spread have caused sweeping changes to all aspects of life, including the global economy, the way companies do business & international supply chains.

This article was originally featured in EPDT's H1 2020 Electronics Distribution supplement, included in the June 2020 issue of EPDT magazine [read the digital issue]. Sign up to receive your own copy each month.

Ian Wallace, Director, EMEA Business Development at electronic components distributor, Digi-Key Electronics tells us how, throughout it all, Digi-Key remains steadfast in its support of customers with the products and tools they need.

In the face of these new changes, many companies have shifted their operations to protect employees and create new products essential to the fight against coronavirus. We applaud our customers’ flexibility and creativity through these challenging times, and are grateful for their efforts in the manufacturing of equipment for the treatment of patients and fighting the spread of the virus.

Our thoughts and prayers go out to everyone impacted by COVID-19 worldwide, and our top concern is protecting the health and safety of our team members, customers and business partners. We’ve enacted strict social distancing measures and increased deep cleaning at our facilities, with roughly 2,300 employees working from home, replacing face-to-face meetings with video calls and restricting travel.

Digi-Key engineers innovate

Our team is also inventing new ways to keep employees safe. A group of innovative Digi-Key engineers invented a new ultraviolet light sanitisation tunnel to disinfect the almost 8,000 plastic totes used to transport products through the receiving, picking and packing departments in our Product Distribution Centre (PDC). Disinfecting these totes would otherwise be a lengthy manual process – however, thanks to their ingenuity, the totes now automatically pass through a tunnel of UV light that eliminates 99.99% of organisms on the surface – including coronavirus.

Granted essential business status, Digi-Key remains open and is continuing to fulfill orders. We know that many of our customers manufacture medical devices, such as ventilators and thermometers, motion-activated hand sanitising stations, and equipment needed for employees working remotely, among other critical items needed now more than ever.

Our teams have also contributed to these critical products: Digi-Key’s engineers partnered with the University of Minnesota to quickly design ventilators needed to treat COVID-19 patients, as the world faces a critical shortage of these machines. The final product, a rapidly scalable, inexpensive and simple-to-use ventilator, is called the Coventor (COvid VENTilatORS) and was recently approved by the US FDA (Food & Drug Administration). The Coventor specs will also be made open source, so other manufacturers globally can begin their regulatory and production processes.

Adapting to the new normal

Digi-Key has recently experienced a surge in activity, as the demand for critical components has increased. We are proud to say the Digi-Key team has risen to the occasion to adapt and adjust, continuing to thrive and meet customers’ needs, even in difficult circumstances.

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Despite the many challenges our team faces in their personal lives, such as having children at home because schools are closed, and other interruptions to normal routines, we are proud of the many ways Digi-Key employees have stepped up to support our customers.

Many have put in overtime at our Product Distribution Centre, and some have even completely switched over to working at the PDC for several weeks, putting their regular responsibilities on hold. Unprecedented numbers of employees at all levels have shown up on weekends and are staying late, just to make sure every order gets out the door in time. While other companies may be experiencing long shipping delays, our team is doing everything possible to ensure customers don’t experience any differences in their orders and deliveries from Digi-Key.

Ensuring strong & stable supply chains

We know our customers rely on stable supply chains to stay in business, and Digi-Key’s longstanding business model is designed to deliver continuity and consistency, supplying more than 10.2 million products globally, with more than 2.2 million in stock and available for immediate shipment (within 48 hours to UK customers), from over 1,200 quality name-brand manufacturers.

We provide a reliable and consistent customer experience by providing the broadest selection of products and high levels of inventory to support customers, alongside a convenient online model and top quality customer service. 

Digi-Key’s central US-based warehouse serves all customers globally, ensuring reliability and efficiency through times of change and uncertainty. We have strong relationships with our logistics partners, who bring additional support and consistent delivery of products to our customers. We’re also working closely with our carrier partners to mitigate impact on cargo plans. Updates and FAQs are available on our website (https://www.digikey.com/en/help/coronavirus), and we’re in constant communication with our suppliers.

Because we’ve been in the business for nearly 50 years, we truly understand our customers, and as they evolve, we are able to keep pace with what they need now, as well as what they need next. We’ve recently heard from our customers that they need multi-shipment consolidation (MSC). To that end, we are now offering the option to consolidate a company’s orders, giving the customer two or three days for the consolidation, depending on the number of weekly invoices. They can choose two days in a week and we will consolidate all their orders to those two days, eliminating the need for customers to ask their busy team if anyone else needs anything from Digi-Key. This is especially helpful for companies practicing social distancing, for both reducing contact and time spent in the office waiting for shipments.

This year has already been unique, to say the least, but we’re continuing to invest in our proven, trusted business model as we meet these new challenges with innovative new solutions, while providing consistency and efficiency for customers. Over the past two years, we’ve also added more than 200 new suppliers and 300,000 new products.

Looking to the future

Although these are unprecedented times, we’re continuously monitoring the situation with suppliers, who are providing regular updates so we can notify customers as soon as possible regarding any changes in lead times. Manufacturers across the global supply chain are starting to come online again, including factories in China, and although it will take some time for them to get back to full production, Digi-Key’s inventory-rich model and can-do attitude, combined with the tireless efforts of our dedicated team, continue to benefit our customers. No matter the challenges that arise over time, we will always put our customers first, and our support and tools will evolve as needed to deliver the products and services that our customers know and trust.


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