Arcobel, your guide in the hardware forest | Interview with Douwe Schoenmakers

Interview with Douwe Schoenmakers | AUTHOR: Alexander Pil | June 2023


“You can find our solutions from deep underground up to the International Space Station”, says Douwe Schoenmakers proudly. As Managing Director having over 25 years of experience at Arcobel Embedded Solutions, Schoenmakers knows exactly where the products of the high-end, value-added distributor from the Dutch town of Heesch end up. “An embedded industrial computer is always our starting point. We select them from suppliers worldwide and match them with the application of our customers.” But Arcobel certainly doesn’t stop at the embedded computer. Next to those backbones – obtained from its contract suppliers – the company collaborates with many manufacturers of hardware add-ons. Think of switches and routers for industrial applications, or pc displays and Panel PCs, often fully IP68K waterproof.


Park ranger guidance Arcobel differs from other hardware distributors in the fact that it offers much more than only a convenient portal to its supply base. Schoenmakers likes the metaphor of the forest: “Customers often have a general idea what they want and what they need. But when they enter the forest of hardware options, they quickly lose track. All trees look exactly the same, if you consider them through layman’s eyes.” Arcobel acts as a park ranger, taking customers by the hand, guiding them through the forest to the right spots and steering them away from missteps. Based on their requirements, we advise our customers what path to follow. Otherwise they might end up with, for instance, an embedded computer that is not shockproof and therefore not suited for the tractor it is supposed to control. It is with services such as this invaluable translation of specifications to the optimal solution, that Arcobel sets itself apart from the norm. And it’s free of charge, as we at Arcobel are service oriented and think that this level of support is only logical.

Keep trains running smoothly To illustrate where Arcobel’s strengths are, consider the Sandite project. When train tracks become slippery, for instance in the fall as leaves are coming down, a train's wheels may struggle to find enough traction. A Dutch research institute found the solution by installing a nozzle on the train that sprays a sand-like gel on the track. Arcobel – traditionally strong in railway technology - helped the research institute in finding the right computer hardware for the Sandite nozzle. Several trains were equipped with the Sandite solution and with great success. When the customer decided to replace the systems because they were approaching their end of life, Arcobel was approached again for the computer hardware, tailored exactly to the new requirements.

Reassuring customers Another distinctive quality is Arcobel’s in-house test and assembly facility. Since tracking and tracing is becoming increasingly important in the industry, engineers at Arcobel check all systems before they are send out. “Some of our customers are bound by strict certification regulations. Once a design is approved and fixed, nothing can be changed without a new validation process. Not even a memory block”, explains Schoenmakers. Some suppliers live up to that stipulation, but others sometimes exchange a memory chip because it is more widely available, for instance. “Therefore, we check the hardware we receive meticulously or we assemble a multivendor system ourselves, so we can guarantee that they are all identical. It is reassuring for us and for our customers.” The same engineers at the test and assembly lab also install and run the operating system. Nowadays, embedded Windows is by far the most common OS, covering about 90 percent of the systems. Linux makes up for the rest. Only for railway applications, kernels are sometimes still based on QNX. After the software is installed, the systems and components are ready to be transferred to the customer who can build their own application on it. Also in this shipping stage, Arcobel is taking an extra step. “We can package the shipment precisely as prescribed by the customer”, says Schoenmakers. “Completely without any reference to Arcobel, if that is what they want.” Moreover, Arcobel offers the service of stocking. In its own warehouse, it can keep stock for customers, so just-in-time delivery is a possibility.

Dealing appropriately with shortages That is to say, as long as components are available. Because it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the last couple of years it has become quite regular that lead times raise to over twelve months. For some products it is even completely unknown when they will be delivered. Although some still try to hold on to the old ways of working, most of our customers understand by now that Arcobel is hardly the only company struggling with chip shortage and material scarcity. Arcobel helps its customers with this issue by suggesting alternative solutions. But that isn’t always an option, for instance in the aforementioned ‘frozen’ designs. Another way around the matter is forecasting. “When a customer plans to build, let’s say, a hundred systems, we can create a blank order. We pre-order all hundred components at our supplier but deliver them only when needed to that customer”, explains Schoenmakers. “With the current uncertain lead times and availability we constantly stay in touch with our customers and make sure that we can fulfil their forecast.”


Finding the best match Finding the right solution or the optimal alternative, is what gets Arcobel engineers excited. “Our purchase department is on top of it. We spend a lot of time looking for the right components and for alternatives on the market, and deliberating with the customer”, says Schoenmakers, who thinks the shortages will continue a little while longer. “I don’t have crystal ball of course, but I won’t be surprised if this will stay the reality for the time being.” The same service Arcobel offers when products reach their end of life. We notify users in advance that a component will become obsolete and give them the opportunity for a last-time buy. After that, we discuss what could be the right successor that has the least impact on their business. It is because of our in-depth knowledge and longstanding experience in computer technology that Arcobel can look further than the catalogue and always finds the best match."

We look forward to discussing how our technical knowledge can enable you to enhance your industrial processes or activities. Whether you need specific advice or are looking for a sparring partner, please contact us, we are happy to help!