'Each project is a new opportunity to reinvent ourselves.'

Interview with John van Zandvoort, Technology Manager at Arcobel Embedded Solutions.

Whether or not you already are a customer, you can contact Arcobel whenever you have an issue with your industrial computers. Technology Manager John van Zandvoort and his team will help you out. John: ”I am always available to discuss how our technical knowledge can enable industrial machine builders or end-users in a production environment to enhance their industrial processes or activities”.

“My job has many facets; every day is different,” says John. As a true technician at heart, what appeals to him most about his work is that it contains the right balance between sales and engineering. His team delivers high end embedded hardware solutions and is aware of the specific conditions and requirements in the markets Arcobel is active in.

Arcobel’s account managers are supported by an engineer who won’t shy away from difficult technical questions. John: ‘On the contrary, we love a challenge, and like working on solutions suitable for a variety of limitations, such as very little space to accommodate a system, or extreme vibrations or variations in temperature’.

When John joined Arcobel, the focus of the company was to act as a reliable distributor for mainly American and European manufacturers of industrial computer hardware. Alongside their distributor role, Arcobel has been known since 1974 for their technical knowhow, their technology-driven attitude and the close connection with specific markets such as industrial automation, infrastructure and public transport. With his years of experience in avionics, gained at the Dutch Royal Air Force, John brought in knowledge that is vital in building customer-specific embedded computer systems. “Within two years, we became a value-added reseller,” explains Van Zandvoort.

Reading manuals as a specific competence To illustrate the added value Arcobel is bringing to the table, Van Zandvoort refers to the manuals of the suppliers Arcobel is working with. “Top brand manufacturers generally understand the requirements for industrial computers. However, for a customer, it can be too time consuming to interpret manuals in detail.” Van Zandvoort’s ability to interpret a diversity of manuals is preventing customers from pitfalls, as he explains by the following example.

Take the calculation of the main time between failure (MTBF) of a system. There are several methods to calculate that number, which makes it difficult for outsiders to compare different options in the first place. “Moreover, some suppliers may give the MTBF of its components at 25 degrees. No problem when it concerns a desktop pc, but industrial computers tend to operate in much higher temperatures,” explains Van Zandvoort. “An average purchaser won’t notice the difference, and may underestimate the importance. Our suggested option could be more expensive, so extra clarification is needed to convince a customer about the advantages of the investment. That’s where I come in. I’ll explain to the right person why we recommend that particular solution and why it is better than an option that, at first glance, might seem cheaper.” Arcobel has longstanding relationships with reliable and professional suppliers from Europe, The United States of America and Asia, that all deliver documentation of good quality. In Van Zandvoort’s experience, mainly Asian companies are eager to comply to Arcobel’s requests. “There are many Asian suppliers struggling to tap into the European market. After some success stories in the past, the word is getting around that we are the right partner for them.”

Ahead of the pack Another aspect of his work that Van Zandvoort enjoys, is the fact that Arcobel is operating at the forefront of technical developments. A good example of what he means, is the evolution of internet connection in trains. Today, passengers will consider train Wi-Fi natural, but back in the day it was anything but. “About fifteen years ago, it wasn’t even possible, technically, to establish a stable connection on a train. 2G hardware was simply too slow for roaming from a high-speed train,” Van Zandvoort recalls. “A research institute or a big company was needed to get the ball rolling. In this case, it was a telecommunications provider that invested to get the technology up and running. We have helped them in its development and have given advice in how they could solve the problem.” That project is quite typical for Arcobel - helping the market with complex challenges and answering any technical questions. “An order often follows, but that is not what drives me,” says Van Zandvoort. “Maybe we will supply that customer with a relatively expensive prototype until a cheaper standard option becomes available. The most important thing is that people know that they can come to Arcobel when they face a technical challenge.” The aforementioned case has led to Arcobel supplying access points a Public transport Operator to this day. “We can still provide them with the best price performance because we have been active in that segment for fifteen years, and know what will give the best operational performance.”

Smart custom made system assembly At the moment of the interview, Van Zandvoort’s head is still buzzing from a meeting he just came out of. “We are working on a solution for a computer we are assembling for a railway application and are currently in the process of a redesign so that assembling of the system becomes easier, faster and cheaper. That way, we should be able to assemble it in higher volumes as we expect the demand to rise.” Earlier, Van Zandvoort spoke extensively with a customer about a mismatch in their network gates. “We have computers with four gates, labelled 1 till 4. But when you install Windows or Linux, the operating system automatically addresses them with 0 till 3. I explained that it is beyond my power to change that. It is not recorded anywhere in the specifications how the software should label them.” That’s life, some suppliers may say, but that won’t do for Van Zandvoort. “Although we are a hardware supplier, we have provided the customer with a software solution; a patch that he can use to solve the mismatch. I see it as my duty to help him out, even though the problem isn’t caused by our hardware.”

Guide and advise And just the other day, Van Zandvoort helped some young engineers on their way. “They were playing around with artificial intelligence, and could do very cool stuff, but only on the gaming card of their pc’s. That won’t work in an industrial setting because every month there is a new version and game cards become obsolete in the blink of an eye. That would mean that they would have to change their production and software every single time.” The market offers solutions, but they tend to be more expensive than an already pricy gaming card, and less powerful. “Arcobel is guiding those engineers through the industrialization process. So they don’t waste money on a very expensive computer, but solve the problem with five much cheaper systems. The downside is that they have to adjust their software accordingly, but I can explain them perfectly what they gain als also how they should do that. This is a perfect example of an enthusiastic team that comes up with a solution that subsequently needs to be transformed to be a suitable solution for industrial applications that ensures a long lasting performance. Listening, co-developing, advising smaller and bigger companies; it’s that combination that keeps my job interesting.”

Get in touch with John As mentioned, John is always willing to advise whenever you need assistance: | +31 412 66 00 66.