A Field Applications Engineer – also known as Field Application Engineer, FAE, AE, or Apps Engineer – is technical resource that semiconductor and electronic component companies hire to assist in the sales, or “design-in,” process. An FAE is almost always a degreed engineer who’s spent many years developing a competency in a variety of engineering concept, procedures, applications, and practices. These individuals range in ability from a generalist FAE, having a broad range of knowledge on a myriad of technologies and applications, or a specialist, having a narrow focus on a technology, such as RF.
Because of the sophisticated, technical nature of the products in the electronics industry, FAE’s are a tremendous resource that can be brought to bear for a design engineer. Let’s say you’re designing new power supply and you have questions about ways to optimize the efficiency of the system. Rather than deciphering page after page of application notes and datasheets, wouldn’t it be better to pick up the phone and talk it through with someone who’s seen the same application and answered your exact question many times over? They’ll take the time to relate their components to your system and really walk you through the application. There are tremendous benefits in utilizing FAE’s, most notably decreasing time to market and saving on development costs.
As I’m sure you’re well aware that nothing is ever “free,” you’re likely wondering who pays for all this wonderful applications-specific technical support. FAE’s are typically compensated by the electronic component supplier, who ultimately wants you to design in their products and purchase them. They have various mechanisms in place to ensure this happens, such as the “design registration,” but I’ll cover that under a different article. Honestly speaking, there’s very little to risk when you need technical advice on a part or system as it relates to your specific application. They will even come work with you at you companies office, hence the “Field” in the title Field Applications Engineer.
If you’re worried about disclosing sensitive information about your system, and I would think most of you would be, you could ask for the FAE to sign a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) before discussing any proprietary information. Additionally, before the FAE discloses any of the supplier’s proprietary information, they may ask you to sign one as well. The simplest way to alleviate the concerns of sharing sensitive information on both sides is to enter into a mutual non-disclosure agreement (MNDA). Sample documents are widely available online, though it’d be best to ask your company’s legal counsel on the best way to handle these.
Now that we’ve covered who an FAE is, how they can help you, and why you should utilize them, we’ll outline several scenarios in which you might need an FAE, and which type of FAE you should reach out to.
To talk about conceptual or architectural aspects of a system
If you’re just starting to think about a new design and want to bounce ideas off of someone who has experience with a multitude of other customers and applications, your best bet is to talk to your local electronic components distributor. Your local distributor has a multitude of semiconductor and electronic component manufacturers, and is a road warrior that has seen it all. Your distributor FAE will be a great person to talk about your system.
Some great places to start for local distributor support would be Arrow, Avnet, Future, TTI, Digikey, or Mouser. Your company likely has a preference on who they’d like to work with.
To get help with the application of an individual component
If you have questions about the specs, performance, failure analysis, etc., related to an individual component, contacting the component’s manufacturer to get in touch with their applications engineers will be the best way to go. Most engineers typically contact the manufacturer directly on their website, though you can also do this through your local distributor or manufacturers’ rep.
To learn about what’s new in the semiconductor electronics world
Keeping track of the advancements in semiconductor and electronic component technology should be a form of continuing education that every electrical engineer should subscribe to. Having a solid appreciation for what’s out there, and how it can be used to enhance your system or decrease your time to market, can be the catalyst to making a good engineer a great one. If you want to stay on the leading edge of technology, your local distributor will be able to provide you with a wealth of knowledge. They are trained on a regular basis on a multitude of components, technology, and applications.
Hopefully this will inspire some of you to offload some of the technical burdens you may be facing and talk to your local Field Applications Engineer. You may find them very helpful in overcoming the never-ending variety of hurdles you face in your challenging role as an Electrical Engineer.
As a final note, FAE’s have to prioritize their workloads to focus on customers and applications that will yield sales for their respective companies. It’s standard practice that you will be asked to divulge some basic information about your project before getting support. Part numbers, estimated annual usage (EAU), and production locations are almost always asked. Please be understanding of the fact that someone that produces 10 Million systems a year will get more support than someone who produces 1000. This is just a simple reality of business that most sensible people are happy to understand.