Suppliers of electronic parts have long been building their repertoire of service offerings to design engineer and purchasing customers, and the newest wave is focused on design tools that help engineers streamline and speed the design process.

The recent partnership announced by electronics distributor Digi-Key and engineering software provider Mentor Graphics is the newest case in point. The companies have teamed up to offer two printed circuit board (PCB) design tools for engineers, Designer Schematic and Designer Layout, that combine Mentor Graphics’ software with Digi-Key’s electronic component inventory at an affordable price—the tools start at around $200. The companies say the partnership is an industry first.

“This is the first offering from a major EDA (electronic design automation) vendor of professional-grade tools for this market segment,” says Mentor Graphics’ Jim Martens, product marketing manager, pointing to the engineering entrepreneurs and small businesses that crave high-end design tools but can’t afford the hefty price tag.

Designer Schematic is available for $299 per year, but is offered at a discount of $199 per year during the first 90 days of the product launch (through early February). Designer Layout is available for $649 per year, with a special offer of $449 per year through early February. Customers can purchase both products for $864 per year, or $599 through early February. Both are available online at

High-end design tools run upwards of $5,000, according Martens, who says the beauty of Designer Schematic and Designer Layout are that they offer high-end functionality backed by continued investment and enhancement.

“This market segment consists of individuals that are professionals but may not have the big EDA budgets to buy high-end tools, so they have to rely on free or low-cost tools—and free is never free,” he said.

Martens points to the limitations of many free design tools—including limited component choices and a lack of software upgrades—as downsides to many start-up, small-business, and hobbyist designers. Mentor Graphics’ tools offer higher functionality and access to Digi-Key’s inventory of 4 million parts. The partnership includes access to Mentor Graphics’ search engine, Parts Quest, which searches Digi-Key’s inventory of parts. What’s more, designers can safely store designs on their desktop, for long-term access and use.

“Customers can search and find a part, import it into their CAD tool, so they never have to wonder about part number,” says Randall Restle, Digi-Key’s director of applications engineering.  “For Digi-Key, this means, hopefully, increased sales, less work for the customer, fewer order entry errors, things like that.”

For Mentor Graphics, it means exposure to a new audience.

“The other reason it’s exciting for us [is that] it becomes a new sales channel for Mentor Graphics. We have a strong team, and we’re global, but now with Digi-Key exclusively selling Designer Schematic and Layout from their website, it increases our exposure,” Martens explained. “The Digi-Key website attracts millions of engineers looking for new products. They are the perfect targeted prospects for us—customers looking to start designs. They need parts, but they also need design tools. Now, [those tools are] easily available to them.”

Restle adds that the new venture is a “win-win-win” partnership.

“It’s a win for Digi-Key and for Mentor Graphics, but most importantly it’s a win for us because it’s a win for the customer,” he said.