Blog Category: Design Automation

Know your ABCs of Manufacturing Sales Software (ep.3)

What do ERP and BOM have in common?

In case you missed here you can find the post on CAD & PLM and the post on CRM & CPQ.

Acronyms are meant to simplify things. However, every day there seem to be new ones popping up. Nowhere is this truer than in software, especially in manufacturing software.

Manufacturing software is a domain where acronyms are everywhere. The recent developments in new software solutions have multiplied the number of acronyms that are used daily. For example; a few years ago, the terms “CPQ” was still uncommon among large manufacturers. Today, “CPQ” has become indispensable for large manufacturers’ growth strategy.

Whether you are new to manufacturing, sales (or both), or you are simply having trouble keeping up with all the different types of software solutions available, we’ve created this series of posts to help get familiar with the lingo.

Let’s us know what you think (mateo.bornico@tacton.com)

ERP – (Enterprise Resource Planning)

Focus area: Internal Processes

What it is?

ERP is your organization’s Main Operating System (i.e. the brain). It is the software that is used to help manage all internal and external resources such as financial records, materials, and human resources. The ERP main function is to track business resources — cash, raw materials, production capacity—and the status of business commitments: orders and purchase orders. ERP provides an integrated and continuously updated view of core business processes using common databases maintained by a database management system.

If you work for a large organization, you certainly have an ERP system. Its central role in the organization makes integration with the ERP indispensable with all other software including CRM, CPQ, PLM, and PDM (hopefully these acronyms will start to feel familiar by now).

Its role in the Sales Process:

ERP operates in the background of the sales process. For salespeople, the ERP may be their primary source of feedback data for things like delivery status or order tracking. Sales tools like CRM and CPQ may also connect to the ERP to obtain this important data (such as current stock levels, new price models, etc.), that can influence the quoting process.

Once a quote is approved, the ERP system can track this order (along with its many documents and specifications, for example, BOMs). It is the ERP to continuously have the updated information on the status of a particular order. It’s worth repeating here that any other software tool that is used for moving the sales forward (CPQ, CRM, PLM for example) are well integrated with the ERP.

BOM – (Bill of Materials)

Focus Area: Product

What it is?

Simply put, a BOM is the list of the materials/components that come together to form a product. Unlike other acronyms in this series, BOM is NOT a software, rather a type of document that is vital for all areas of manufacturing. Since complex and high-variance products require deep customization, the BOM for a customized product will be different with each different customization. It’s important to distinguish 3 major types of BOMs.

  • – Engineering BOM (eBOM): This BOM is developed during the design of the product and it is often generated by the CAD software. The product may not have a specific configuration, rather it lists all the different parts that can be substituted or assembled depending on the configuration. As you can imagine, this BOM is highly detailed and can include CAD drawings, technical specifications on each individual component.
  • – Sales BOM (sBOM): This is the Bill of Materials that is included in a detailed quote. In the latter stages of the sales process, the BOM will list in detail exactly what the customer is buying, and for this reason, it is important that BOMs highly all relevant details required for the sale to be approved.
  • – Manufacturing BOM (mBOM): This mBOM is required for transferring the product sold to the manufacturing phase (building the actual product). This mBOM contains all the information required for the product to be built. It can integrate with ERP in order the various components to be ordered (that can transfer to a material resource planning tool), or even to a manufacturing execution system. The mBOM may also contain assembly information (although this is more for the Production BOM).

Its role in the Sales Process:

Clearly, the sBOM is one of the vital documents of the sale of complex manufacturing products. It’s important to ensure that the sBOM can easily be integrated into the ERP system so that other BOMs can be generated for the manufacturing of the product. Generally speaking, the BOM is one of the central documents that link the ERP with CPQ, PLM and other manufacturing software together.

In case you missed here you can find the post on CAD & PLM and the post on CRM & CPQ.

 

For our next issue, we will define ERP and PDM.

If you found this useful or have some additional comments, please send me an email: mateo.bornico@tacton.com

Bridging the Uncertainty Gap

Buyers journey

How you can help your customers before they contact you.

“57% of the purchase decision is complete online before a customer even calls a supplier.” (CEB)

Let that sink in a little bit more.

If you work in B2B sales this fact should give you goosebumps.

Your customers, by the time they contact you for the first time, have already a pretty good idea of what they want. Whether you believe this or not, there is one thing you can do to ensure that you remain the front runner.

Here’s what you can do about the 57%

It is obvious that you, as a vendor, cannot control exactly what your customers will learn about you. After all, the internet is filled with helpful expert reviews, or even peer review sites that will have an opinion on your product. (BTW: Did you know Tacton was named the Go-to software by Gartner and is also highly ranked on G2Crowd? #shamelessbrag)

The one thing that you CAN control is what they see on your website. More specifically, your entire website should focus on answering “yes” to this question form your customers: Does this company have the product that is going to solve my problem(s)?

Until recently, vendors have tried to answer this question by describing their products and services. However, despite their best efforts, customers still had to do some guesswork or attempt to match these descriptions to their problems. The harder it is for them to figure out if your products are right from them > the more uncertainly > the less eager they will be to contact you.

Describing your product isn’t enough, you must SHOW your products

As we’ve just hinted, uncertainty is one of the things that vendors must try to eliminate. Uncertainly is generated when there is a gap between what the solution that you are offering and the problem they need to solve. The bigger the disconnect, the bigger the uncertainty, the less likely they’ll contact you.

Product descriptions (text, images, and videos) can only get you so far. If you want your customers to be certain that your product is going to solve their problems, you must show them exactly what they need.

 

By describing your product, you are asking your prospects to embrace uncertainty.

 

Man jumping a chasm

Whereas, by “showing” they can see exactly how your products solve their problems.

Crossing with a helping hand

Showing requires some level of interaction. Until recently, it was simply impossible to “show” the product before the customer contacted the vendor.

Showing your products with an online configurator

In B2B, especially for manufacturers of complex solutions, Product Configuration is an indispensable part of the sales process. It wasn’t until the customer saw a customized product that there was certainly in their purchasing decision.

This situation meant that the customer had to engage with the supplier without having certainty that the product would be able to meet their specific needs.

Today, thanks to advancements in configuration technology, vendors have a way for “showing” a configurated product without the need of the vendor’s interaction. We are referring to, as the subtitle suggest, to an online configurator where visitors can configure a complex product to match their specifications.

This means that the customer can have a higher level or certainly by the time they contact the customer.

Some examples of B2B companies using an online configurator to help their customers during the initial 57%

  • Piab – A Swedish manufacturer of air-conveyors, and production machinery. Their online configurator allows the visitor to select the type of use and performance, and the visitor can obtain a 3D image of the product, along with the product’s specifications.
  • Mercedes Benz Trucks – Trucks and other heavy vehicles require a high degree of customization depending on the performance, type of use and lifecycle maintenance that is preferred by the customer. Here the visitor can explore various options and configurations available.

Aside from the ability to eliminate uncertainly, these companies experience an added bonus to having an online configurator. They were able to tap into what is commonly referred to as The Ikea Effect. An unconscious bias that was explained in more detail here.

Conclusion

Currently, 57% of the buyer’s journey is done independently without the vendor’s engagement, a number is likely to increase. B2B companies selling complex products should embrace the fact that consumers today are using the internet to guide them. It is in their best interest to provide ways to not just describe their product, but also to show them that their product is right for them. The goal is to eliminate uncertainty and help them move closer to have them engage with you.

Are showing or merely describing your products?

10 Reasons why your company needs a CPQ

10 reasons why you need CPQ

If you have been looking for ways of transforming your organization by modernizing the way you sell complex manufacturing products, your search probably led you to “CPQ”. This is not just a buzzword around the sales community, CPQ is a tool that is having a profound impact in the way manufacturing products are being sold. 

What’s so special about CPQ? 

In simple terms, CPQ stands for Configure, Price, [and] Quote. It is primarily a sales tool that empowers sales teams to confidently and accurately create complete quotes from end to end 

When it comes to B2B sales of complex products (especially in manufacturing), the right CPQ ensures that the products are configured to the specific requirements of the customer. In other words, CPQ allows for 100% error-free quotes 

It then calculates the best price for that specific configuration by taking into account things like exchange rates, product availabilities, discounted pricing, etc..  

Finally, it is able to combine all this information and generate all the documents required to submit a complete and detailed quote 

The real magic of CPQ comes from its speedTraditionally, obtaining a detailed quote of a complex product took days, weeks or even months. Compare that to the top-performing CPQs today that can generate a quote within minutes. In today’s world of Smart Commerce, CPQ becomes indispensable for keeping up with increasing customer requirements.  

So, yes CPQ is indispensable to remain competitive in today’s B2B commerce landscape. But how do you know if CPQ is right for your organizationTo answer this, we came up with the most common reasons why you should consider getting a CPQ 

Here are (just) 10 reasons why… 

1) You wished quoting was less labor-intensive. It currently requires ‘too many’ stakeholders to complete a detailed custom quote. 

2) In recent past, your organization has lost deals for not meeting deadlines

3) Your organization has lost deals due to quoting errors or misconfigurations 

4) You sell complex products that require customization for every customer 

5) Precision matters – The quote needs to include technical/detailed specifications

6) Only highly trained, experienced salespeople are able to produce a quote 

7) You have an international sales team and the information is equally scattered 

8) Your sales teams, who are pressed for time and results, end up offering too many price discounts to customers

9) You sales teams struggle to quote maintenance costs, or product lifecycle management into the sales quote 

10) Your customer requires visuals (including color realistic imaging, 3D visuals, etc.), before making a purchasing decision.   

If one (or more) of these points sound familiar, you should definitely look into buying a CPQ. In this case, we encourage to look at places like G2 Crowdor Gartner 

In fact, Gartner, following a comprehensive study with industry experts and scholars, has named Tacton as the “go-to” for CPQ in the manufacturing industry as part of their “Magic Quadrant”. It’s an achievement that we are working hard to repeat for years to come.  

Original photo credit: https://unsplash.com/@akipotpot

Expert Series: 3 Ways to Remain Competitive in the Production Lines and Packaging sector

Packaging and Production Lines is perhaps one of the most important sectors of the manufacturing industry. Having a fast, efficient, and effective production systems in place can give manufacturers a strategic advantage over its competitors. 

The high demand for faster and better packaging and production equipment means that there is a lot of competition for suppliers. Whenever there is high competition, margins tend to be tight and competitors are forced to find different ways to gain a competitive edge.  

To understand this industry better, we sought the expert opinion of Tacton’s Chief Product Officer, Nils Olsson. Nils brings a deep knowledge of the Packaging and Product Lines sector, with more than a decade’s experience at Tetra Pak. During his tenure as e-solutions and portfolio manager, he’s helped this global enterprise to revolutionize their sales process. 

If you are interested in reading the full version of this interview, you can download the PDF directly from here.  

3 ways to rise above the competition: 

1) Shorten sales cycles by selling exactly what customers need 

Time and speed are two of the most important factors in packaging and production lines. Nowhere are the sayings “faster is better” and “time is money” truer than in this sector. This demand for speed and efficiency also applies to the sales process. Here, buyers are interested in getting the product they need faster and on schedule. The faster this can happen, the faster they can get to a Return on Investment (ROI).  

Understanding the needs of the customer from the first contact is key to shortening the sales cycle. This requires a lot from the ordinary salesperson. It’s about allowing the customer to describe what their ultimate goal and targets are. During this exploration phase, the salesperson should be able to identify which solution will help the customer achieve those goals.  

This certainly sounds simple, however, in this industry, the solutions and equipment themselves are complex. Often products require a customized solution for every customer. This customization generates a challenge for companies that are not equipped to quickly generate detailed, error-free quotes during a sales meeting. To learn more about Needs-Based-Configuration and Guided-Selling, click here 

 In summary, in an industry where competition is fierce, being first and effective can really make you stand out from the pack. When a talented salesperson that can quickly understand the needs of the customer, and is also able to configure, price and quote the proposal during a sales meeting, it can really make an impact.  

[Don’t just take our word for it, seek how shorter sales cycles has helped MEYN] 

2) Compete on Value (not on Price) 

Once your sales team is able to determine what product, components and configurations will be offered, it’s important to ensure that the customer understands the value being provided. 

To understand this distinction, Nils likes to quote Warren Buffet, “Price is what you pay, Value is what you get.” 

So when one takes into consideration the value one receives, it changes the way we look at the price. As everyday consumers, we see this play out whenever we buy a car or eat at a restaurant. We tend to overlook the price tag when we believe the item gives us a higher value from what we’ve paid.  

How to communicate value: 

Here is a quick list (not conclusive) of the type of information that a sales rep should convey during the quoting process:

  • – How well the equipment works 
  • – How easy it’s to operate 
  • – How well can you maintain it 
  • – How adaptive and versatile is the equipment 
  • – How compliant is it with legal and regulatory requirements. 
  • – How it’s installed – steps, costs, and timeline of the installation project 
  • – When will the investment start generating revenue for the customer 

While these factors apply to any sales processNils remind us that communicating value plays a bigger role in the production line and packaging sector.  

“Companies competing in this field often operate at marginal costs, they have high installation costs, and are subject to ever-changing regulations.”  

The ability to communicate the value to the customer is therefore key for avoiding the trap of a price war in an industry that is already operating under thin margins.  

3) Focus on building customer relationships 

In a competitive environment, maintaining solid customer relationships goes a long way. While it may be tempting to use the word “loyalty”, the fact is customer relationships are based on facts and measurable outcomes.  

In this sense, building strong customer relationships is about delivering on your promises. Certainly, getting the quote quickly and convincing the customer of the great value you are providing is certainly important. However, these two are meaningless if they are not followed through successful delivery.  

One of the best ways of achieving this level of effectiveness is to ensure that there are no errors in the quote. It is in this crucial moment when a quote is converted from a contract into a production order, that can make or break the trust that sales teams worked hard to earn.   

Another similar factor that plays a role in keeping customers loyal is by the confidence shown by the sales rep. This confidence comes from having accurate and reliable information at hand. It can also come from being able to promise a delivery date and installation costs. In this sense, Nils highlights the importance of sales teams to collaborate closely with engineering and production teams.  

It is important here for sales teams to have reliable information, readily available and accessible from anywhere. Luckily there is a tool for that!  

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES: 

Configure Price Quote for the Packaging industry (2 page PDF)  https://www.tacton.com/resources/cpq-for-the-packaging-industry/?via=resources 

Customer Story (infographic): Learn how Dutch production line manufacturer, MEYN, upgraded their quoting time, from days to minutes

 

In case you haven’t caught on, there exists a tool that can help you achieve shorter sales cycles (1), Compete on Value (2), and build stronger customer relationships (3). That tool is Tacton CPQ. Sound too good to be true? Have a look here: https://www.tacton.com/tacton-cpq/ 

Interview: Using AR for Selling at Manufacturing Tradeshows

Josef and Milan from Piab

They say “Seeing is believing” and nowhere is this more true than at Hannover Messe, the world’s largest Manufacturing trade show held every year in Northern Germany. This is the setting Piab chose to test Tacton’s CPQ (Configure, Price, Quote) with AR (Augmented Reality). Piab, a Swedish manufacturer of vacuum conveyors and other assembly technology, have been at Hannover’s tradeshow several times with this year being the first to share a booth with Tacton. We sat down with Piab’s Josef Karbassi, Vice President of Vacuum Automation Division, and Milan Bratt, Global Product Manager, to learn more about their experience using AR.

 

Piab- Piflow AR demoAbout Tacton CPQ with AR: Tacton has created an App (for mobile and tablets) that allows companies to showcase their products virtually within its surroundings. Unlike traditional visual configurators that only display the configured product on screen, the app gives the user the additional option to place a virtual 3D image within the camera view as if they were in front of them. This 3D rendering of the product further adds value to the sales process as the buyer can see the items size, shape, and even walk around it to get a 360-degree view. To learn more about it, watch this short demo video. To try it out for yourself, see instructions at the bottom of the page.

Giving your visitors the ability to explore your latest products with an AR experience is always a good way of breaking through the noise at crowded tradeshows. It is also a great advantage to be able to have all your products (no matter how large or small) in your pocket, with the ability to turn every space into an impromptu showroom.

Piab, an early adopter of technology, understands this very well. They were more than glad to share their experience of using AR at the 2019 Hannover Messe (HM19).

How would you describe the weeks leading to HM19?

Milan: We started preparing for Hannover Messe months in advance. We, of course, wanted to make the most of it and we wanted to display our entire product range. However, this would be highly impractical, so we decided to bring one of our latest products, the ergonomic tube lifter. It was assembled and displayed in collaboration with other manufacturers, so we were happy how it turned out.

Josef: The scope and reach of HM19 is so large that we needed to be very strategic about it. We were lucky to have two displays booths set up in different parts of the fair. One in the Swedish Pavillion, where we collaborated with Tacton. In this booth, we chose to display and demo one of our complex products, a vacuum conveyor. Our other booth was our primary booth located in the robotics area where we displayed our ergonomic tube lifter.

How was your first experience using AR at HM19? 

Josef: It was great fun! Once I downloaded the app on my phone, I was able to pull it out at any time and show visitors what this tool was capable of. I would even hand over the phone so that visitors can experience it on their own. It was great to see people using the tool where they would walk around with it and view the item from multiple angles at the same time.

Milan: It was great to be able to place the objects in the room and have them see what the size and look of our products are. It was much easier for visitors to understand what we were offering by configuring it and displaying it as if they had it in front of them.

Do you think AR made a difference? 

Both: Absolutely.

Josef: It was great to have the capability of using our smartphone and table to “bring to life” the product directly on the showroom floor. I normally use the tool on the laptop during a face-to-face meeting, but the app took it to the next level. All we needed was our smartphone or tablet and instantly we can talk about our products and display them with a high-quality image that people can walk around and see it from all angles. It’s just so different than seeing a CAD image which was what the industry was used to.

Milan: The images were even more visually appealing. The big benefit [for me] is to place the product out on the floor. To show the customer that it is indeed possible to fit the components in the space. It’s a huge advantage.

AR: a tool that builds client Relationships

Overall, the Piab’s experience showed that AR really helped to start conversations around the products and technology. In other words, once the original “wow” of the AR experience settled, people started to ask more questions about the product itself. Visitors were interested in the various ways it can be configured, and how those different set-ups changed the way the product looked and performed.

This experience also showed just how easy it was for manufacturers to adopt AR within their B2B sales process. This is because the tool is not just a visual aide, it truly deepens the conversation about the product and all its features. The engagement and discussion around the product helped to develop and strengthen relationships, which is crucial for B2B sales.

ARdemo

If you would like to try out Piab’s AR visualizer for yourself, follow these instructions:

1) Download the Tacton CPQ AR App from the Apple App Store.

2) Scan the QR code (see below) with the app

3) Visualize the product in the environment around you

QRcode for Piab Demo

The IKEA Effect and How an Online Configurator can Drive More Sales

person proud of builing a table

The buyer’s journey. Every enterprise salesperson business knows that the typical B2C buyer’s journey just doesn’t apply to the B2B world. The tired example of buying groceries or choosing a restaurant just doesn’t happen when clients are making decisions on behalf of their company and hundreds of thousands (or even millions) of dollars are on the table. The B2B buying journey is complicated, unpredictable and always changing.

In recent years, software has helped B2B teams with efficiency and predictability. Software platforms like CRMs and ERPs have helped in making commerce less complicated, more predictable and stable.

However, when we consider the manufacturing buyer’s journey, there remain gaps that CRMs and ERPs just can’t fill. While these do a great job and communicating with the customer, and ensuring that the orders are fulfilled, the configuration of the products and interpreting the customer’s needs is still mainly done with faulty excel sheets and old, outdated software.

Take the example of elevator companies. These manufacturers are typically big international players that sell mainly via local resellers. These resellers need tools, reliable information, and confidence to sell the equipment (over competitors). Resellers need to respond to their customers’ demands and ensure that the products are delivered on time and on budget. As you can see, the buying journey is not as straight-forward as one may think. There are many interdependencies and valuable stakeholders to consider.

So how can B2B companies simplify the buyer’s journey? What if there was a way for manufacturers to deliver a higher value with simply improving the buying experience?

The IKEA Effect and Online Configurators

One powerful and underutilized trick that B2B companies can learn from B2C world is to use the “IKEA-effect”. The IKEA effect is a cognitive bias in which consumers place a disproportionately high value on products they partially created.

In other words, by allowing the customer to be partially involved in the creation of a product, they are more likely to place it with a higher value. Ikea is not the only one who benefits from this. Think of how much more you appreciate a home-cooked meal or a child enjoys playing with Lego.

I know what you are thinking, “How can a customer possibly understand all the complexities, rules and constraints of our products!”. Until recently it was simply not possible for someone with no technical background to take on such a challenge and come up with a viable product.

But what if there was a way of simplifying the configuration process? What if it was possible to make it so easy to use and transparent that it would enable customers to have a more active role in creating/configuring their products?

Luckily, there is a tool that can do just that. Below is an example of Parker Lifts, a fictitious company that we’ve created to demonstrate just how an online configurator works.

Parker lifts online configurator demos

 

Online configurators usually have 3 main goals:

1) To inform the customer of the various products, including options

2) To allow the buyer to create and design their own products, and therefore lay the groundwork for the Ikea-effect to take hold.

3) To collect valuable insights on prospects, in order to better understand the sort of options that they were exploring and the configurations they are most interested in.

As we have just seen, even a complex, high-variant industrial product like an elevator, can benefit using an online configurator to achieve it. Resellers, who deal directly with buyers (and sometimes the end-users) will certainly benefit from having a selling tool that puts the customer at the center for the buying journey. The configurator will also ensure that the options selected, and features are viable, as technical constraints and incompatibilities are counted for.

A visual configurator on which resellers and customers alike can play around with gives them the confidence and the pride of authorship (IKEA effect) that will drive them further down the buyer’s journey towards purchasing your products.

Why product configurator software is a must have for lead gen

Yes, it’s a bold statement. But let’s take a minute to look at it.

Most companies implement CPQ (Configure-Price-Quote) software in order to streamline their sales process and manage product complexity. However, there’s a whole other side to CPQ that more and more manufacturers are waking up to – lead generation.

These companies have found that by embedding an intelligent product configurator software directly on their websites, they are impressing customers, capturing interest and fuelling growth.

In this post, I’ll discuss some of the benefits of making your product configurator available on your public website, including some real-life examples from manufacturers who have already made the move.

Engage customers in a whole new way with online product configurator software 

Consider this scenario. A prospect arrives at our website. This happens to be your modern, savvy buyer who likes to do a bit of research on their own before making contact. This prospect will probably, look around at the product information and make some notes before swiftly moving on to the next vendor. Our company has been discovered, part of our web-content was studied and the visitor moved on. And more importantly, this may all have happened without us really realizing that the prospect is out there looking!

Now consider a different scenario. Our manufacturer has embedded an intelligent product configurator with interactive 3D visual configuration capabilities, directly on its website.

Instead of moving on to the next supplier, the prospect starts entering requirements into the configurator. They discover that they can enter and change inputs as they please – there are no set sequences to be followed. They can even configure visually if they prefer – selecting, dragging and dropping product features and options. It’s easy and it’s intuitive.

As our buyer effortlessly navigates the configurator and sees their product evolving on-screen, they are starting to commit our offer and our company to memory. We’re now firmly on the prospect’s radar and more than that, our company is setting the bar for the rest of the market.

By making a product configurator available on your public website, you can invite prospects into the world of your products in a whole new way.

Capture interest and leads

While this is compelling in itself, there is another benefit with an even bigger upside.

When prospects engage with your products online, you can collect valuable information about them, their needs and their preferences. And by connecting your CPQ solution with your CRM, your sales team or resellers can then easily identify these leads at the right stage and engage in a meaningful and informed dialogue with the prospect. Not only do you know that the prospect is looking, but you know what they are looking at, and the depth of their interest.

These companies are already in the game

Bürkert

Bürkert, a manufacturer of fluid control systems recently made a limited version of its configurator available online. This customer-focused company already provides an easy and convenient ordering system for its standard products through a webshop, but felt that it should be able to use the online channel for customized solutions as well.

The tool enables Bürkert’s customers to create a high-level configuration that shows the type of product they will need. IT Application Consultant, Michael Haak describes the unexpectedly quick uptake, “Even though the tool is only in its early stages, it’s already a big success from a lead generation perspective. Our marketing department reports a lot of new leads coming from the tool, and we haven’t even promoted it yet! Going forward, the idea is that our customers will be able to self-serve across most of our ranges from the tool.” – Read the full case study.

Kramp

Agricultural components company Kramp has taken it a step further and is offering its customers the ability to place orders from the tool. The customer configures their product to exact business requirements and, once finished, they have instant access to validated 2D and 3D drawings, pricing and delivery time. If satisfied, they then simply place the product in the webshop basket for ordering.

Scania

While in Scania’s online configurator, customers can configure their vehicle according to the features and options they want, or by defining their usage requirements, (we call this needs-based configuration. It takes guided selling to the next level). Once happy, the customer can share their configuration with a dealer to get a quote. You can take Scania’s configurator for a test drive yourself.

Not all product configurator software solutions are created equal

Whether you allow your customers to perform a high-level visualization, or create detailed configurations that end in a request for a quotation, is entirely up to you. You’re in complete control.

Regardless of your strategy, the configuration tool you select must be able to grasp the complexities of your products and match that to the customer’s exact business needs. How will the product be used? What are the most important criteria for the customer?

Not all CPQ solutions are able to handle the level of product complexity that many manufacturers face. And even fewer offer an approach that’s entirely focused on the customer. These are both essential requirements.

Making your product configurator available online to your customers is a major opportunity. It not only boosts your lead generation capabilities quickly and cost-efficiently, but it also enables you to offer a buying experience that will delight customers, build loyalty and fuel growth.

So if you’re not already considering it, I encourage you to look into what an online intelligent product configurator would mean to your business and your pipeline.

Interested in learning more? See our Tacton for salesforce.com appexchange CPQ page.

Bridging the Gap Between Engineers and Salespeople with CPQ and Design Automation

Not too long ago, we worked with a wood panel manufacturer. They lacked a smooth, well-functioning process between two crucial departments – sales and engineering.

Here’s a typical conversation, to give you a feel for the kinds of problems they dealt with. Maybe you’ll recognize it:

 

Salesman: Yesterday’s meeting with Wood Panel Professionals went really well. However, there was one situation that caused problems. The distance between the saw and the pallet was too short, so I solved the problem by making it 10 meters longer. That works, right?

 

Engineer: Well, no, that doesn’t work with the Small Conveyor they’ve requested before. If they need a conveyor that’s 10 meters longer, they need the Big Conveyor. What you’ve offered them is not possible to deliver with the current set-up.

 

Salesman: Well, I’ve already said yes – so I need you to find a solution!

 

These conversations were a common sight, and often meant a lot of extra work and uncomfortable conversations with the end-customer.

 

When you offer customization of your products, you can’t expect sales to know all product details and their compatibility by heart. Neither can you expect engineers to provide sales with all the possible and impossible combinations and correlations. So, what to do? Our customer chose to ask us for help (obviously).

 

With a Tacton solution in place, the previous problem is now non-existent.

With the tight integration between Tacton CPQ and Tacton Design Automation, all product rules and data are at the fingertips of our customer’s sales rep. This effectively steers and helps to offer the best (and correct) solution. Simultaneously, accurate and valid information is sent directly to the engineer. And not only that – the automatically generated 2D and 3D CAD files also make the order ready to be sent straight into production, significantly speeding up delivery time.

 

Tacton automatically adjusts the entire configuration based on user input, regardless if the conveyor needs to be 10 meters (30 ft) longer or 10 centimeters (3 inches) wider. This way, neither sales nor engineers need to worry about invalid choices. Instead, these departments rely on their Tacton solution for a configuration that’s ready for production and delivery – and also provides exactly what the end-customer wants.

 

This has greatly increased our wood panel manufacturer’s collaboration and workflows. It’s also easier to promise, produce, and deliver high-quality products. But business isn’t the only thing that’s improved: our customer no longer has uncomfortable or tricky conversations. The improved atmosphere that’s followed? Consider it a bonus.

How to simplify maintenance of Design Automation projects by using constraints

A Design Automation project lifecycle is longer than you would think. You might consider the work done when it is set into production, but I would argue otherwise. Rather, a Design Automation project is a living thing which will be updated with new product data and variants during its lifetime. And as it gets older and more experienced, the project needs to be maintained to stay efficient.

But here’s the tricky part: the more data you have, the harder its maintenance will be. A common problem is that when a new variant of a part or subassembly is added, logic needs to be changed in order to define how this new variant will fit into the Design Automation system. Old rules need to be edited and new rules might need to be created.

So, is there a way to simplify this? Yes, there is. In this blog post, I’ll show you how you can separate your data from logic, as well as update your product data without having to change your logic, by using a constraint-based Design Automation approach.

 

Let’s start with the basics.

We will look at a simplified example of a conveyor model (picture 1). More specifically, we will concentrate on the Beams and the Rollers (picture 2).

 

Picture 1

 

Picture 2

 

In our example, there are three variants of beams, and three variants of rollers. The ways in which these can be combined are shown in the matrix below:

 

BeamABeamBBeamC
RollerAAllowedNot AllowedNot Allowed
RollerBAllowedAllowedNot Allowed
RollerCAllowedAllowedAllowed

 

I will first describe how you would go about a configuration using a sequential approach. Then, I’ll show how to handle the same configuration using constraints and the benefits of using this approach.

 

How a sequential approach will give you never-ending work… 

The sequential way to set this up is to have three rules stating that if a certain Beam is chosen, some Roller is allowed. See an example of a rule set which would achieve this bellow:

If Beam A then RollerA or RollerB or RollerC

If Beam B then RollerB or RollerC

If beam C Then RollerC

 

Let’s imagine that we now need to add a new roller, “RollerD”. This roller should work for BeamA and BeamB. To ensure a correct set-up, we would need to change two of the rules we created earlier to take this new roller variant into account.

If Beam A then RollerA or RollerB or RollerC or RollerD

If Beam B then RollerB or RollerC or RollerD

If beam C Then RollerC

 

… and why constraints will radically simplify maintenance 

With a constraint-based tool, rules refer to properties of the variants rather than the variant values or the variants themselves.  This enables us to create a rule saying why the Rollers and Beams fit together, rather than in what combination.

In our example, the reason for the allowed combinations of rollers and beams is that the Roller Diameter cannot be larger than the Beam height.

We begin by creating a table for rollers and beams A-C, with the necessary properties.

 

RollerDiameter (mm)
RollerA10
RollerB20
RollerC30

 

RollerHeight (mm)
BeamA35
BeamB25
BeamC15

 

Now, we need only one rule to describe how these can be combined. In this rule, we will only include logic which refers to the properties, rather than specific values or variants, since our aim is to separate the data from logic.

RollerDiameter<RollerHeight

The result will be the same as with the previous rules. The difference is that this rule is compact yet easily understood. We have been able to replace the 3 rules, shown in the sequential approach example, with just one. If we now want to add a new Roller, we simply add a new row to our Roller Table and no change in rules is necessary.

 

RollerDiameter (mm)
RollerA10
RollerB20
RollerC30
RollerD22

 

So, what do we learn from this? 

In real Design Automation projects, the dependencies between components are generally complex with a lot of dependencies between different components. This increases the importance of separating the data from logic, as we have done in this one very simple example. By using a constraint-based approach, you can easily separate your logic from data, inevitably simplifying maintenance. Working with constraints means you get a lot fewer rules, as well as an easier way to update your product data without having to go through your logic and find all the rules which need to be edited.

 

Learn more about Tacton Design Automation for your specific CAD below. 

If you are a SOLIDWORKS user, click here.

If you’re an Autodesk Inventor customer, read more here.

If you use PTC Creo, learn more about our offer here.

Don’t turn your engineers into assembly line workers

 

Meet Rasheed – a design engineer working at a company manufacturing conveyor belts. Rasheed is a highly skilled mechanical engineer with over 10 years of experience, a good paycheck, and he is also a very appreciated employee at his company. Rasheed is currently, however, very bored of his work and he is considering to work somewhere else. Every week Rasheed is designing the same type of conveyor belt over and over again. The orders of conveyor belts he receives are always similar, but never exactly the same as any previous product. The design process cannot be standardized or automated in the current process, so he always needs to re-design everything based on a standard conveyor belt. It is time consuming, and boring, work.

 

With the skill and knowledge Rasheed possess he could potentially be doing much more qualified work. However, the tedious process of creating every product from scratch consumes all that time and other resources. Rasheed feels like he is working at a modern day assembly line, with the exception that he actually has a degree! Even if we ignore what Rasheed thinks of his current work situation, it is an obvious waste of resources such as time, money and brain power.

 

Design Automation is the solution to these kind of problems. It standardizes and automates the tiresome parts of the design process and moves the design engineer higher up the creativity ladder. As such, it acts as a design engineer itself – so instead of Rasheed having to update the dimensions of yet another conveyor belt he could be spending his time working on the next generation of products or perhaps fixing that motor that has been left under dimensioned for far too long! The latter is the type of work that would increase sales and profits and reduce costs for the company on a long-term basis. This is work that would directly affect the growth of the business and the bottom line profit. Design Automation will reduce cost for your business because it helps reducing common costly mistakes and errors. The automated process assures an even quality of the work performed, no matter how skilled, experienced, or attentive the engineer is, so it will reduce the claims costs as well.

 

For Rasheed personally, this would also mean a positive challenge in his everyday work. With a more challenging job he will increase his learning, get more efficient, and be happier with his work. In fact, the work an automated design process frees up for the engineers are most likely going to be the work the engineers, like Rasheed, hate spending the most – the repetitive and least challenging parts. Just like machines revolutionized the manufacturing industry by automating manual labor, design automation will revolutionize your design process by freeing up time for your design engineers and make them reach their full potential. Your business will be more cost efficient, more innovative and you will be able to keep appreciated employees like Rasheed in your company.