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

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:

 

BeamA BeamB BeamC
RollerA Allowed Not Allowed Not Allowed
RollerB Allowed Allowed Not Allowed
RollerC Allowed Allowed Allowed

 

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)
RollerA 10
RollerB 20
RollerC 30

 

RollerHeight (mm)
BeamA 35
BeamB 25
BeamC 15

 

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)
RollerA 10
RollerB 20
RollerC 30
RollerD 22

 

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.

Design Automation Quality

 

What if you had a design tool that ensures quality designs, no matter who used it?

 

Imagine that your most important customer would call Gareth and Rhonda, your two best sales reps with a request for a product. These sales people would interpret this need and hand it over as a problem description to two different design engineers. These design engineers, with their own experience, preferences, knowledge and style would then create a separate quotation for that customer. What are the chances those two quotations would be the same? Perhaps a more interesting question is: How important is it for your business that those quotations would be the same?

 

It may not be a common issue that a customer would get two quotations for the same problem specification at the same time. What is common, however, is that companies produce highly different quotations for very similar problems depending on who creates the quotation. Design engineers are after all humans and, as such, do things their own way. Some are senior engineers who designs ”like they always have done and it has always worked fine”. More junior engineers may lack that experience but use new, modern ways of solving the same problem using other techniques and parts. In practice, this means one design engineer will use one set of parts and another one another set of parts, when they really could have been using exactly the same. This workflow makes it frictionless and allows for more flexibility for the engineers but is much less efficient, and more costly, for the company as a whole. If every engineer has his preference of motor, for example, the company needs to keep an excess of all of those different motors in stock, even if the different solutions just as well could have used the same motor.

 

The major issue here however, ladies and gentlemen, is the loss of quality. When you do not have repeatability in your design process you will be more vulnerable to the risk of creating occasional low quality products, followed by claims costs. This, since you cannot guarantee the design was made by your best engineer, on his best day, every time. The key to really solving these problems is to have an automated design tool that ensures quality designs – no matter who uses it and when. Your business should be offering the same quotations, design solutions and products no matter who does the design and his or her preference, experience, or knowledge. This will also highly reduce the resources spent on time-consuming design processes that could, and should, be automated.

 

Design automation tools like Tacton’s Design Automation tool is perfect to address challenging, time-consuming, and costly errors in the design process. The benefits will be real quality assurance, faster quotation and better efficiency in the overall design process. So, next time your customer calls with a request for a product, they will receive the same quotation in the end – no matter if they talk to Gareth or Rhonda.

SOLIDWORKS World 2015: Gone are the days of lone engineers

How many engineers does it take to change a light bulb? The old joke echoed in my head as I was attending the annual gathering of super-engineers and designers – SOLIDWORKS World 2015 in Phoenix, Arizona. This year there were 5500 attendees from all over the world, who watched presentations, participated in discussions and training and attended the big Mexican-themed party.

Gone are the days of lone engineers

SOLIDWORKS clearly see themselves as the future of product design. The message delivered during general sessions was clear: gone are the days of lone engineers who locked themselves in a garage and created break-through products. Today’s engineers have to be social and collaborate. They save their designs in the cloud and can access them on multiple platforms – why not design on your tablet while sitting on a park bench for example?

An important part of every SOLIDWORKS World are the daily general sessions attended by the great majority of participants. The sessions are amazingly staged with lighting, sound, huge video screens and, of course, the key note speakers. While some speeches turned out to be nothing more than extended company ads, other turned out to be truly interesting, offering insights into possibilities of the digital age.

How to attract more girls to study science, technology, engineering and math

One speech that interested me was delivered by Bettina Chen, a graduate of engineering program at Stanford, who joined forces with another Stanford graduate and embarked on a mission to attract more girls to study science, technology, engineering and math. How? They designed Roominate – a toy aimed at girls of six years and up, which combines hands-on building, circuits, design, crafts, storytelling, and creativity for hours of fun. Kids can build spinning windmills, carousels, lamps, couches, bunk beds, and more. Needless to say, a box of Roominate now rests in my suitcase to be tested on my six year old daughter at home. You can see more on their website www.roominatetoy.com.

Five Senses Theory

Another speaker who caught my attention was designer Jinsop Lee, who discussed a process of industrial design and his (very unscientific) Five Senses Theory. Using this theory, Jinsop searches for a perfect experience by judging how different activities affect each of the five senses. Giving a refreshing perspective, Jinsop concluded that SOLIDWORKS will perhaps eventually design a perfect design tool, but as for now analogue design still affects more senses and is therefore more attractive for him – most of his designs are still done with pencil, or clay. You can see a TED talk hosted by Jinsop Lee here.

Together with Lino in Phoenix

So what did Tacton do in Phoenix? For this year’s event we teamed up with our German partner Lino to present a 3D Layout product built on top of TactonWorks. The product enables non-CAD experts to easily and quickly generate accurate and compelling 3D floor plans to be used for planning and sales of industrial plants. The users simply drag-and-drop plant components onto a plane and assemble them into production lines just as easy as LEGO bricks. The tool manages special rules, makes sure that machines snap to the right points and customizes the machines based on customer requirements. While all this is quite difficult to appreciate by a non-CAD expert like me (the tool simply worked as expected), the visitors to our booth seemed genuinely impressed by how much tedious CAD operations are automated by this tool. Our product seemed to fit well into the theme of experiencing 3D, another one promoted by SOLIDWORKS throughout the event. If you are interested and want to know more, you can see a video demo here (in German).
Next year the SOLIDWORKS World circus moves on to Dallas, Texas. I suppose that the main themes of this year’s event will continue to be discussed next year as well. No matter what SOLIDWORKS shows us, I just do not think that this era of social and collaborative engineering us upon us just yet. But that does not matter. What matters is that SOLIDWORKS World is a big appreciation event for all users of SOLIDWORKS tools and the company does an amazing job of organizing its user community, involving their users in developing the tools and inspiring them to be even better designers and innovators.