Blog Category: Engineering

What is CPQ Software? How can it Help in the New Normal?

What is CPQ Software?

Configure Price Quote (CPQ) software platforms help manufacturers use self-service, guided (and remoteselling to accurately configure manufacturing products and services for the new buying journey many manufacturers face. The new B2B buyer won’t wait for error-prone quotes they want their products custom and they want them now! Minimizing time-consuming back and forth between your sales and engineering is reduced by centralizing the customer experience within CPQ. 

Much of the world has hit the pause button on how everyday activity creating a sense of nostalgia for how we used to work, and anxiety for the new way things will be done. Manufacturers have felt this anxiety as severely as other industries that have paused operations. These feelings are of course valid. But what if it was possible to turn that fear and anxiety into business self-reflection to find new solutions that can help you, and your business adapt to a new normal?

How can CPQ software prepare us for a new way of working?

Innovation is the ability to see change as an opportunity – not a threat. Manufacturers have been thrown into brand new ways of working from the back of the office to the front. Six-feet separate employees who used to work inches from one another. To sales teams scrambling to find ways to work, and demo highly configurable products remotely. These challenges have shifted how and when we work, making it important to find new ways to adapt to the current situation while also embracing the future with new ways to work.

CPQ is the innovation manufacturers didn’t realize they needed until now. Inefficient operations and slow internal processes have always hampered how your engineers and sales teams work. Giving them a new agile way of working is a benefit that will enable your company to grow at an exponential rate.

That sounds great but how is it possible?

Your sales team and your customer 

Using CPQ helps your sales team from anywhere with less hassle. From guided selling to visual configuration your sales team can create fast, accurate and visually appealing sales pitches that your customer, who is pickier than ever will love. All of this can be done online or in-person for an omnichannel manufacturing experience. We’re very familiar with the changing customer demands, they want custom products from size dimensions to colors, fast and if they don’t get them they’ll go to your competition. With CPQ self-service it’s even possible to create a place for your customers to configure, price and quote their own products on their own time, something manufacturers in the past have failed to do.

Your engineering team 

Increasing the dialogue and collaboration between your sales and engineering teams is something you’ve been thinking about for a while. The slow back and forth with error-prove handover has cost time, money and customer satisfaction in the past. Finding a way to turn collaboration into a strength is something CPQ software can radically change. By using CPQ which guarantees 100% accurate quotes + visual configuration which can show the smallest detail to prospects offers a synchronized and transparent way to have teams work together. This doesn’t just benefit your internal operations but keeps customers on a fast track to receiving their products.

Integrations for even greater speed

From CPQ for Salesforce, to CPQ for Microsoft Dynamics and even your favorite eCommerce solution, it’s easier than ever to highlight the strength of any business-critical system. Without these integrations it’s lead manufacturers to use messy spreadsheets and have information get lost, for incorrect quoting.

Every operation is different, but creating new ways to be agile in the coming months can make all of the difference in barley surviving or thriving in a new normal that mandates different ways of working. Using Smart Commerce powered by CPQ can be a choice that puts manufacturers ahead in the race for increased customer satisfaction, improved internal operations and higher profit margins.

These are just a few highlights of how Tacton CPQ Software can help manufacturers adapt to a new normal. Let’s get in touch and create a new manufacturing normal that will be the envy of the industry. 

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Learn more about Smart Commerce and CPQ

Tech with Tacton Part 3: Visual Asset Creation Pipeline

The Visual Asset Creation Pipeline defines the workflow to produce Visual Assets usable for 3D real-time visualization of highly configurable products. 

The pipeline consists of different steps whose existence and scope highly depend on the input of the pipeline (quality and completenessand the desired output (intended use case and corresponding constraints and goals). 

(Image of a general Asset Creation Pipeline)

Input for the pipeline is typically the 3D CAD model/data of the desired product to be visualized, either in the native CAD file format or a general interchange format like STEP or JT. The challenge is to gather the right data and information to build suitable visual assets. 

CAD Data 

The first mandatory step is to prepare the data to be used in real-time visualization. This includes the actual tessellation of the CAD data as well as simplifying and repairing them if necessaryRemoving Intellectual property concerning parts is also part of that step. 

Depending on whether parts have been removed, are broken, have been missing in the initial input delivery or are just too complex for real-time visualization, new 3D models need to be created to complete the product visualization. This is typically done based on reference images of the specific parts. Part of this second step is it as well to make sure that the parametric features of the product are present and can be steered correctly afterward by the configurator. 

The third step deals with the visual appearance of the product. Materials and corresponding textures need to be created and assigned to the individual parts of the product or be prepared for later configuration changes. Additional input necessary to achieve correct results are reference images or samples of the materials and colors. Setting the presentation stage of the product (environment, lighting, interaction possibilities) is also part of this step. 

The last step deals with combining individual assets to assemble the final product and verify that the assets can visualize the different configuration possibilities correctly. 

Before using the visual assets in a live system, the individual files are automatically optimized depending on the channel, platforms and devices they are going to be used. 

Optimizing how visual assets are created is as important as it’s ever been for manufacturers. Creating top of the line visualizations for customers takes your sales pitch from good to great.  

Learn more about how Tacton can help your business by scheduling your demo or getting our eBook: Seeing is Believing: Visualize the Future of Manufacturing Sales 

Tech with Tacton: Optimizing Visual Asset Creation Part 2

Tessellations

In case you missed it check out the first installment of Tech with Tacton Visual Asset Creation here.

Optimizing visual asset creation a definition:  

Optimization refers to the process of finding a trade-off between Visual Fidelity, download speed and Rendering performance. 

CAD 

In modern engineering design, nearly all 3D geometries are created by computer-aided design (CAD) systems. And those geometries are the natural starting point or input for creating Visual Assets for a 3D real-time visualization.  

B-Reps and NURBS 

Boundary representations (B-Rep) are the primary method of representing modeled objects in those CAD systems. The mathematical description of curve and surface elements can vary but they are usually given in parametric forms represented by non-uniform rational B-splines (NURBS). 

(Image of teapot represented by a B-Rep)

The main advantage of this representation is the ability to compactly describe a surface of almost any shape and store it in an efficient way. Additionally, the underlying math calculates an accurate definition of the surface shape independent of the distance the surface is examined. They do not have any pre-defined “resolution”.  

The CNC machine tools that create the tooling for final products work from these accurate, smooth NURBS data. 

Tessellation 

Although NURBS are ubiquitous in the CAD industry, there is currently no built-in hardware support for displaying NURBS surfaces. To be displayed in a 3D application, NURBS surfaces need to be translated into meshes (polygons, edges, vertices), the native language of modern graphics cards. Graphics Processing Unit (GPU) pipelines are very efficient in processing triangles and they do not work properly with parametric surfaces. 

visual assets

(Image of a teapot represented by a triangle model)

A Mesh Surface  

A mesh is composed of multiple connected polygons, or triangles, forming a mesh surface that is understandable by a GPU, to be rendered in a 3D application. The number of triangles in the polygonal representation depends on accuracy used when approximating the original precise B-Rep representation. This process of taking the continuous, mathematical equation of a surface and approximating it with polygons is called meshing, triangulation or tessellation. 

Since the direct evaluation of NURBS surfaces on the GPU is a highly complex and computationally intensive task, they are usually converted in simpler surface descriptions and tessellated on the CPU (Central Processing Unit) as a preprocessing step. Afterward, the set of generated triangles is sent to the GPU. 

The resource demands (CPU, GPU, Memory) to execute a dynamic re-tessellation at every frame on top of all other relevant tasks necessary for an interactive real-time visualization are simply too much for an average consumer device. Therefore, tessellation is not done on the fly while the 3D real-time visualization is running, it is done as a pre-process upfront. 

Simplification 

It is important to know that when using triangles to approximate smooth edges and 3D it is not possible to achieve the perfect smoothness of an image initially created in NURBS. Unless a very high number of triangles is used, relating to performance issues on the other side. Removing, combining or simplifying non-visual elements from CAD files is crucial for generating high-performance and high-quality visual assets.  Optimizing visual asset creation is a key measure of success for any visual configuration project. 

Tessellations

(Images of a teapot with different tessellation versions)

Part 3: Visual Asset Creation Pipeline will be available tomorrow. In the meantime, why not check out our eBook: Seeing is Believing: Visualize the Future of Manufacturing Sales 

Tech with Tacton: The Visual Asset Creation Process Part 1

Visual Configuration of a heavy vehicles

A note about the author: This week’s author is Marco Lang, Tacton’s Senior Visualization Product Manager. Marco has more than 10 years’ experience working with visual asset creation, and configuration at Lumo Graphics, and now Tacton.  

Showcasing your manufacturing product to buyers is an important aspect of the sales pitch for your company. Many companies lose opportunities because they rely heavily on text-based descriptions of products. That’s why it’s as important as ever to add visual configuration to your sales pitch. (Read the basics of visual configuration)  

Visual representations of your products, services and brand are key drivers of online engagementDigital assets link your customers and company by giving a way to accurately interact with your products.  

In this blog, we’re going to take a deep dive into the visual asset creation process and how putting in the time on the back end will ultimately benefit not only your sales team but most importantly, your customers.  

Digital Twin 

A Digital Twin is a digital model of a physical counterpart (product, system or process), describing its characteristics, attributes and behaviors. Or to be more precise, a Digital Twin is the link between a Digital Master (Master Data or Template) and a Digital Shadow representing a unique relationship to a specific real-world counterpart. 

This virtual representation dynamically collects and combines data from the field as the counterpart matures along the different life-cycle stages. Business systems such as data from engineering, manufacturing, marketing and sales sensor data from operation to service and maintenance. This connection allows new ways of analysis, simulation, optimization, prediction, monitoring, documentation and communication for increased operational efficiency. 

A Digital Thread 

Learning and growing by capturing data from the past and current behavior creates a Digital Thread representing the birth-to-retirement records of the product as it moves through its lifecycle. 

Depending on the use case or the goal of a Digital Twin (e.g. manufacturing, operation or service, …), different kinds of data is collected on a Digital Twin. 

Visual representations (3D Models), as part of a Digital Twin, enable the end-user to evaluate the product by looking at its shape, form or fit and analyzing and understanding its features, options and constraints. 

visual asset creation

(Image showing form, fit and function use cases of visual representations)

Configuration-compatible 3D real-time Models build the core of Tacton’s Visual Configuration solution. 

Visual Configuration of a heavy vehicles

(Image of some configuration possibilities of a truck)

Visual Assets 

All data and files that are necessary for a configuration-compatible 3D real-time visualization are referred to under the umbrella term “Visual Asset. 

Important Visual Assets are: 

  1. 3D Models
  2. 3D Scene with its environment
  3. Materials and Textures  

3D Model (Mesh/Geometry) 

polygon-based model representing the product’s shape and components in 3D.  

visual assets

(Image of a polygon-based model of a teapot)

3D Scene 

The virtual 3D scene defines the scenery in the 3-dimensional world the product is put inThis includes the environment/surrounding, lighting and cameras to look at the product. 

The environment can be a simple Background image or a complete 3D surrounding adding additional 3D models to the visualization. Check out how we do it with our Tructon or Parker Lift Demos.  

Lighting in a virtual 3D world is as essential as it is in real life. Without any lighting it is dark and the product is not visible at all. Therefore, Lighting is a crucial part in setting up a virtual 3D scene.  

There are two ways of lighting. Gathering the information from 360° high dynamic range image (HRDI) or by setting light with specific light types and their individual properties like in a real photo studio. 

Cameras define the different viewpoints on a product in the scene, often along with interaction possibilities and constraints like degrees of freedom and distance/zoom restrictions. 

(Image of different scene elements like light, camera and environment)

Material 

While 3D Models define the shape of an object, Materials define the surface properties and therefore the look and feel of the object in the scene. Depending on the underlying calculation models and their parameters the visualization can range from simple colors to real-world looking surfaces approximating real-life lighting behaviors, for example by using Physical Based Rendering 

(Image of a teapot with two different materials)

Texture 

Textures are images used by Materials to help create realistic materials. They help to add details and real-life variations of materials over a surface. Those images can be created from scratch in dedicated applications or retrieved from real-life photographs. 

In many cases, it can be helpful to simulate e.g. heights or small details on a surface via textures to keep the overall performance of the visualization as high as possible. 

(Image of materials using additional textures for diverse looks)

End-User Constraints to Consider: 

System capabilities 

Since 3D visualization is executed on the customers’ device, (think cell phone or tablet) the performance of the system is critical to the experience. 

Although there have been huge improvements in consumer hardware (graphics cards) and platform capabilities (native and browser applications) over the last few years, there is still a very disconnected technology landscape out there 

Less capable systems prevent the usage of optimized functionalities. And if a device doesn’t support the amount of data necessary for the visualization, the visualization will not be complete or not showing anything at all. Therefore, experiences are typically designed to work well on the lowest common denominator. 

Download speed 

Since all necessary visual assets need to be transferred to the users’ device to get displayed by the visualization, the amount of Visual Assets, the internet connection speed and stability is affecting the experience as well, especially the initial loading time till the visualization is visible for the first time. The bigger the visual assets are used or the slower the connection is, the longer it takes to download the content and to start the experience.  

Rendering Performance 

Depart from the capabilities of the underlying system, the rendering performance depends on other criteria as well, like Visual Asset Weight and the resulting Visual Fidelity (Realism). 

Visual Asset Weight refers to the “complexity” of the Asset. The important performance measurement for 3D Models are the number of polygons those models are composed of. The higher the number of polygons, the slower the performance of that 3D model. Lightweight assets are 3D models with a low polygon count. 

Besides the individual weight, the actual number of different objects in the scene can be a very crucial factor as wellMany different objects with different materials typically relate in a higher number of Draw Calls on the graphics cardimpacting the rendering performance since more work needs to be done. 

For Texture, the weight defines the dimensions and the texel variety within the texture. For Materials the weight defines the complexity of the underlying shader, referring to the number of textures combined and the complexity of the underlying algorithms. 

Optimizing your visual asset creation is essential to a good end-user experiencePart 2: Optimizing Visual Asset Creatiowill be available tomorrow. In the meantime, why not check out our eBook Seeing is Believing: Visualize the Future of Manufacturing Sales  or check out our latest 3D visualization software video. 

2D and 3D Visualization Software, What’s the Difference?

2D vs 3D Visualization Software

Visualization has many different topics, recently we’ve covered Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality for manufacturers. Today we’re going to take a deep dive into 2D vs 3D visualization product configurator software. When talking about visualization, different types and their advantages and disadvantages, you can, in general, differentiate between 2D and 3D visualizations  

2D Visualization  

When referring to visualization as 2D, you are typically stating that the result of the visualization is a static two-dimensional image (width and height). The “2D” reference is not saying anything about what that result image is displaying. It could be a simple line drawing, a computer-generated image (CGI) showing a product in a three-dimensional perspective or real photography made with a camera.  

Very common examples of line drawings are technical drawings derived from CAD providing relevant construction and manufacturing data like all necessary parts and dimensions. They typically show a product from pre-defined viewpoints looking straight to the front, side and top with an orthographic projection of the product, so all relevant information is extractable and non-ambiguous.  

CAD drawings are often generated after the actual configuration process and provided together with the proposal and potentially the corresponding CAD for further verification and usage in subsequent processes. 

 

(Image of a technical CAD drawing) 

CGI 3D visualizations are typically showing products in a photorealistic and real-life looking way mimicking real-world photography. Those images are generated with the virtual equivalent to a real-world photo studio and therefore often referred to as virtual photography. Like in the real-world the product, in the form of 3D data, is placed in a “virtual” photo studio, defining background, lighting, and cameras to produce a single and specifically designed shot of the product.  

It is a static setup for a picture from one precisely pre-defined angle and distance. For a different viewpoint, typically many parts of the studio are rearranged, like the background or the lights. Production of those photorealistic images can take up to several hours for one picture depending on the desired fidelity and resolution. The result is often an image that is hardly distinguishable from a real photo and therefore perfectly suitable for design and aesthetical oriented products and presentations. 

(Image of CGI 3D visualization) 

Since everything in an image is static, the background, the lights, the viewpoint and of course the product and its configuration, every variation needs to get their own image. Depending on the product and its configuration complexity this approach can very quickly lead to thousands of individual images necessary to cover everything wanted. Quality assurance gets very cumbersome and time-consuming and changes of a few settings can easily lead to re-producing many pictures all over again.  

There techniques available to reduce the number of individual pictures by not producing complete product visualization but only parts of the products and assembling those part images at runtime, but those techniques have their own restrictions and problems making the whole system and delivery setup much more complicated. The flexibility at runtime is typically paid with many more pictures to produce up-front and to manage over the lifetime. 

Mercedes Configurator

(Images generated with a real-time compositing technique) 

CGI is not very suited to visualize products with high configuration complexity and many parametric variants. Additionally, since a single image only covers a certain view on the product, interactivity needs to be bought with even more individual images.  

Best use cases are either for simple, well-known products where it is possible to cover/showcase the few variants of the product from a few different viewpoints or for special key shots of any kind of products to highlight certain features or to present the product in an attractive and real-world looking way.   

(Image of a simple product with focus on design) 

3D Visualization

In contrast to 2D visualization, 3D visualization is referring to real-time and interactive 3D visualization. At first glance, the results can look quite similar, but the main difference is that the resulting visualization is produced in real-time in the moment of viewing it and not up-front and that it is possible to freely explore and interact with the created 3D world. Therefore, all necessary data and information for the visualization need to be transferred to the device displaying the visualization.  

That device needs the capabilities and functionalities to process those and render the resulting image several times per second to produce a smooth running and highlight interactive real-time visualization. This technique brings certain advantages compared to a 2D visualization but constraints as well with it.  

Since everything is rendered right in the moment of usage, the visualization is highly reactive and flexible. It is possible to view everything from every possible viewpoint and angle. It is possible to rotate, move and zoom individually for every user. And it is also possible to interact with the visualization in a natural way like dragging and dropping objects around and adjusting them as an inherent functionality of 3D real-time visualization. 

(Image of dragging objects in the 3D visualization) 

It is also unnecessary to pre-calculate and generate all possible variants and combinations possible which enables showing the full complexity and parametric variance of a product without pre-producing them. This enables a much more flexible and adaptive creation and maintenance process supporting the most complex products and their updates and changes over their lifetime.  

(Image of parametric product visualized with 3D real-time visualization) 

Virtual Fidelity 

Visual fidelity is in most cases not an issue anymore since modern graphic cards and hardware capabilities allow high visual fidelity in real-time for most use cases. And it is also possible to render technical drawing style visualizations with 3D real-time visualization as well, which means it is possible to completely mimic a 2D visualization with a 3D visualization. 

(Image of a real-time 3D visualization software with focus on high visual fidelity) 

Depending on where the 3D real-time visualization is running, on the client/user side or on a server as a streaming solution, specific requirements on hardware and internet connection of the displaying device need to be met to enable and support a smooth and adequate visual experience. This also adds additional constraints and requirements on the data being produced and later used for the 3D visualization software in contrast to a pre-rendered 2D visualization only sending over individual pre-rendered images to the displaying device.  

But the gotten flexibility and agility of the 3D real-time visualization compared to the static 2D visualization allows supporting high complex variant products, parametric configurations, and more engaging and immersive experience.  

What is CPQ? and How does 3D Visualization help CPQ?

Configure Price Quote (CPQ) software platforms help manufacturers use self-service, guided (and remoteselling to accurately configure complex products and services for prospective customers. CPQ solutions help manufacturers ensure correct pricing, deliver personalized and highly customized quotes, and massively accelerate the time it takes a salesperson to create a proposal using spreadsheets. Time-consuming back and forth approval sessions between the customer, the engineering team and the sales team are also minimized. 

Utilizing 3D visualization software enables your buyers to see the real-time virtual image of their products. Enabling them to see their products creates an emotional connection while also eliminating costly design errors, down to the smallest detail. Customers can also use Self-Service to build the products on their own time, adding to a multichannel approach for your manufacturing operation.

How can I use visualization remotely?

With the outbreak of COVID-19 sales teams across industries have been thrown into uncharted territories, manufacturing is no exception. Selling in-person is out of the question for the foreseeable future. Like many other businesses, your company must find new ways to succeed in the market while working from home.

The smallest details count when it comes to selling manufacturing products. It can be difficult during a demo to explain just how one small part can affect the entire setup of any particular product. That being said it is possible to provide the optimal solution and an accurate visual representation of the product using visual configuration.
With 3D visualization, it’s easier than ever to create photo-realistic visuals of customized products in realtime. Lack of product knowledge, misunderstandings, and different expectations cut into revenue, margin and customer experience.

Now that you’ve got a quick lesson on 2D and 3D visualization:

it’s time to learn more about how visualizations can change how you sell your manufacturing products. Check out some of our resources for a deeper look: 

Check out more of our topics in visualization:

Augmented Reality vs Virtual Reality for Manufacturers

Tacton Visualization Product Sheet 

[Expert Series] The Current State of 3D Product Configuration

Seeing is Believing: Envisioning the Future of Manufacturing Sales 

Or check out our video on visual configuration!

[Expert Series] The Current State of 3D Product Configuration

The Current State of Visual Configuration

The current state of visual configuration and Augmented Reality (AR) are some of the top trends changing how manufacturers do businessBut how does visualization change how you sell to your customers, or how does it save time for your engineers? These are important questions to ask before you dive into 3D product configuration. 

Luckily for you, we sought the expert opinion of Tacton’s Senior Visualization Product Manager, Marco Lang. Marco brings more than a decade of experience working with Lumo Graphics and Tacton.

Let’s start out with an easy one: What is 3D Product configuration/visual configuration 

Visual Configuration is a tool that empowers sales representatives as well as the end customers to sell or buy a product on their own by making use of different visualization technologies. This ranges from simple and static “2D” images simply displaying the current configuration, over 3D real-time visualizations allowing to intact with the product and configure it more naturally, to AR/VR use cases making the whole sales experience more immersive and tangible for all participants by displaying it in real-life environments. 

What is the problem without having a visual configurator in your sales toolbox?  

Without visuals, products are left to the imagination of customers, so their expectations may not be met when the final product rolls off your assembly line. Now more than ever it’s critical to showcase your products in better ways than just a text description. The new B2B buyer won’t wait for you to make a product with errors, they will move on to another business who can fill their needs.  

Most manufacturing sales cycles are long, how can visualization shorten this journey?  

Seeing is much faster than reading (human brains process visuals 60,000 times faster than they do text, University of Minnesota) or giving a verbal explanation of the product. What You See Is What You Get. Miscommunication is significantly reduced, and the agreement is achieved much quicker. With visuals, your customers will be able to truly engage with their product. They can build something that is branded specifically for the different facets of their industry. Emotions are a powerful motivator, the look and feel of a product in a customer’s environment will help them realize how they will use it. You are able to reduce the need for physical examples in the field as well if speeding up the long sales cycle. 

Visualization helps my sales team, but how does it help my engineering team?  

Visualization creates a mutual understanding between your sales team and your customers. Once a product has been visually configured, even the smallest details aren’t missed. Now that your sales team and customer agree upon the design your engineers will get a product that doesn’t miss any detail, big or small. Engineering can now concentrate on solving the more complex design questions and leave the “basic” product visualization task to the Visual Configurator. Simplifying the complex configuration process with visuals mitigates the risk of combination errors, saving you time and money. 

How does visual configuration and AR enhance my customers’ experience?  

Buyers are visual by nature, no one wants to purchase a product sight unseen, so why wouldn’t you offer them the visuals they deserve? 3D interaction is the natural way of experience products in real life, no more guessing games. AR immerses customers with your product by allowing them to see the design, look and feel of a product, something that plays a critical role in the sales pitch. And verifying the design and dimensions of a product in the real-life spot where it will be placed later on is making the buying and configuration process much more valuable. 

Lastly, how does Visual Configuration fit into Tacton CPQ?  

Tacton Visual Configuration is fully integrated with Tacton’s advanced CPQ software. This integration helps accelerate the entire product configuration process through visually supported communication. The first step to selling your product is with visuals that capture the imagination of the buyers. We did it for example with MAN Truck & Bus and we can do it with your business. 

Bonus question: A lot of people are interested in digital twin technology, so what is it?  

A Digital Twin is a virtual representation of a physical product. It is typically used across the entire lifecycle of a product from engineering/design all way through training and maintenance. Therefore, it can be used for different purposes from testing, validation, prediction, simulation, analysis. For our visual configuration solution, we are using a Digital Twin as well. It is called a 3D real-time Digital Twin. A visual representation of the real-world product tailored to be used for supporting the configuration of a high variant product in real-time. 

That’s it for the latest Expert Series Chat, we’d like to thank Marco for his time and expertise about the current state of visual configuration. If you’re interested in learning more schedule your demo today or check out our Guide to Visualization: Seeing is Believing: Envision the Future of Manufacturing Sales 

[Tech with Tacton] Stay Flexible with Product Variability

Product Variability

CPQ  navigation must be flexible  

As you read in Part 1, product variability can become a nightmare without the right solutions. CPQ is one of the solutions that can transform your business.

Most CPQ systems merely encode a procedure for generating a quote as quickly as possible. For simple high-volume products, that might be enough, but for products with a high degree of variability and many technical interdependencies, the navigation must be flexible, as we noted in Part 1: Navigating Manufacturing Product Variability.

CPQ needs to be a smart product navigator, empowering different stakeholders to explore the product variability in their own ways, and ensure that it is correctly encoded.

So, let us look at what is required under the hood.  

The greatest challenge of navigating the variability of physical B2B products, such as machinery or transportation equipment, is that the variability is constrained by thousands of compatibility restrictions. Those interdependencies interact. A valid combination for one constraint might violate another one. And there are often thousands or more. The combined consequence for the product variability is beyond human comprehension.

In order to support flexible navigation of the product variability, two things are essential: 

  1. A smart engine: that can search the vast maze of restricted product variability in many ways, and tools to present the variability intuitively for different audiences.   

  2. A smart definition of product variability:interdependencies are defined intuitively, clearly corresponding to the real interdependencies. The definition also needs to be concise, so that the same interdependency does not have to be defined multiple times. The definition should be inspected, understood, and validated by the people involved in deciding about variability.

Most configurators on the market rely on sequential encoding of rules (even if they support some form of constraints). They encode a procedure, a sequence of decisions for configuring the product. The interdependencies are in the head of the person encoding the decision sequence. The same interdependency must be implicitly considered in multiple places for different decisions in the procedure.

One by one, each decision-rule might look simple but that’s not the case.  

With a visual flow-chart, the procedure might even look intuitive. But with many interdependencies, the procedure quickly becomes a mess that is a nightmare to maintain. The procedure is not flexible for different uses. And there is no way to validate that the rules are correct. Millions of combinations cannot be tested.

Messy Variability = Messy Business  

Almost everything related to products in the whole organization depends on variability, which changes frequently when the products evolve. When the product variability remains a mess, everything else remains messy. This includes pricing, quoting, order processing, e-commerce, product planning, engineering, and much more. With a transparent product variability as the foundation, everything else related to products can be simplified and truly digitalized.  

When more touchpoints in the product life cycle digitally access the product variability, more stakeholders need to be considered, which increases the demand for flexible navigation. Conversely, the easier it is to navigate the product variability, the more useful it will be for different stakeholders in the life cycle. The greatest challenge will be faced by manufacturers that transform into selling their products as a service since they will need to minimize the product life-cycle cost of the variability they offer.

Tacton Smart Commerce addresses all the needs of the product life cycle and product variability with CPQ. So, what is your business waiting for?  

These challenges and so much more can be addressed with Tacton CPQ. No need to worry about messy variability anymore. Check out how Tacton CPQ can connect all your stakeholders and so much more in our Manufacturers’ Guide to Smart Commerce 

[Tech with Tacton] Navigating Manufacturing Product Variability

Product Variability

Tech with Tacton is a series that takes a deep dive into the technical topics that impact the manufacturing industry.  

In B2B manufacturing, where the buyer of the equipment is an organization, the variation in customer needs is often large, and the order volumes are relatively low. This makes efficient mass production of predefined products infeasible. Customization is necessary.  

However, customization introduces complexity, since it is unclear what the company can offer and what can profitably, and accurately be delivered – with billions of potential combinations the product ca quickly become confusing.

As a consequence, almost every activity related to products in the organization becomes complex. The most obvious pains are lost sales opportunities, inefficient quoting processes, and very high costs of quality assurance but managing the product lines and after-market are equally challenging.  

Most B2B manufacturing companies strive to systematize these processes by designing their products configurable to meet a vast range of customer needs. They define what product variability they offer. The core challenge then is to empower stakeholders to navigate the product variability for their needs.

For example: 

  • Customers: want to find out what solutions match their needs without costing too much 
  • Sales teams: want to quickly optimize their proposals for the customer’s needs, to win the deal without losing profits, and without getting bogged down in technical details. 
  • Sales engineers want to find out how to assess and overcome technical limitations for the customer without unforeseen consequences. 
  • The engineers: encoding the product variability needs to quickly revise and validate interdependencies when they make changes to the product line over time. Ensuring correctness and deliverability 
  • Product managers: need to optimize the variability for profitability. Which customer needs are compatible, which component variants are rarely used? What happens to the overall variability if we replace or remove this component variant? 
  • Pricing managers: need to balance margins with customer value and cost 

Each of these tasks is daunting when we look closely, and they are all very different.  

Interdependencies always make it necessary for all parts to be compatible. Configure, Price, Quote (CPQ) technology can be your versatile autopilot when it comes to navigating your product variability.

Stay tuned for Part 2: Staying Flexible with Your Product Variability.