For decades, technology has played a major role in changing the face of manufacturing, and that trend continues today. For machine builders and industrial equipment manufacturers, one innovative technology capable of delivering significant cost benefits and productivity gains is the availability of web-hosted 3D parts catalogs that provide precise product configuration and native CAD downloads of mechanical components.
A common challenge facing multi-faceted OEMs of automated machinery, systems and assemblies -- and the part suppliers who serve them -- is the recurrent need for precision-crafted, configurable mechanical and motion control components. A single production machine or system is typically comprised of hundreds or even thousands of discrete parts, all of which must be sourced externally, often to extremely precise dimensional tolerances.
As a result, design engineers responsible for designing and specifying machinery components often must spend an inordinate amount of time and effort configuring each part and creating numerous engineering drawings to complete the product's Bill of Materials (BOM). For the OEM and its customers, this time-consuming and painstaking process can necessitate lengthy design cycles, high engineering costs and delayed customer fulfillment. All are disadvantages no manufacturer can afford in this fast-moving and highly competitive global market.
How 3D Parts Catalogs Transform Product Design
With the introduction of solutions combining advanced product configurators and interactive e-commerce technologies, the whole process of design engineering is rapidly changing. Now, thanks to leading web-hosted solutions, global design teams can work together to design 3-dimensional components in real time and can then share, store, reuse, modify and control standardized and proprietary parts libraries for future use. These capabilities have greatly enhanced design efficiency and speed, thereby increasing engineering productivity.
The most desirable web-hosted product configurators in the marketplace today offer convenient web access, rich functionality and ease of use, providing competitive advantages to both component suppliers and distributors and the manufacturers they serve. My own company, for example, which manufactures and distributes configurable components, has selected PARTsolutions of Milford, Ohio, as a technology partner to host the online 3D product configurator for our Factory Automation division's product e-catalog, an application which seamlessly integrates with our online web ordering system.
For our customers -- primarily machine builders and OEMs of factory automation equipment -- the interactive web-based application enables fast, easy and direct download of detailed engineering drawings of specific parts in numerous native and neutral CAD and graphic formats. By eliminating the need for design engineers to create their own CAD drawings, our OEM customers can get products to market faster, with reduced costs.
Real-World Results Speak for Themselves
Since implementing the 3D CAD configurator and download engine, more than one million digital product files per month are now being delivered to our worldwide customer base, and the number of downloads continues to grow at a rate of about 33% per month year over year. Following are just a few reactions we have received from a representative sampling of manufacturers since making these capabilities available to them.
A Michigan-based designer/builder of turnkey production, assembly and inspection equipment reported that the CAD configurator feeding downloads for incorporation into its CAD/CAM systems streamlined its design process to maximize workflow efficiency and speed up time to market.
A Massachusetts developer and manufacturer of automated systems for the semiconductor industry has been able to reduce time and costs and hasten new product development turnaround time since engineers have become adept at using the e-catalog and CAD configuration tools.
The president of a Tennessee-based machine and tooling shop reported that the efficiencies generated through its use of CAD configuration and downloads have helped the company save costs, while improving its design, purchasing and production methods. The company's engineering manager notes that the application has proven to be a great timesaver and productivity tool, enabling engineers to develop customized designs for customers on tight deadlines. Once individual parts are configured and drawings downloaded for a given machine, they can be saved for convenient future reorders, or for reuse from one machine build to another.
The Importance of Choosing the Right Configurator
When choosing a 3D product configurator and e-catalog provider, it's important to ensure your solution maximizes the marketing and sales impact that your e-catalog can have on your business. When we set out to find the right technology partner, our first priority was making certain that we could reach our entire worldwide customer base and provide them with fast, flexible and easy-to-use tools. We knew that if we could make the jobs of design engineers easier, that would translate into increased sales.
The following factors weighed heavily on selecting PARTsolutions as our 3D product configurator and e-catalog provider.
Ease of Use
It's extremely important that your solution appeals to your audience and is widely adopted. Be sure that your 3D models download fast, have high quality visualization graphics, and display on all web browsers and mobile devices.
Universal CAD Formats
Don't get locked in a box by restricting designers to a limited number of CAD formats by selecting a catalog solution based on a single CAD application. Give designers the flexibility to access your products in their native design system format, such as SolidWorks, Autodesk Inventor, NX software, CATIA, Pro/ENGINEER, etc.
In addition to driving more traffic and downloads to your own website, consider a partner who can push your products out through additional distribution channels such as engineering portals, design communities and enterprise customers. The more engineering designers you can reach, the better.
Working with a technology partner who understands your industry and has experienced staff to support you can be a big competitive advantage as well.
The right 3D product configurator and e-catalog can make a big impact on your business. Choose wisely.
Patrick Esposito, marketing manager for Misumi USA, has 25 years of professional experience in the industrial manufacturing sector. Misumi USA is a global supplier of fixed and configurable mechanical components for industry.