A Control Design reader writes: I work at an OEM that makes process skids for wastewater treatment and custom agricultural-related machines and equipment. It seems like we have a huge number of suppliers, which affects both design and procurement with too much time spent specifying parts, too many purchase orders and too much time chasing delivery time. We either need to limit the suppliers or find an easier way to specify, order and receive parts.
Are there online tools, online stores or portals where the design and purchasing departments can go to select parts and configure systems? I'm looking for a way to automatically generate a parts list or have quick access to standard, fast lead time control components. What are my options for both new, upgrade and spare parts projects?
Gimme 3 steps
Problems such as this are exactly what concepts such as Industry 4.0 and the Internet of Things (IoT) are trying to solve. Essentially, these concepts are about using technology and data to streamline processes from engineering and design through procurement and finally fabrication and assembly. A three-fold approach should be taken.
- Improve engineering tools and processes. With custom products it isn’t sufficient for one party within the production process to finish its work and wash its hands of the output. Engineering software that ties CAD, PDM, PLM and ERP interfaces is ideal. Data from one group or individual should flow seamlessly to the next. Changes along the way are handled efficiently, and the overall specification and procurement processes are greatly improved.
- Embrace a modular mentality. Creating standard designs that are pre-engineered to allow for the flexibility of user-specific changes provides customers with what they need and in turn simplifies the procurement process for the manufacturer. Further benefits of this modular mentality are lower costs and reduced delivery times to your customer.
- Automate. Utilize the data created from the improved engineering processes to automate your fabrication and assembly as much as possible. This automation should result in fewer errors and reduced costs.
Rittal’s Value Chain approach brings together mechanical and electrical information and software with integrated engineering methods and authoring systems to streamline end-to-end value chains (Figure 1). An example of this is the engineering software data portal from sister company ePlan, which aids in the design and construction of electrical systems. With thousands of parts from many of the world’s largest controls manufacturers, component selection is greatly simplified. Freed from tediously paging through bulky catalogs, designers can easily create electrical schematics and output bills of material and drawings.
Nathan Xavier / systems consultant / Rittal North America
We have an e-commerce website (www.haydonkerkexpress.com) offering customers the ability to order online from a standard listing of prototype parts available for 24-hour shipment. The online ordering system allows an engineer to quickly obtain off-the-shelf linear-motion components for concept testing while evaluating needs for an application-specific customized linear-motion solution. Whether off-the-shelf or customized, Haydon Kerk offers quick turnaround of prototypes. Parts ordered through the online system are available for same-day shipment, while customized parts can be available in a matter of days.
We also have a 2D/3D download site where engineers can configure parts and download models into their CAD programs.
Marcia Colucci / marketing specialist / Ametek Advanced Motion Solutions
Design, procure, buy, assemble
There is a trend in the water filtration equipment market toward modular automation. This means the OEM designs a core group of standard functional modules that are easily interconnected in parallel or series to meet application requirements. As you bid on new projects, you can easily pick and choose which modules are required for function and throughput.
The real benefit comes later in the time savings in design, procurement and assembly, since you have a higher volume of standard repeatable designs. The concept is “numbering up instead of scaling up” each time you take on a project.
There are other solutions that do not require you to rethink and redesign your system every time you build a new system. Choose vendors that offer tools and services directly aimed at streamlining the following time-consuming tasks.
- Design: Pneumatic pilot valves, butterfly valves, electrical IO terminals—simple, yet you are correct; they can vary from project to project and absorb a lot of time to design and create BOM and drawings. A simple but effective tool like the Festo Online Shop (www.festo.com/cms/en-us_us/ols.htm) with our product catalog has embedded tools that will design assemblies online, get a single part number for that configuration, export a 3D model and execute an order. The designer only needs to enter the application parameters, and the design and selection is automated. All the accessories are easily chosen. This significantly reduces the time it takes to find, design and select components. There is a lot of engineering design time that can be saved using vendor-created online tools for valves, cabinets, air preparation and electrical terminals (Figure 2, Figure 3).
- Procurement: Utilize online portals for procurement, when your vendors support it. The same Festo Online Shop operates like a typical online store. Engineers can see drawings, price and delivery, and they can fill product baskets. Procurement personnel can view product selections to execute and track orders. These engineering tools create a single part number, so you order one part and receive one part. Saving product baskets for repeatable BOMs or common products can be a great time saver. Much of this information is also available via a mobile app for remote access (Figure 4).
- Supply Chain: Assuming the technology meets your needs, select vendors with a wider product portfolio and suppliers that are equipped to offer pre-assembly services. This reduces the number of vendors, which simplifies the engineer’s life. It also reduces shipments, packaging waste and individual invoices. We have a program where we stock and bundle BOM kits for OEM customers. This reduces lead times and improves your time to market (Figure 5).
Assembly: Move repeatable, simple assembly tasks back to the vendor. Instead of managing purchase orders and receiving boxes from 12 suppliers to build out the control cabinet, outsource it to a UL-rated shop. You eliminate a task and only need to manage one purchase order.
Look to standardize your layout to a few choices. For example, design a standard cabinet with 12 pilot valves and 24 I/O, another version with 24 pilot valves and so on. Sure, you might only need 16 pilot valves on a project and you now have a cabinet with 24. But you save the time not having to redesign and layout the cabinet again. Plus, the parts and cabinet can be in stock. This practice has become so popular, for example, that we have developed a standard cabinet program for water OEMs based around this concept (Figure 6). The OEM simply provides valve and I/O counts, and we design and build around that.
The key is to select a vendor with a wide product and service portfolio that matches your equipment requirements, consider the tools available as part of your evaluation and then work toward internal standardization. Realizing there are savings to be created is the first step, and clearly you understand this already.
Craig Correia / director, process industries, NAFTA / Festo
One site fits all
Limiting the number of manufacturers isn’t a good idea because you won’t be able to select the best products. Limiting the websites you order from makes much more sense, so what you’re looking for is a site offering automation products from many different manufacturers. This will allow you to select the best products for your applications, while at the same time greatly simplifying ordering, tracking and delivery.
AutomationDirect is one such site. It offers thousands of automation products from leading manufacturers, including its own products. Because it also is a manufacturer, it’s much more familiar with automation than catalog houses, which are just order takers and can’t answer any questions you may have or provide any ongoing support. AutomationDirect has a team of in-house experts to answer your questions and to provide ongoing support throughout the lifecycle of the products you purchase.
When it comes to online suppliers with products available 24/7, it’s imperative that they go the extra mile to make sure the customer has the right tools and product information to make the right decision. Since 1999, AutomationDirect has been selling affordable automation products through its extensive online store with the goal of providing not just the products you need, but the information you need, as well.
Besides its in-depth documentation and highly trained technical support staff, it offers numerous interactive selection tools including PLC configurators, a motor selector, a pneumatic gripper selector and many others to quickly and easily configure your components.
The store also offers many other shopping benefits including cut-to-length cable, customized enclosures, convenient BOMs and favorites lists, easy online quotes and free two-day shipping on orders over $49, all to ensure your complete satisfaction.
So, if you are looking for a one-stop shop online where you can get the products and information you need in a hurry, take a look at AutomationDirect. After all, it’s been at it a long time and has spent almost 20 years perfecting the online experience.
Bill Dehner / technical marketing engineer / AutomationDirect
The Endress+Hauser Online Shop is available to help customers streamline their project planning and purchasing processes by providing 24/7 access to detailed product information, documentation, personalized pricing, lead times, customized product lists, quotes and more (Figure 7).
These functions are completely integrated into our website, and customers also have access to new features:
- access to all quotes and transactions the customer has had with Endress+Hauser, no matter if they are conducted online or off-line
- buy online or request a quote from the local sales representative
- easily reorder from past quotes and orders
- use serial number and order code searches to add products directly to the shopping cart
- get email notifications once new quotes or transaction details are available
- quickly import or export item lists
- purchase spare parts, accessories and basic services
- contact information for local Endress+Hauser representatives
- crashed cart recovery—if a customer’s Internet browser unexpectedly closes, the cart will be saved automatically for access when they log back in.
Sean Beeker / senior marketing program manager / Endress+Hauser
Configure and compare
Murrelektronik’s Online Shop is exactly the type of forward-thinking site you’re looking for. Having an online shop account makes the process of order entry and repeat ordering a breeze. Within the account, customers are able to create a listing of commonly used items. Those components can be assigned to a group of the customers’ choosing—client, machine build, date.. Having an account further allows the customer to download the materials, such as data sheets and descriptions, needed to make providing documentation a breeze.
Our latest system innovation involves an easy way for customers to select our MICOPro intelligent current monitoring products by comparing a variety of the configurations, choosing the one that best matches the component capabilities and assigning downloadable BOM (Figure 8). All of this is done through a portal that generates the information needed for ordering and ties it directly back to a customer’s account for reference or ordering.
Aaron Henry / VP strategic development / Murrelektronik
Newark.com has innovative online buying tools to simplify your process, save you time and support your organization's strategic initiatives in spend management. Upload your entire parts list or bill of materials with our new automated parts list (BOM) upload tool. Challenge our quoting specialists on any order size or difficult-to-find product.
You can use Newark element14 part numbers, manufacturer part numbers or product descriptions or keywords. It features real-time uploading and item matching. It’s an easy way to find all your parts quickly.
Becky McMorrow / director, North America marketing / Newark element14
Assistant is a click away
Cymex 5 enables simple dimensioning and evaluation of the complete drive train (application + transformation + motor + gearbox). Using predefined standard applications such as belt, spindle, rotary-table and rack-and-pinion drives, this free software allows you to define any number of axes simultaneously. It includes:
- import functions of motion profiles from SAM, Excel, ASCII databases with all Wittenstein alpha products, as well as 11,000 motors offered by all current manufacturers
- visualization of loads in relation to all important component parameters in the drive train
- off-line CAD generator: 3D files of gearboxes and servo actuators including all attached components
- motion profiler for creating simple and complex motion and load profiles
- technical calculation documentation.
Enter some basic application or motor data, and Sizing Assistant from Wittenstein loads your gearbox options in seconds (www.controldesign.com/sizingassistant). No login is needed. Download CADs and dimensional drawings, and request a quote with the click of a button. It includes:
- automatic comparison of the motor and gearbox geometry
- dimension drawing and CAD data with a single click
- compare products side-by-side
- request quote for configured gearbox.
Colleen Makare / marketing communications manager / Wittenstein
From analysis to architecture
Rockwell Automation offers a full range of product selection and sizing tools to help engineers select products and specify automation systems.
These tools provide broad and deep selection assistance and include not only Rockwell Automation products, but products from its Encompass partners, as well.
For engineers looking to the Web for product selection assistance, Rockwell offers MyRockwellAutomation. Your product research starts with powerful search to help to guide you to the products and services that best align to your project requirements (Figure 10). Product configuration integrated with search enables you to define specifically what you need, and you can create bills of materials and share them with key partners and stakeholders.
If the project involves servo and variable-frequency drive systems, Rockwell offers a very sophisticated but easy to use sizing and selection tool called Motion Analyzer. This online tool helps you to size mechatronic systems and equipment, so you can build a more cost-effective and efficient machine or process (Figure 11). You’d find a speed/torque tool, an inertia calculator, a common bus estimator and a cable selector. You are able to select products from Rockwell Automation and partners such as Stober, Shimpo, Wittenstein, Elwood, Sicemotori, Nook, Tolomatic, Apex and Harmonic Drive.
For engineers seeking a mobile solution, the Rockwell Catalog App for iOS and Android phones, tablets and phablets combine a simple user interface with access to more than 1,500 wizards. The wizards are fast and convenient ways to find and configure products from Rockwell and 39 Encompass partners such as General Cable, nVent Hoffman, Pepperl+Fuchs, Bonitron and Softing. You can also access documentation, create bills of material and share them via email. Get the iOS version on iTunes and the Android version on Google Play.
And, finally, engineers who prefer the availability and accessibility of a desktop application but like the dynamic and real-time nature of the Web can get both for free with Rockwell Automation’s Product Selection Toolbox Software. In this package, you’ll find tools such as Integrated Architecture Builder (IAB). IAB allows you to lay out simple to complex automation systems including products such as Rockwell Automation’s programmable controllers, HMI and physical-network media and products from 23 Rockwell Encompass partners such as ProSoft, Spectrum Controls, Endress+Hauser and Molex. The software’s built-in rules help to check the compatibility of your selections (Figure 12). You can check the expected performance of your design and output a detailed report including bill of materials, layout drawings and other useful technical information. And you don’t have to worry about getting the most recent information because the software updates automatically when you connect to the Web. You can download here.
Barry Jereb / product selection and configuration / Rockwell Automation
Easy to find
Lenze Easy Product Finder (EPF) allow users to quickly navigate Lenze’s wealth of products, including geared motors, inverters and automation products. Searching is done through three methods—a guided “quick search,” a detailed search and free text. Engineering information including CAD files, speed-torque curves and technical ratings are available.
The new Easy Product Finder is one step in digitalization at Lenze. EPF provides a portal for customers to fill shopping carts with products that meet their requirements. From these shopping carts, customers are able to view product details, pricing and availability. Customers are also allowed to place new orders, as well as view their order history.
Brandon Marcellis / technical solutions engineer / Lenze
Specify, order and receive
It is refreshing to hear this question. I have a question in return: Why not limit suppliers and find an easier way to specify, order and receive parts?
Unfortunately, there are many organizations too mired in routine to realize that there are very real internal costs associated with the time spent designing and procuring the components which your systems consist of. The faster an engineering department can specify and cost components, the quicker the sales department can bring the product to market and generate revenue. Likewise, a fast and efficient handoff of a bill of materials from engineering to supply chain yields faster deliveries, simplified vendor management and an overall reduction in costs leading to increased profitability.
Many organizations can point to a specific value for the internal cost to follow a purchase order from cradle to grave, typically $200–$400. In many instances, it is not worth nickel-and-diming amongst multiple vendors on single components, when the same components can be supplied at a reasonable cost by a single or consolidated list of vendors who are already delivering other products.
First conduct a wholesale review of the components which typically need to be acquired for your skids by category—mechanical, electrical—and the vendors capable of supplying the largest range of products from their offerings, while maintaining high levels of perceived value.
ABB offers a wide range of industry-leading electrical and mechanical solutions.
Next is the more challenging part. Look for vendors that have easy-to-use solutions to specify, order and receive parts.
ABB’s Dodge Passport selection program (dodgepassport.abb.com) is an excellent example of a program capable of meeting these needs. First, Dodge Passport is capable of selecting a wide range of mechanical products from an industry-leading portfolio of mounted bearings, gearboxes, couplings and belted drives. For this selection process, Dodge Passport uses an intuitive user interface that easily guides even the newest users through their selections. However, unlike many other platforms that stop at the selection, Dodge Passport also delivers real-time pricing and availability. Once selections are completed, they can be easily converted to orders via integration with the PT Place e-commerce platform. Passport is a selection tool that fully enables users throughout the entire selection and procurement process, increasing productivity and significantly reducing internal costs.
Matthew Wolford / product marketing manager, electronic tools / ABB Motors and Mechanical
From what you’ve described, it sounds like the Schneider Electric OEM Portal is exactly what you’re looking for. This portal was developed to provide a single place for OEMs to access the many tools and resources that we provide for product selection, quotation, project management, tech support and training. Also, we have centralized stocking locations in the United States to support our many distributor partners that can work directly with you for tailored local support and stocking needs.
You can use this link to access the registration page. Make sure to check out the customer testimonial video to learn more about the portal before registering.
Charlie Matthews / U.S. industry marketing specialist / Schneider Electric
Keep it mobile
In today’s industrial market, OEMs are constantly looking for ways to cut down on time spent specifying products, procuring materials and chasing down deliveries. There are many online tools and services available to help lower time spent on these activities. Many suppliers now offer product-configurator tools that allow designers to customize products to their application specs. There are also time-saving advantages that can be obtained by utilizing distributors’ websites that provide datasheets, images, videos and specs for a multitude of brands.
Allied carries more automation and control brand names than any other distributor in North America. With more than 3.5 million parts available at www.alliedelec.com, customers look to Allied for a broad range of products from more than 300 brand-name suppliers. Allied provides e-commerce solutions that cut down on the design, purchasing and tracking of products. All registered customers enjoy a number of benefits online including streamlined checkout, order tracking and history, saved shopping carts, custom part numbers and the ability to place orders on the go from our mobile website.
Joe Reed / product director / Allied Electronics & Automation
A better way
We feel your pain and the need to consolidate your vendors and automate your orders for ease, convenience and speed. Allied Electronics & Automation can help with your challenges, since we are in business for OEMs like you. Consolidate your parts orders into one place. You will have access to $120 million in inventory. Register for an account. It’s easy; we promise. You will start to feel more in control. If, after searching the website, you still have questions, we have local sales reps who are trained to answer your questions and find what you need, live or in-person. Plus, our technical product support groups and application engineers work with our sales reps to help to manage your online needs. We can set up punch-out e-commerce solutions and create customized managed inventory processes to keep track of your inventory and replenishment of stock. So, yes, there is an easier way for you to specify, order and receive parts. Give us a try.
Gabriel Reichman / director of digital experience and customer acquisition / Allied Electronics & Automation