This article explores product configuration scalability. Product configurators provide the ability to select from millions of permutations with complete accuracy. They follow pre-determined rules imposed by the company. Frequently they drive the configuration of a 3D model. However, they are also capable of providing commercial information such as quotations, drawings, specifications, electrical circuits, and instruction manuals to name a few. They do these tasks with ruthless efficiency, providing virtually instantaneous results. As a result, they create a ‘business in a box’, a strong backbone that can steer the business processes and ensure reliability and accuracy.
If this is the first article you have read on this topic by us, we advise you first read our article on Product Configuration Competitiveness.
Consider the time saved if it was possible to complete all the engineering for a new quotation or customer order at the touch of a button. A product configurator does precisely this. A product configurator may save hundreds of hours of engineering work on a single project but considered over the first year may amount to thousands of hours. Once established, a product configurator will continue to save time and deliver excellent results every time.
It is true that a product configurator requires considerable up-front investment. It requires a well-structured product by employing product standardisation techniques, and that all the business rules are well defined. The engineering team will need to learn new skills, and ownership is paramount. In addition to a significant reduction of time and cost, the product configurator provides several less tangible benefits. It is a central repository for product and application information which becomes accessible to the whole company.
Product planning improves, leading to better lifecycle control. Engineering resources are freed up for new product development, leading to growth opportunities. In addition, Customer satisfaction will increase with better quality information delivered. Management receives good quality financial data to make better-informed decisions and spend less time correcting errors.
The user experience for most product configurators starts with the entry of data onto carefully prepared input forms. The form will adapt to user inputs, conforming to predefined rules. The logic used behind the user entry form reflects the best practice using product and company knowledge. Occasionally, to hand back some control to engineers there may be the ability to override these rules using special authorisation and take back personal responsibility for specific selections or parameters.
During the data entry process, the product configurator will provide instantaneous feedback to the user by showing real-time changes to the 3D model. The model will show all new selections or modifications. The model changes to reflect the adjustment of parametric dimensions. Data such as cost, weight, volume or lead time may be presented on the screen to help make informed decisions.
Sizing systems that carry out complex system calculations may be linked to set the starting parameters for configurated output. Some companies allow customers to carry out simple product configurations using web interfaces.
The product configurator can manage many financial safeguards. These may include; Commercial details such as payment terms, warranties, accepted liabilities, foreign exchange rates, exclusions, bank guarantees. Financial summaries used to gain management approval can be automatically generated and circulated for immediate response.
Quotations display the company brand image and contain all necessary, technical and commercial details. Support documents included, such as; drawings, flow sheets, general arrangements and equipment schedules. Security is increased by using a protected format to ensure that 3D models do not expose sensitive intellectual property.
Product information will usually comprise parts lists, assembly drawings, and a full set of detailed manufacturing drawings. Copies prepared in a pre-sorted compressed state are ready for sending to production or suppliers. Also provided are component data sheets and a list of supplier options with current prices and lead times.
Design risk assessments are pre-populated with configurable data. Product technical manuals required to meet requirements of European directives or other legislative authorities.
In advance of manufacturing completion, preparation of transport details and packing documentation will contain weights and dimensions. Also, shipping documents, and insurance forms providing, lifting, storage and handling drawings and information.
A great deal of process documentation can be compiled by the configurator which may include process flow drawings (PFD), process and instrumentation (P&ID) diagrams, input/output lists (I/O), valve lists, instrument lists, equipment lists. In addition, the configurator can write code automatically for functional programmable logic controller (PLC) software for controlling the functionality of the equipment. Also included are Control schematics, circuit diagrams, parts lists and data sheets for electrical, hydraulic and pneumatic circuits.
The automatic assembly of high-quality instruction manuals provides details of installation, commissioning, operation and maintenance manuals. Also included are instruction manuals contain links to relevant drawings and parts lists for a rich interactive experience.
Engineering Resource Planning system (ERP) receives a formatted bill of materials. In addition, scale drawings provide the ability to automate profiling and bending of sheet metal products.
Product configuration scalability
In summary, product configuration scalability is as extensive as you want it to be. Consequently, a product configurator maybe a simple design tool or it can reach across all business processes, providing fast and accurate information. Product configurators require a considerable up-front investment of planning and detail, but the rewards can be significant.
Many companies are aware of the competitive pressure from overseas, where engineering labour is considerably cheaper than at home. Introducing a product configurator and eliminating the need for iterative engineering can give companies back that competitive edge.
Hopefully, this document has shown that product configurators can do much more than simply configure products and can contribute greatly to automation of complete business processes, reducing risk, increasing customer satisfaction and shorter lead times.
Written by Peter Slee Smith, Edited by Jason Spencer – 20/03/2018
Gatehouse Design offers services around product configuration, along with other design services.
If you want to learn more about the authors of this article, you can find our LinkedIn profiles here.
If you have any ideas or questions, please feel free to contact us.