Online configuration tools and software continue to change how design engineers specify and buy all types of motion components. Part of this trend is spurred by consumer-level shopping that gives anyone online the ability to get clothes, home goods, and more with immediate price and delivery information — without talking to a service representative.
Familiarity with these B2C online-shopping tools are informing new modes of B2B engineering design and purchasing.
Here’s what else industry experts said about what’s available now and what tools are coming down the pipeline.
Some tools specifically setup to support the move towards pre-engineered solutions. “We’ve steered more of our e-commerce products to let customers purchase the building blocks for quickly and easily assembling machines,” said Phil Faluotico, V.P. of HaydonKerk Pittman Engineering.
But sometimes OEMs who ultimately put motion designs into large production runs can do better than the off-the-shelf setups available in low quantities online.
“Very often, e-commerce offerings aren’t production solutions, but rather interim solutions that let designers get their first system running very quickly. After initial runs, we come in and identify how we can integrate products more effectively to optimize the solution,” Faluotico added.
Others see online specification and purchasing as part of the end-design process.
“At AutomationDirect, online tools help designers find optimal motion hardware from a single source for their application,” said Chip McDaniel, engineer at AutomationDirect. Designers can pick from the supplier’s three standard drives, eight standard motors from 100 W to 3 kW, and more than 50 gearboxes — in both inline and right-angle versions with multiple ratios.
“Using our VisualSizer-SureServo, a motion design engineer can also setup mechanical systems that use components such leadscrews, timing belts, gearboxes, and so on — along with electrical motors and drives,” added McDaniel. Part of the problem is the process of determining the right motor for the application. This is where VisualSizer-SureServo helps, as users can model mechanical systems very specifically — and then the tool recommends motors from multiple manufacturers that best fit the application.
Another example comes from GAM Enterprises, which provides digital tools to help OEMs and end users to feel confident when designing their machines. “Our online sizing tool lets engineers quickly spec out products compatible with their servomotor,” said Mike Parzych of GAM. “It’s integrated with our online catalog and CAD configurator for a seamless experience … and comes in mobile versions for anytime-anywhere access.”
In fact, the manufacturer is currently looking to expand its digital platform by adding more options and customizable capabilities to its CAD configurator and models. “Our products are highly configurable, and we want our CAD models to reflect that,” said Parzych. “From changing a housing material or modifying a shaft diameter, our CAD models are a true representation of our flexible production capabilities.”
Parzych underscores that ever-improving digital technology continues to improve customer experiences … as such tools increasingly supply relevant information in realtime.
Trends in what’s bare minimum for supplier tools and configurators
Still others see the rise of the online engineering configurator as something that will soon become required from motion suppliers. “We believe online configurators are an avenue that all manufacturers must consider. It’s much like the question suppliers asked in the late 1990s: Why do we need a website? What’s the point? In fact, online configurators will soon have the same impact as supplier websites did,” said Brian Dengel, general manager of KHK USA.
“So if your competitor has a configurator and you don’t, you’ll be at a significant competitive disadvantage. Design engineers are going to use the competitor’s configurator and then recommend to purchasing the component from that supplier … because engineers seek the most efficient ways to accomplish their tasks for the day,” added Dengel.
No wonder that many suppliers that don’t have such tools just yet are developing them now. “We’re working on introducing a configurator to make application of our technologies more accessible to engineers,” said Gabriel Venzin, president at Cincinnati-based ABM Drives. “The configurators will also generate 3D files for use in popular design software.”
Consider the specific case of online motor purchasing. “The ways in which design engineers specify and buy components is changing. There’s increasing demand for reliable information and engineering tools online,” said Carter Greene of Dunkermotoren. So the manufacturer will soon introduce an online motor-selection tool and configurator to provide comprehensive and customized design support to tailor product performance and mechanical attributes to design requirements.
Or reconsider the offerings of AutomationDirect. AutomationDirect also offers an online timing belt and pulley selection tool for quick hardware specification. “If an application doesn’t need a high gear ratio — in other words, needs a ratio of less than 10:1 and is no more than 10 hp with no slip between the motor and load — well then, the designer can quickly create a parts list for two pulleys, belt, and related hardware,” explained McDaniel.
Applications that can’t run off a belt drives and those that need low speed and high torque (often to reduce inertia mismatch) may prompt design engineers to use SureGear Gearbox Selector instead. “This tool does the math for the design engineer, so she just needs pick a motor or enter required torque and the speed or gear ratio if needed,” said McDaniel. From there, the online tool provides a selection of servomotors and gearboxes along with nominal and maximum torque and speed.
“Online ordering systems are becoming more useful and powerful,” agreed Biren Patel, motion control engineering manager, maxon precision motors. “We’ve introduced an online configurator through which design engineers can configure customized drive systems ready to ship in 11 days. Through the tool, an engineer can configure gear stages, motor bearings, shaft lengths, encoder, and much more.” Mechanical and electrical data dimensional drawings and CAD files are immediately downloadable after configuration is done. This spurs innovation by letting engineers bring products to market faster.
Of course, today’s trend towards online configuration finds its roots 3D modeling — as the digital manipulation and exploration of designs is what enables optimization to specific application requirements. “Our company uses all the up-to-date 3D modeling software to design custom indexing products for customers — and create and improve standard products,” said Marc Halliburton, engineering manager at Motion Index Drives. “We also use 3D animation software to visualize the internal power-transmission components to ensure the unit works as designed prior to manufacturing a real unit.”
The advent of 3D modeling prompted many manufacturing engineers to request from suppliers the 3D models of sought components — in their preferred configuration. “Now with modern online modeling, engineers can configure and obtain a 3D model in their desired format within minutes, making very fast and reliable design modeling possible,” added Halliburton.
Some manufacturers differentiate between supporting designers’ specification of systems versus components. On the systems side, the move is towards purchasing highly engineered solutions that include all the mechanics, controls and software. “We offer these designers free consultation with our engineers,” said Stefan Vorndran of Physik Instrumente (PI). “Working with these designers from the early concept phase is beneficial … and they come to our website to download software, tutorials, and whitepapers — and visit technology blog.” On the components side, PI notes the challenge of specifying components within a solution proposal, so is currently considering web-based tools to simplify this process.
Gilman Precision — a Wisconsin-based supplier of linear and rotary motion including slides and spindles — has embraced online configuration tools in a few different ways. “We offer a linear-products configurator and continually make improvements to it … and recently added our rotary products to the lineup,” said Douglas Biggs of Gilman Precision.
“Plus to ease our customers’ minds that we are more than two guys in a garage, we let them walk our shop floor through an indoor Google Street View. That’s given many more confidence about our organization and capabilities,” added Biggs.
Standardization on familiar tools is a common refrain.
“In terms of online configuration tools, Rollon’s complete product catalog in CADENAS is offered online to customers in myriad languages,” said Rick Wood, managing director of Rollon Corp. This service (available as a drawing-tool app on smartphones) generates customizable designs in minutes. Because everything is online, customers don’t have to draw the designs themselves or send off for them – a process that could take several days.
But one word of caution came from Wood: “While online tools make customers’ lives easier, the availability of configuration tools means that many designers are making higher-dollar mistakes faster than ever, because they’re not using the same resources vendors have,” warned Wood. He advises design engineers to be cautious — and remember that just because they may have an online tool doesn’t mean they have all the relevant expertise.
That said, according to Rocco Dragone, senior sales and application engineer at SEPAC, online configuration tools, models, and product selectors cater to the youngest and (in some cases) most innovative engineers.
“The engineering field is saturated with young talented graduates with innovative ideas who will advance technology. They rely heavily on the Internet for component configuration tools,” noted Dragone. So SEPAC offers high-accuracy 3D models and makes significant annual spends on its online tools.