Configure Products Yourself – Simply and Without Errors

| Autor / Redakteur: by Jürgen Brunner * / Kristin Rinortner

Figure 1: Screenshots from the 3D product configurator.
Figure 1: Screenshots from the 3D product configurator. (Sources: Pentair)

Ever-shorter development times mean that users want graphic-based 3D product configurators. We are showing you the possibilities for control cabinets.

Product configurators – you can find them online for a wide variety of consumer products and capital goods. They are used to configure customized products, be it a favorite cereal you have created yourself, individually designed sneaker, or the new family car. Configurators have also established a foothold in B2B sales.

The variety of applications ranges from selecting simple product characteristics, up to systems that automatically generate product data, such as 3D CAD data, bills of materials, and quotations.

Pentair has been working with the latest generation of graphic-based 3D product configurators– and with great success. There is an increasing demand for greater customization of products, including capital goods. In many areas, such as measurement, testing, and control applications, customization has steadily increased over recent years.

By using years of design expertise, an extensive portfolio of off-the-shelf components, at Pentair, it has long been possible to order products that are tailored to customer requirements and individually configured. Even simple, text-based product configurators were available early on.

However, when it came to more complex and technologically demanding products with many options, customers still preferred to consult the advice of an expert rather than using a configurator. It was for this reason that Pentair developed new, graphic-based 3D product configurators, which enable customers to visually design a solution and explore the options available to them. During each configuration step, you instantly see “your” product as a 3D graphic and are able to view it from all sides.

Easy-to-use tools make designing a custom solution faster and are therefore gaining traction in the market. As customers are pushed to meet faster development timelines, the need for online design tools has increased to minimize time to market. In addition, web-based configurators are available at any time – unlike a personal consultant – and do not require software or plugs-ins to be installed on your computer.

Instant Visualization, 3D Data Generation, and More

The new configurators from Pentair enable automatic CAD data generation and download in over 30 native formats, generating drawings, bills of materials, quotations, and additional graphics. A state-of-the-art user interface ensures that they are easy to use, while real-time compatibility checks prevent errors in the configuration.

Another time-saving feature of online configurators is the instant availability of price and delivery. In the consumer sector, this information is taken for granted when placing orders online. And this is something that has now filtered through to B2B customers too, as user behavior and habits familiar to individuals from the B2C online world are now also expected in the B2B online world. If all these points are taken into account, state-of-the-art, online product configurators, which assist in configuring customized products, are a valuable tool in preventing errors as well as simplifying and optimizing the entire process for configuration, ordering, and production – both for the customer and manufacturer alike.

Jürgen Brunner, Global Manager Configurators at Pentair answers questions about his experiences and further developments:

The first graphic-based 3D product configurator for Schroff Novastar electronics cabinets has been in use at Pentair for about a year. What has been the customer response?

The customer response has been very positive. We've seen this in the number of inquiries and orders that have been received without a prior personal consultation, and have been facilitated solely by the configurator. In addition to returning customers, there are also many first-time customers. This has far exceeded our expectations.

What do you attribute this success to?

According to customer comments, the configurator is so simple to use that even more complex product versions are extremely easy to configure. The visualization with its 3D graphics – as well as the compatibility check – gives customers additional peace of mind.

Which groups of people primarily use the configurator?

For us, it's primarily development engineers and project managers, who, in most cases, are also interested in receiving CAD data instantly. And we are able to meet the particular requirements of these user groups too. Design engineers, for example, expect highly detailed data that allows them to instantly process the CAD data themselves. They are able to generate 2D or 3D CAD data files for the cabinet model they assembled directly from the configurator and transfer them directly into their CAD system. Over 30 native CAD formats as well as the usual exchange formats such as STEP or DXF are available here.

Which preference does a manager have?

Project managers are sometimes happy with a meaningful graphic that they can incorporate into their project documentation. They are satisfied with a 3D PDF data sheet featuring a 3D preview of the configured cabinet and a bill of materials. This PDF file also makes it possible to view the cabinet from all sides, to zoom in on the cabinet model, and to display or hide the individual components. Both are possible with our configurator.

Does using 3D configurators also impact on your own product development and design processes?

When it comes to product development, we have maintained a clear focus on designing flexible and modular products for many years, and the configurator is now an efficient tool that makes it extremely easy for customers to tailor them to their needs. With respect to design, the internal guidelines have been extended to make it clear how designers' original CAD models need to be prepared for use in the configurator – automated as much as possible, of course. To an extent models are simplified. For some products, even the basic design was altered. In some cases, we are now working with parametric models so that the dimensions of these products can be modified automatically and quickly by simply entering certain parameters. An example of this is the still relatively new Schroff Interscale flexible case platform, which is built as a parametric model. The online configurator is the logical continuation of this parametric design.

How does using a configurator change how customers work?

Ideally, customers' own product development time will be reduced, as they are able to use detailed CAD data without having to wait for long periods. What's more, additionally supplied data such as bills of material and prices, can be processed automatically by customers in the corresponding departments, or imported into development platforms, for example.

What's the future of configurators?

The second graphic-based 3D product configurator for front panels has also been available online for some time. Three further configurators are set to follow by the end of 2018. In addition, our partner company has recently developed a “virtual reality” configurator, which is designed to take user experience to the next level. What is still a quirky functionality intended for demo purposes at trade shows, could soon be used professionally should “virtual reality” take off in development departments.

Are further modifications to be made to configurators in terms of their functionality?

The next step is to offer customers access to user libraries, allowing them to upload individual cut-outs and geometries. What's more, we are optimizing our internal processes to leverage direct use of the configuration data in our production, resulting in a significant reduction in delivery times for non-standard products.

* Jürgen Brunner is a Global Manager Configurators at Pentair Technical Solution GmbH in Straubenhardt.

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