Suppliers of motion and automation components have always wanted your business, but what are they doing to actually win it? Increasingly, they’re fine-tuning their websites to make parts easier to find, configure and order.
Rockwell Automation, for example, has been reducing the number of clicks it takes to locate components in its Essential Components line. Starting from http://www.rockwellautomation.com/components, it takes only three clicks to get to specific product specs. Sy Stevens, a Rockwell commercial program manager who helps determine which content goes on the company’s components website, says Rockwell has been tweaking its site during the past year after studying how engineers behave online. Reducing the number of click-throughs it takes to find a product is one obvious thing that came out of those inquiries, Stevens says. He adds that the company’s line up of configuration and CAD tools, continues to expand as well.
One of the most comprehensive component site overhauls in recent months comes from Misumi USA, whose online offerings now include parts’ configuration and e-commerce functionality. The company offers more than 200,000 motion and automation components. Users can find these components in three ways — by keyword search, from a detailed list of products or by selecting an application category such as “linear motion” or “vision-inspection.”
Providing different search mechanisms is standard stuff nowadays, and Misumi’s search capabilities can usually take you to a specific product’s catalog page within three clicks. These catalog pages contain product information such as dimensions, materials, finishes and even RoHS compliance.
But it’s what happens next that sets the site apart from a simple online catalog. Misumi has created an online “parts configurator” that allows you to customize many of the standard components. To do so, just click on the big button that says “Get Pricing and Lead Time.” It launches a configuration window that allows changes to the part.
Configuration options for a linear shaft, to take a popular example, would call up a window that allows changes to the shafts’ major diameter, step diameters, threads, wrench- and screw-flat locations, chamfering, tolerances and more. The options seem limitless, and many of them do, in fact, require Misumi to do some custom machining.
But Misumi Marketing Manager Ron Dziuda is careful to note the system is best thought of as offering “configurable components,” rather than truly custom components. “Each off-the-shelf component is configurable within a range,” he says. “If you’re looking for a 1½-inch shaft and our largest size is 1¼ inches, you’re out of luck.”
Once you’ve configured a part, the system will display a 3D CAD model, which can also be downloaded and shared with others. Ordering the part can take place quickly too, with Misumi now supporting credit card purchases. In the past, you would have to set up a corporate account, which could take a few days.
Speaking of time, Misumi can supply configured components in a matter of days. According to Dziuda, the components that can be are machined locally in Addison, IL by Misumi’s sister company Suruga USA. Orders placed before 2 p.m. Central Time are shipped the same day; next-day for orders placed later in the day. Orders that require machining in Japan typically take six days, he says.
The system has another time-saving implication as well. Even if you never place an order, the system makes pricing and CAD drawings available to anyone who registers with their name, company and e-mail information. “This is tremendously helpful to engineers trying to estimate costs of a machine during the design phase,” says Dziuda, who notes that getting a quotation from a local machine shop usually requires engineers to produce a drawing and wait a couple of days for the quote to come back.