Nobody argues with the statement that design engineers spend about 20% of their time looking for components. The task takes so long because it usually requires using printed materials such as catalogs and collected data sheets. About five years ago, some frustrated engineers who were tired of plowing through paper to find design components for their own designs decided to change all of that. These engineers identified their needs, put them into a mosaic browser, and developed a parametric search engine that uses specification information to pull components out of a database containing products from many manufacturers. They turned it into a business called Globalspec.
"Before the site existed, an engineer would go to the Thomas Register, which is organized by supplier, or to individual supplier catalogs. They might find components, but they couldn't compare them to find the exact components they needed," says David Gobey, chief marketing officer for Globalspec. "If they go to our search engine, they can get hold of component information from all the manufacturers—currently around 10,000—on the site. It's not just an electronic catalog."
Gobey expects the number of suppliers listed to rise to between 20-25,000 by this time next year. Today, Globalspec helps engineers find any of over 500,000 components though an engine that uses engineering specifications to refine the search. "If an engineer wants a gear, he knows the characteristics he needs it to have—such as material, type of hub, type of teeth, and so on," Gobey says. "He can enter that information on a form, and the search engine looks for manufacturers who come closest to the specifications. The engineer then has a list of manufacturers to check out. Globalspec doesn't sell any products—just brings specifier and component makers together. All this information is created, maintained, and kept on the Globalspec site." The service is free to engineers. Suppliers pay a fee to participate.
"Every time I need to find a component, Globalspec saves me a day's worth of work," says Frank Batista, an engineer with Cargile Associates Inc. (Malta, NY) which makes production machines. "For example, I may have no idea of what kind of electric motor I need, other than the horsepower and speed—but if I specify those, I can shop a number of companies, right from my desk—and I used to have to hunt through a couple of thousands of catalogs."
Scott Snodgrass, an engineer with FAS Technologies (Dallas, TX), an OEM for semiconductor and flat panel display systems, agrees with Batista. "Before finding this service, if I wasn't familiar with a manufacturer, I'd go by word of mouth from other engineers or search through a library of catalogs." The Internet wasn't much more help, he says, because if you look for a type of component in a general purpose search engine, "you get huge lists of links and so many unrelated responses."
He explains how he uses the site, with a gear for an example: "You go to the site, and using their product search, type in the word 'gear.' Then you get a form, and fill in the different fields pertaining to the particular gear for which you're looking. You can be as specific as you want—size, rating, performance, and geometric criteria. They ask for impressive detail, which narrows down the search, and the results give you manufacturers who meet all your criteria." Snodgrass says that he's used Globalspec weekly over the last year and has suggested it to co-workers. "It's easy to use and thorough."
Suppliers who subscribe to the site generally report that they get good leads. "We know that the people who contact us are really interested in our products," says Paul Mondazzi, sales and marketing manager for Trans Tek, Inc., a northern Connecticut-based manufacturer of displacement transducers. "We're in a niche sensor technology, and Globalspec brings us inquiries from companies like General Motors and General Electric. When you see names of that quality, you feel good about the service. The fee is reasonable, and we've used it for three or four years."
NorthStar Technologies (Columbus, OH) makes magnetic encoders, tachometers, and ring kits for motor controls. "I found Globalspec accidentally, while web surfing," says Brian Burson, director of marketing. "I was looking for a way to increase our visibility among a mix of companies in component supply. Globalspec filled a niche no else did. We didn't want to be the only motor control company on a site—because no one company makes everything for everyone. We wanted to be in a mix, where our particular products could be found."
NorthStar has signed on for Globalspec's new custom specification search capability. "This integrates Globalspec's search interface into our own website's search engine," Burson says. "They're also starting a built-in mechanism for generating requests for quotes (RFQ), that interests us." NorthStar finds that Globalspec generates "around 30 leads per week."
The site also provides each subscribing supplier with a personalized web page on the site that lets users count new leads each week. "Out of around 11,000 hits to our site from Globalspec last year, about 2,000 were prospective buyers—and that's a very good ratio," Burson says. "We know what products these people want, and that helps to qualify the lead."
Stephen Pepper, an engineer in the R&D department of NASA Glenn Research Center (Cleveland, OH) approached Globalspec when looking for a variety of different kinds of electric motors. "I was researching dc, brushless, and stepper motors before knowing much about them," he says. "Globalspec gave me a convenient way to access the websites of motor manufacturers. The categorization capabilities of the site are the key that makes it more convenient than other ways of finding components."
Globalspec's Gobey says that in the future, Globalspec will have CAD drawings of many components available on the site, so that engineers can copy them into their own assembly designs to see if they fit. "We want to keep shortening the time it takes for suppliers and engineers to get together, because we think this leads to better designs and faster design cycles," he says.
Snodgrass of FAS Technologies adds, "The trend in business is more and more toward a paperless workspace. Globalspec gives you a paperless list of suppliers who can meet your criteria specifically—along with part numbers and component specifications." Does he want more? "It will be great when they have CAD files."