If you feel that the Web has more to offer consumers than engineers, you may change your mind in the coming months. Three websites—two of them brand new and one new to the United States—will soon offer catalog, auction, and design options for specific industries and, at least in part, geared to working design engineers. This column will take a closer look at them in future months as they mature. Consider this your preview of coming attractions.
Endorsia International AB already operates in Europe, and you can check out some demos on the site at www.endorsia.com. Endorsia describes itself as an electronic marketplace for branded industrial goods and services that "supports the buying and selling requirements of manufacturers, distributors and end users" making it possible to "connect with all your preferred suppliers and customers at a single interface." The website touts its ease-of-use—in providing product information, order placement, and tracking delivery.
An independent, separate company, endorsia.com started within SKF, the huge bearings and power transmission company headquartered in Gothenburg, Sweden. Endorsia's international headquarters are also in Gothenburg. Rick Farris, manager of eCommerce Development for SKF in the United States, says, "In addition to SKF, a number of other international vendors are now a part of the site, including Dow Corning, FlexLink, Fixtur Laser, Rexroth Mecman, Molykote—and new members keep joining."
The site launched in Europe in mid-1999, and "is just rolling out in the U.S.," says Farris. "We're working with a U.S. technical provider, MRO.com, to build an industrial marketplace and private procurement network. The site's reliability is exceptional. It's a very strong technical product and eCommerce platform. It's fully up-to-date on product availability. Probably the most popular services of the site are the order management functions and inquiries associated with them—which can amount to tens of thousands of transactions."
Design engineers can choose bearings and other parts, Farris says. They can also use SKF's interactive engineering catalog on the site, complete with boundary dimensions, weight, clearances, and other product information. They also have real-time access through the catalogs, with no duplication. www.endorsia.com
While planning a new website that would be a portal into purchase of linear motion solutions, Pacific Bearing (Rockford, IL) found out that potential users really wanted the company's "knowledge-based engineering, such as the shaft configuration tools, available on the www.pacific-bearing.com website," says Ray Harrington, president of Pacific Bearing. Harrington decided to let the portal site wait in the wings, and got the shaft configuration portion of the existing site up and running.
According to Harrington, engineers can configure shafts in lengths up to 12 feet. They can choose from a number of different materials, and enter specific information about lengths, widths, threading, holes, and so on, with the help of a very easy-to-use format. "The shafts will be machined to special lengths and configurations according to the information entered," Harrington says. "An infinite number of configurations is possible—with cross holes, and milled and threaded shafts. Designs like these are done thousands of times a day in hundreds of companies, all designed-to-order, and they generally require about a week to obtain pricing. Usually someone draws the shaft and sends it to someone else for approval, and then gets it priced, and finally gets it made. The on-line configuration tools help the user to specify his needs, and our software can construct the drawing, analyze the design, and then provide pricing within 60 seconds."
The configuration software works by "rules rather than with files," Harrington says. "Each time an engineer wants to design and specify a shaft, the design-to-order software uses its built-in rules to construct a library on any variation of a shaft. The software works in real-time based on these rules."
If you want to give this well-thought-out site a whirl, call Pacific Bearing at 888-389-6038 and they'll give you a secure log-in ID and password. Right now, using the configurator swings you between the Pacific Bearing corporate site and a sub-site designed by a company called NetVendor. The sub-site will be integrated into the Pacific Bearing site when complete. A tip: use MS Internet Explorer to access the configurator, as the designers are still working on the Netscape version.
Potentially the 900-pound gorilla of automotive industry procurement websites, Covisint is a separate entity created by the big three automakers—General Motors, Ford and Daimler-Chrysler. If these three companies use Covisint for all their procurement, the market created will be worth around $240 billion. Neil De Koker, president of the Original Equipment Suppliers Association (OESA), says, "If Tier One suppliers do all their transactions with their suppliers through Covisint as well, the total market is almost incalculable."
The operative word may be that "if." Announced in February 2000, Covisint rolled out to Tier One suppliers at the end of September. However, Covisint still has neither a CEO nor a complete financial model. But it does offer design engineers in the automotive market a website to watch.
Thomas Hill, a spokesman for Covisint, believes that Covisint differs from general purpose component purchasing sites and from other manufacturer-buyer sites because it goes beyond auctions and RFQs. "Covisint also offers a virtual product workspace (VPW) for participants and allows suppliers to use the site for record keeping," Hill says. "It's a one-stop site for the best automotive solutions, which would be difficult to achieve if each company devised its own site."
The VPW won't be a truly collaborative site. Rather, Hill says, "It's an Internet chat room hosted by engineers working for a member company. The VPW makes it easy for them to talk to other engineers who are designing automobiles or products for them." In operation, an engineer from one company can host a design session using CAD data and eVis visualization tools from EAI. Participants in a session may be other engineers from the same company or from supplier or buyer companies.
Although formed by the Big Three, joined by such major partners as Renault and Nissan, Covisint is a separate company. www.covisint.com
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This article is part of a continuing series of monthly pieces on "E-services and the design engineer," sponsored by Hewlett-Packard. Design News will continue to report on the latest developments on the web, and how new web-based products and services make life easier for engineers. Please share with us your experiences with websites that help you do your job better and faster.
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