What makes an engineering website useful for you?
For Daniel Bell, an engineer at faucet-manufacturer Moen Inc. (www.moen.com), it's an on-line catalog, among other content. The key for Bell, who does a lot of lifecycle testing, is technical detail. Lots of it. Deep technical detail is more important to him than pricing information. He says it also helps if the site has downloadable CAD drawings.
John Howard, a test engineer at Sperry Marine (www.sperry-marine.com), also wants technical detail in the sites he uses, but he wants pricing information too. And like Bell, he wants websites to be easily navigable. "I'll use a site's search engine if it exists," he says, "but I would rather just be able to easily find what I'm looking for myself."
Motorola engineer David Knauz (www.motorola.com) believes that links are crucial on engineering websites, and Eric Hudson, a professor in the physics department at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (www.mit.edu), likes his search engines to have a large database that's easy and fast to navigate.
Website quality always comes down to personal preference: If the site works for you, then it's good. If it doesn't, move on to another, quickly. Each of the engineers above has his favorities, as you no doubt do. Howard, for example, likes Google, Digikey (www.digikey.com), and National Instruments (www.ni.com), which, among other features, has a direct link to its web events on connecting NI's LabView to The MathWorks' (www.mathworks.com) Simulink.
Still, there are some objective criteria you can apply to websites, such as access to white papers, newsletters, case studies, and even the number of languages you can browse in.
BtoB magazine, which circulates to marketing professionals, recently ranked manufacturing websites according to many of these criteria and came up with a list of the 100 best in its judgment. Hewlett-Packard's site (www.hp.com) ranked at the top for its design, incorporation of computing tools and tips, e-commerce, customer service, and on-line chat options.
Also topping the list at manufacturing websites were 3M (www.3m.com), Dell Computer (www.dell.com), Swagelok (www.swagelok.com), Microsoft (www.microsoft.com), IBM (www.ibm.com), Alcoa (www.alcoa.com), Sun Microsystems (www.sun.com), GE (www.ge.com), Intel (www.intel.com), Gems Sensors (www.gemssensors.com), Eaton Corp. (www.eaton.com), and AK Coatings (www.akcoatings.com).
This was the third consecutive year that valve-manufacturer Swagelok made the cut. The reviewers say it is chock full of information about products and markets, including the semiconductor-manufacturing market that the company includes among its top targets. On the site, you'll find technical papers (such as "Orbital Welding in Critical Systems," and "Stainless Steel for Semiconductor-Manufacturing Operations"), and detailed cleaning specifications.
Of course, Parker Hannifin (www.parker.com) also has a comprehensive site, with a drop down menu that lists more than 20 markets it serves. Click on one of the markets and you find the products for that market as well as a list of events in the market. There's also a product directory.
Check out these sites and see if they fit your needs. If so, bookmark them.
Reach Teague at[email protected].