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In the November 20, 2000 edition of this column, John Day quoted an engineer who said: "the Web is like an electronic version of the Thomas Register." It's more than just "like" it in the case of (on the Web at ). Thomas Regional Directory Co. has partnered with ManufacturingQuote, which puts buyers and sellers of manufacturing services together. The result: If you go to the Thomas Regional site ( and can't find an off-the-shelf component, "you can go to a site that looks just like Thomas and post a request for quotation (RFQ) to find a machine shop to make a custom part. It looks like Thomas, but we power it," says Mitch Free, President of ManufacturingQuote.

The ManufacturingQuote site launched on Valentine's Day 2000, and now has more than 800 members, both buyers and suppliers. Among the buyers: Fortune 1000 companies including Motorola, Whirlpool, BMW, Ingersoll-Rand, Parker Hannifin, Gardner Denver, Payload Systems, Dresser Industries, and Purolator. Unlike some other buyer/seller websites, ManufacturingQuote does not charge a commission on jobs placed, but rather a flat membership fee ranging from $995 to $1,995 depending on the services used. With the addition of collaborative procurement management last summer, ManufacturingQuote now also offers buyers the ability to manage and track their procurement for whole projects online, while manufacturers can access automation tools in a format called "Job-bots" to manage their outstanding quotations.

ManufacturingQuote may partner with additional companies in the future to offer what Mitch Free calls "private label" vendor/buyer connections, similar to the Thomas Regional service.

Why should design engineers care about such a site? Engineers tend to be the people who post drawings and RFQs on the site. Quite often, they're also the people in machine shops who read the RFQs and respond. Current users on both sides of the equation have little but praise for its benefits.

Chris Rockhold, a design engineer for Payload Systems (Cambridge, MA;, the first company to send a payload to the International Space Station, says, "I went to ManufacturingQuote to look for additional machine shops, because our normal shops can't always turn jobs around fast enough for our needs." He sent about 25 parts to the site, with drawings posted as PDF files. He reports the results: "Everything was paperless. In a little more than a week, I got a flurry of responses that continued for another two or three weeks. I'd asked for very fast turnaround-one or two weeks-and none of the shops that responded had a problem with that. In all, 15 different shops quoted for the whole project."

Rockhold compared the quotes with each other and with his local vendors' quotes, making sure the newly quoting shops understood the complexity of the job he offered. Before choosing new shops, he checked their websites and spoke with their managers. "So far, I've used two-one in Maryland and one in California-and I'm looking at a third in Wisconsin. The Maryland shop had done work for NASA, and could turn around parts in four days, totally without paper. The parts from the California shop arrived a week ahead of time."

Rockhold concludes, "Manufacturing-Quote isn't totally without problems in the project management area, but they're very responsive to suggestions for changes. I plan to post around 30 more parts shortly. eServices like ManufacturingQuote will, over time, make management of projects easier and better. You don't have to overload your own computer, because you can keep all the management on their website."

Chris Yatsko, a mechanical engineer with the Delaware Valley Industrial Resource Center (DVIRC) in Philadelphia (, says, "DVIRC is a member of the Manufacturing Extension Partnership, or MEP (, a network of independent state centers throughout the U.S. and Puerto Rico that are set up to assist small manufacturers. DVIRC is unique in that it offers manufacturing and engineering services."

Yatsko helps small manufacturers with engineering, from creating documentation to designing new products for them. "These companies also need help with procurement and purchasing," he says. "Some of them are one-man start-ups, or have less than five employees. They may never have had business experience of any kind, and certainly have no network of suppliers. ManufacturingQuote gives them a ready-made procurement management system." Yatsko may show his companies how to use the site or may use it for them. While DVIRC doesn't demand that suppliers be located in the Delaware Valley, he says, "I can sort the quotes I solicit by state, so I usually start in my region. If no one there can do a particular job, I can spread the search out."

TFI (Chico, CA) makes sinks and vanity countertops using Dupont Corian. David Ray, a designer of manufacturing equipment for TFI, couldn't find sufficient vendors in his area. "There are very few of them, and they're expensive," he says. "I heard about ManufacturingQuote and have posted 46 drawings on the site so far. On the first 16 of them, I've gotten at least three quotes for each, and many of the quotes I've received so far have been about half the price of local vendors. It doesn't really matter how far away the supplier may be, because when you post your RFQ, you can specify whether you or the vendor will pay for shipping."

Russ Schweizer, a consulting engineer, runs ZYZX (pronounced Zizzex) in Lake Zurich, IL. Schweizer says, "I've done product design and development consulting for 15 years, for all kinds of products, from medical to sports, consumer, and office. I'd heard about ManufacturingQuote by word of mouth, and started to use them for a very specialized job, one that needed a prototype of a highly confidential product made of high heat-resistant material."

He says, "I found Datum Machine through ManufacturingQuote, and have done several projects with them since then. I went to the Internet because I thought I'd be reaching suppliers worldwide, and it turned out that I found a good shop close to my own business. It's been a very positive experience. I like the fact that ManufacturingQuote doesn't charge commissions, because the flat fee membership means there are no strings once the contract has been let."

Leon Wellwood, owner of Datum Machine (Loves Park, IL) and also a mechanical engineer who does some design for Datum customers, agrees with Schweizer. Wellwood says that his primary business is making working prototypes in the materials to be used in the manufactured product, and that "ManufacturingQuote is a very good company that fits an important niche. It certainly makes my work easier. I think of the fee as a normal business expense, because it's more effective for me to stay in the shop getting work done than to be on the road making sales calls. So far, I've gotten between eight and ten jobs through the site."

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