Ten years back, the market for metalworkers was such that you could devise a relatively simple portal yourself and have it built at limited cost. This could be done by cleverly linking your CAM systems with your ERP system. In the Netherlands, De Cromvoirtse and Suplacon are known as pioneers of such self-service portals.
Next, 247 TailorSteel saw the opportunity to far surpass its predecessors by making the self-service concept much smarter. Only by developing the software themselves (Sophia) and not depending on the limitations of existing ERP and CAM systems, the quality of self-service reached unprecedented levels.
But 247 TailorSteel took it a significant step further than its predecessors. Namely, to set up the whole concept for convenience, speed and reliability. Then suddenly having the best price becomes less important because the service level allows you as a customer to always know where you stand.
Once you have that successfully in place, only transportation is the limiting factor because delivering outside a 200km radius is unfeasible. But with enough capital, you roll out the concept multiple times in strategically smart locations and you have a scalable business model that is disruptive because of its repeatable success.
The new label OnOrder from VDL
An interesting thing now is that VDL recently launched its new label under the name OnOrder. A self-service concept that is still very much in its infancy and barely comes close to what De Cromvoirtse and Suplacon have been able to do for over a decade. Still, an important first step and a clear demonstration of the strategy they are trying to embark on. Namely … no, first the following….
You should know that in the early stages of my startup, I personally visited VDL a number of times. I was even interviewed extensively by a large and reputable consulting firm about my views in this area. Only later did I find out indirectly that that too had been organized by VDL.
The interesting thing about this case is that VDL can (in my opinion) approach this from a different strategy. For it has, with its multitude of factories, the ability to make the customer experience a reality as you have at www.booking.com. Through 1 portal, customers have access to an unlimited amount of hotels, cottages, rooms, etc.
The available capacity is just about infinite. And that is exactly what VDL might want to focus on. 1 entrance for customers with behind it a smart platform with almost unlimited capacity AND capabilities.
One thing is certain, the next step in differentiating among metalworkers is diversity, in addition to convenience, speed and reliability. Diversity in specialized operations. A platform that can handle almost anything. Sheet metal (thick and thin), pipes and tubes, turning and milling parts, assembly, welding, you name it. Work distribution across all VDL factories that are also logistically close enough to each other.
If VDL succeeds in digitizing the entire process, this ambition is certainly achievable. A very interesting case in my opinion and certainly something that will put the Dutch/Belgian metalworking industry back on edge.
Centralization and the power of large corporations is something to stay vigilant about.
Should this make you nervous, or even scare you? Yes. Centralization and the power of large corporations is something to stay vigilant about. Bol.com, Amazon.com, Spotify.com, Netflix.com are good examples of rapid change where the diversity of companies/shops has totally disappeared.
My personal drive is to not let this happen within the metal processing industry. This can only be done with technology that empowers each plant to best integrate its strengths and skills into collaborative supply chain partnerships. This allows for even greater diversity than monopolists can offer. But with exceeding expectations in terms of convenience, speed and reliability. I will stop writing and continue developing because we have to stay well ahead of VDL of course 😊