Looking ahead to 2023: these are the 5 most important developments within the Quotation Factory platform

The new year is almost upon us. What can customers expect from the Quotation Factory platform in 2023? A look ahead: these are the 5 most important upcoming developments.

Self-service

In 2022, three Quotation Factory customers went live with a self-service portal. This is leading to great results. The figures show that, as a metalworker, you can triple to quadruple your turnover while even reducing the quoting workload. This is because a self-service portal forces you to automate the quotation process as much as possible. As a result, you can do ten times as much quotation work with the same amount of employees.

Ten more customers are expected to go live with a self-service portal in the first quarter of 2023 alone, which will even include the first customers in the UK and Germany. Our forecast is that many more parties will adopt self-service and even use it as a key digitalisation strategy (also read our blog Self-service as a digitalisation strategy).

Supply chain integration

Supply chain integration is hot. The Smart Connected Supplier Network (SCSN) enables more and more companies to connect to the network. However, the focus here is mainly on exchanging information about raw materials to be procured. For now, the SCSN is not yet far enough along to support complex messages so that metalworkers can smartly collaborate digitally with each other.

Through the Quotation Factory platform, we are going to ensure that all this will be possible already. Our first focus is to make it easier for surface finishers to collaborate with metalworkers. Next, we will make it possible for metalworkers to outsource operations to each other, such as a sheet metal worker outsourcing everything related to pipes or vice versa. The next step is for metalworkers to use self-service to implement a one-stop-shop model: a website where everything can be requested with, in the background, a network of cooperating parties who will organise it intelligently.

Estimating delivery date

In 2022, the Quotation Factory has made very nice strides in developing algorithms for estimating delivery dates. In collaboration with a university in Brazil, which has a library of estimation algorithms, we have completed the first proof of concept. This shows what can be done with those algorithms. From the second quarter of 2023, we will continue the collaboration and integrate the algorithms into our platform. That means the Quotation Factory platform will be able to make the three essential estimates needed for quoting: estimating production times, estimating material usage and estimating delivery dates.

Welding

Estimating welding is tricky. This is shown in a study we conducted in which more than ten companies participated. It shows that there is great diversity in how to estimate welding and that the necessary information is almost never present in designs. In other words, almost all metalworkers work with technical documentation that does not explicitly describe welding. As a result, they have to come up with that information themselves and sometimes even add it to those drawings.

It is clear there is a great need for capabilities to better estimate welding. So there is no doubt that we need to be able to support this within the Quotation Factory platform. That is why we developed algorithms in 2022 that can determine welding seams themselves from drawings. In other words, even if they are not drawn, these algorithms can still identify where those welds are.

But it won’t stop there. By 2023, we expect to be able to create a tool that allows metalworkers to add welding to a drawing very quickly. And with the explicit information about welding, our platform can make estimates of welding times. This will create support not only for estimating welds when they are drawn, but also when they are not. A double win, in other words.

Assemblies

Also forthcoming, and available from the first quarter of 2023, are new features that allow metalworkers to estimate their operations at the sub-assembly level. These include placing inserts, performing surface treatments of parts of the product and assembly operations such as screwing and mounting. Later in 2023, it will even be possible to configure the routes of subassemblies. What does that mean in concrete terms? For example, if a subassembly needs a surface treatment and you outsource that work, you can see that in its routing. At a later stage, it will also be possible to use such routes when estimating delivery dates.

And that’s not all…

The Quotation Factory keeps moving forward. We will be working on many more major and minor features in the coming year. For instance, we will expand the information available in business rules. We will also provide more detail on the features you can find in CAD drawings. So there are plenty of developments! The Quotation Factory platform will remain a solution for smart quoting, but will also grow into a platform that allows metalworkers to work together quickly and conveniently. Win-win!

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Self-service as a digitization strategy: this is how to get your metalworking facility ready for the future in an instant

Many metalworkers doubt whether self-service is right for their business. They wonder if the type of work they do is suitable for it, whether it is not too complex for customers to make requests themselves, and whether their business processes are sufficiently in order. That doubt is understandable, but as a metalworker, you can also approach self-service as an opportunity to automate the knowledge present in your organization. In fact, that is the most crucial step for the further digital future of your company.

What is self-service?

Self-service for metalworkers means that customers can submit requests themselves. The positive result is that they receive quotes back as quickly as possible and can turn a quote into an order automatically. Self-service also allows customers to track the progress of an order. The advantage of this for all parties in the chain is that customers do not have to call all the time asking: what is the status? It is even possible for customers to track their order all the way to delivery. In short: self-service covers all moments of customer contact between customer and supplier and makes it as easy as possible for customers to serve themselves.

Successful examples

Within metalworking in Western Europe, the number of successful examples of self-service is increasing. Take 247TailorSteel, which now no longer calls itself a metal worker but an e-commerce company. Fractory and Laserhub are other fine examples. Recently, Eindhoven-based VDL also entered the market with a new label based entirely on self-service: OrderOn.

These companies have easily findable and completely self-service-based platforms that make it very easy for customers to request quotes. The work they can’t handle themselves, they distribute to affiliated metalworkers.

These examples all demonstrate it: when a self-service concept becomes the front end of your factory, it allows you to offer much more work than you can take on yourself. For example, operations that you don’t do in-house can be automatically outsourced at the back end of your self-service portal. This makes it easier and more attractive for your customers to order from you.

The future of self-service

Self-service portals as we know them today will eventually disappear. They can be compared to webshops: customers get their quotes and place their orders there. The expectation is that this form of self-service portal will be popular for another five years or so, but then it will have reached its expiration date.

Instead, in the near future, the customer will increasingly make use of a purchasing platform in which digital messaging takes place. Within that platform, the customer communicates his needs, uploads his technical drawings and provides all specifications. The purchasing platform then helps to find the right metalworkers. This is very convenient for the customer, who no longer needs to log in to all sorts of self-service portals to request prices from various parties. That time will soon be over thanks to the arrival of one central “purchasing cockpit”. Conclusion? Self-service will remain, but the traditional portals will disappear.

Digitizing processes and knowledge

As portals disappear, the question arises: why should you invest in one?Because a portal forces you to digitize your processes and knowledge. And because everything you need to automate to make a self-service portal work is crucial in a future where portals no longer exist.

So what processes are we talking about? We outline them below.

  1. A self-service portal forces you to have the capability to recognize features from technical drawings automatically. Gone are the days in which employees have to do that manually by studying drawings;
  2. A self-service portal forces you to be able to determine the manufacturability of a product automatically, instead of having someone with a lot of technical expertise review it;
  3. A self-service portal forces you to monitor your customers’ buying behavior so that you can automatically segment customers and provide them with appropriate discounts;
  4. A self-service portal forces you to digitize all kinds of technical and commercial knowledge that resides in the minds of your employees in the form of what we call decision rules (business rules).

The future without portals

Immediately another pressing question looms. Because how does that work, a future without portals? Current developments offer the answer. Work is currently in full swing on standardized digital messages and the infrastructure that enables their exchange. One example is the Smart Connected Supplier Network (SCSN).

The purpose of such an infrastructure is that parties in the supply chain can collaborate on the basis of standard messages within the software that suits them best. It means that, as a metal worker, you are not forced to work in specific ICT systems. Above all, choose the software that suits you best, provided that package supports such standard messages.

This development ensures that a request for a quotation will be sent to you as a metal worker as a digital message. A customer will no longer need to e-mail you or log into your portal. If you receive the request for a quotation as a digital message, then of course you must respond to it digitally. This can be done via a standard quotation message. The result is obvious: this process increases the ease with which parties in the metalworking industry can work together and accelerates the digitization of the supply chain.

Why start now?

Metalworkers who don’t anticipate this development fast enough will find it increasingly difficult to compete in the supply chain. Other participants expect them to be able to process these kinds of standard messages and to be connected to an enabling infrastructure. If they are not, they will receive less and less work or their efforts will increasingly be limited to work that no one else wants to do.

In short: working with a self-service portal is the way to learn how to digitize the front end of your factory. Even if not all the work you do is suitable for self-service. Software development in the coming years will ensure that even those operations, such as welding and other assembly work, will soon be suitable for self-service.

Implementation does not have to be a major challenge. Through a platform such as Quotation Factory, you realize self-service within a month for a low-threshold subscription. This way you create a huge learning effect and prepare your factory for the future in one fell swoop.

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New release Quotation Factory!

The new release of Quotation Factory brings several benefits for its users. And there are more smart additions on the way. In this newsletter, we will walk you through all the developments.

What’s new on the platform?

Communicating in your own corporate style

The Quotation Factory’s current focus is on self-service and the portal that enables it. So developments in this area are moving fast. One of the additions is an upgrade in terms of your communications. You can now fully customize the emails you send to customers in the self-service portal using your own style and content. We have developed a new option that allows you to easily create your own templates for this. As a result, invitations no longer look ‘spammy’ but sleek and professional. This contributes to recognizability and makes your communication attractive to read.

Add and remove operations yourself

The second addition within the self-service portal is the ability to configure which metalworking operations you want to offer in the self-service portal. Which ones do you want to be visible and which not? Users of the self-service portal can also add and remove operations themselves.

Always up-to-date on the status of orders

There is another innovation that makes it easier for your customers to work in the self-service portal. Because you can communicate the status of a project from your ERP system back to the platform, customers can see the exact status of their order at any time. So they’re always aware of whether production, product packaging or transportation is complete. And that ensures that customers need to call less, and perhaps not at all, with questions about the status of their order. That’s nice for all parties.

Integration with Lantek’s ERP software

Improvements to the Quotation Factory platform are also happening in rapid succession beyond the self-service portal. For example, there is now an integration with Lantek’s ERP software: Lantek Integra ERP.

This means that users can automatically synchronize client information, client segments, items and purchase prices from Lantek with the Quotation Factory platform. As soon as a project is given ‘quoted’ or ‘ordered’ status, the Bill of Materials, including all details about estimated production times and material requirements, is automatically processed in Lantek into quotations and production orders. Of course, including attachments such as technical drawings. Forget endless and error-prone retyping; this is the new and much faster reality.

Easily create purchase parts from subassemblies

Our new release has even more to offer. As a Quotation Factory user, you can now easily create purchase parts from subassemblies. This is useful if you have to work with drawings of a product that consists of many different parts, such as a wheel. With one press of a button you can now turn such a subassembly into a purchase part, which then appears on the quotation in a single line.

What is currently in development for the platform?

New algorithms to determine residual material in a smarter way

We are well advanced in developing brand new algorithms for four types of strategies to determine residual material. We are now testing those algorithms and adapting the back-end of the platform accordingly. The advantage for the user is that, as a metalworker, you can determine the residuals more intelligently. It is also possible to still influence the choice of strategy via business rules or manually. Ultimately, this ensures that the material price you quote is even more competitive.

Calculating operations at the subassembly level

We are working hard on the capability of calculating operations at the subassembly level. Think of operations such as screwing, welding, powder coating and painting. This extension includes smart surface calculation, which is useful for all kinds of operations that involve surface treatment.

Flexible Excel exports

Also forthcoming is flexible Excel export. This will allow users to create their own Excel templates, upload them and then download the quotation as an Excel sheet in a template they created themselves. Useful if, for example, you still need to manually type some of the information into your ERP system. You can pour the information into Excel in such a way that you can retype it one-on-one. In addition, this is a way to create digital documents for the workplace.

Copying projects

Last but not least, the Quotation Factory will soon introduce a feature that allows you to copy projects. And that’s useful if you want to be able to issue quotes easily for different numbers. For example: what is the price for a quantity of one, of five or of a hundred? We will make that copy function so smart that you can easily outsource work to another party that also uses the Quotation Factory platform.

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Quotation Factory is in full swing!

It is time for an update, because the Quotation Factory is in full swing. Where are we now and where are we going? What have we done and what are we going to do? And, more importantly, what do these developments mean for our clients in the metalworking industry? In this newsletter, we look back and, more importantly, ahead.

International expansion

The Quotation Factory is crossing borders! This year, we started selling our software solution in new regions. Especially in Germany and England, we have gained a foothold. This has shown that a large proportion of metalworking companies based there work predominantly with 2D input and not, like our Dutch customers, with 3D models.

So the markets of our neighbouring countries are lagging behind. This means that we are more or less forced to improve our 2D support as well, although this does not exactly fit in with our vision. Ideally, we would like not to have to include 2D processing in our services at all, but unfortunately the market is not advanced enough yet in terms of digitisation.

We are responding to it in the best possible way. For instance, we will build facilities to derive valuable PMI data, the 2D model and maybe even the 3D model from working drawings. This is not only good for tapping a new market, but also for our current customers. They will get 3D models with drawings attached in PDF format, from which they can derive tolerance info, material designations and dimensions and incorporate them into quotations.

Addition to the world of turning and milling

Another acquisition is on the way. Currently, the Quotation Factory has a good solution for metalworkers who mainly work with a combination of sheets, tubes and beams and perform a multitude of operations on them. However, we cannot yet support turning and milling work. We will change this in the near future.

We expect to have the first working version of the integration providing this support by the beginning of next year. Customers are already noticing benefits from this, as our solution already recognises turning and milling. We just cannot yet extract the features to make production estimates. We are therefore working with third parties to create integrations so that we can also fully serve the turning and milling world from the middle of next year.

Algorithms for surface treatments

We also have good news for surface treatment companies. We enable those companies to efficiently produce quotations of both subassemblies and complete assemblies. To this end, we have written certain algorithms and implemented them in our solution. In the short term, we will test these with a select number of factories that do surface treatments.

Fast and flexible determination of residual parts

There are other developments that will be our focus for the rest of this year. For starters, we are currently creating algorithms to determine residual pieces. Until now, our nesting engine was not only responsible for nesting, but also for determining the residuals. Now we are going to create the algorithms that can do that ourselves.

This brings great benefits to our users. There are four strategies for dealing with residuals and they are all separate algorithms. We will soon be able to apply these separately from the nesting process. This will give Quotation Factory users much more flexibility to decide manually which strategy to apply, without having to start up the time-consuming nesting engine each time. Not for nothing is this a much requested feature among our customers. We expect to have developed the perfect solution this year.

Self-service portal improvements

The self-service portal will also have our explicit attention in the coming period. Important, because at least a third of our current customers want to be able to offer this solution to their own customers. In recent months, we have already made major improvements to the self-service portal. Two features are still missing.

The first new feature is that you can invite your self-service customers in your own house style. What is currently a standard e-mail, you will soon be able to customise in factory-specific texts. The other improvement is that we will make the invitation process suitable for the B2C market. Currently, metalworkers can only offer the self-service portal to customers registered in their ERP system. But soon, end customers will be able to register themselves and request a quote directly. Nice improvements, if we may be so bold.

Outsourcing and full quotation (sub)assemblies

Of course, we are also looking forward to next year. Our focus then will be on at least two major themes: outsourcing and being able to offer fully-fledged subassemblies and assemblies. The first theme mainly involves outsourcing operations that you, as a metalworker, do not perform yourself, or certain types of material that you do not process yourself but a partner does. Soon we will be able to include those in our solution.

At the same time, this will be the first step towards making the platform ultimately suitable for machine builders. In the near future, they will be able to collaborate with various metalworking factories much more easily via the Quotation Factory platform. And this will also make the platform suitable for our customers who have several factories under one brand name: multifactories.

Estimation of delivery dates

The third theme that will have our attention in 2023 is the ability to accurately estimate delivery dates. The end customer will soon be able to specify his desired delivery time and, based on the production planning, you as a metalworker can then estimate the feasible delivery date. Our platform will then also make it possible to make combinations with outsourcing, so that supplier delivery times have been taken into account when estimating the feasible delivery date.

More valuable integrations

Last but not least: we continue to develop valuable integrations. Nice results so far include our integrations with ERP and CAM systems. For example, our platform integrates seamlessly with Bystronic, Trumpf and recently also Lantech. In addition, ERP integrations already exist with the most common systems, such as Ridder iQ, Bemet, ISAH and MKG. The upcoming integrations can be linked to systems such as Microsoft Dynamics 365, SAP and common systems in Germany and the UK.

Thanks to all these developments, the Quotation Factory platform has become much more than a quotation system. It not only improves the productivity and quality of the metalworkers’ sales department, but especially that of the work preparation department. And that makes the platform an enabler for extensive digitalisation of your factory.

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