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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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;
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;
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;
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The metalworking industry has been undergoing major changes in recent years. This traditionally traditional market is facing necessity automation battles, a shortage of skilled employees and the emergence of large concerns that are very competitive in terms of price.
Wim Dijkgraaf, CEO and founder of the Quotation Factory, gives his vision of the metalworking market and comes up with practical solutions on how (especially smaller) metalworkers can respond to these changes.
Metalworkers cannot do without the expertise of technology companies in today’s world. But the cultural difference between these two worlds often proves to be considerable during collaboration, with negative consequences. This raises the question: who then should take the lead regarding digital change projects? A Chief Technology Officer (CTO) who speaks both languages can bridge the gap. How? You can read about that in this blog.
Technology is the backbone of metalworkers by 2022. So like it or not, ICT issues are here to stay nowadays. It’s best to address them as best you can. But then optimal collaboration with technology companies is essential. It is therefore high time to bring the two worlds closer together.
Why do ICT companies work differently than metalworkers?
The cultural difference between companies in the metal industry and suppliers of ICT & technology can be explained. Traditionally, metalworkers have had the attitude: you demand, we run. And they expect that same attitude from their ICT suppliers. However, it is highly questionable whether this is justified. These technology companies, in fact, apply different business models in which there is no longer room for the age-old “who pays the piper calls the tune”.
A tip for metalworkers is to try to understand what their business model is when you start working with ICT vendors. This is because then you know what to expect and what not to expect. And that avoids a mismatch and therefore probably a lot of wasted energy. This will benefit both parties. Within the ICT world, you can broadly distinguish between 3 types of business models:
Licensing and hourly factory
An example. Suppose you are a metalworker working with an ERP vendor. He earns his living partly from licensing and partly from consultancy. Thus, this company’s hourly factory is crucial to its revenue. However, capacity is limited, so consultants must be tightly scheduled.
For you as a metalworker, that means you’ll find yourself in a queue. And then the ERP vendor would prefer that you bundle all your questions together, so that that company can schedule the consultant to complete the full list of questions.
Software as is: subscriptions and licensing
Then there is another type of supplier. It has to rely on subscriptions and/or licensing. In short, this party delivers software as is and only wants to modify software if it benefits the majority of users. So even if it seems like a very easy question for you as a metalworker to solve, if it doesn’t fit into the concept of the “standard product” the vendor won’t do anything with it or will delay doing so.
The third and final category are the custom builders; the ICT vendors who create new software, fully suited to the customer’s needs. It’s all about you, the customer, being very clear in what you want, in your requirements.
Vendors who develop customized solutions benefit from longer-term projects, i.e. more complex issues, because it gives them continuity in their business model. So with such a party it makes little sense to agree on a maintenance contract. Doing small changes is a big hassle for this type of software company and therefore not profitable at all.
Taking the lead in ICT change projects within the metalworking industry
It is at least as important for metalworkers to be in charge of their own ICT change projects. This is for a number of reasons. First, ask yourself what happens when you are not in control. You just take the supplier’s word for it and hope it all works out. However, there are only a very few situations in which you can do this. For example, if it is only about one very specific ICT solution. For example, with a new drawing software package, where no other parties are involved. Then it’s a matter of installing and learning to work with it. It otherwise touches few other systems.
But the moment you need to change something in your ICT landscape that involves several suppliers, you can no longer rely on them to work together constructively. Let’s face it, they are and will remain mostly competitors of each other. Soon those ICT companies will be on the move with each other and won’t be able to work it out among themselves. That risk exists. Behold the reason why in a change process it is better to take charge yourself. You can do that in a number of ways:
Hire an external project manager to oversee IT projects
How so? That’s a legitimate question. Because remarkably many metalworkers do not hold such a directing role at all. One solution might be to hire an outside project manager for that assignment. The advantage is that someone is in charge and the success rate of the project increases.
The disadvantage is that much of the knowledge gained during the change process goes with the external project manager. How it works, what software is linked together, you name it. Once the project is completed you have lost that knowledge. You don’t want that, because projects are never quite finished. They always require maintenance and updating and then all sorts of things always come to light. So it’s definitely not like you don’t need the knowledge anymore once a project is “done”.
Utilize a (CFO) Chief Finance Officer
Some metalworkers choose a different approach. They are hiring a Chief Finance Officer (CFO). This financial specialist then also gets the ICT projects on his plate as a supervisor. But this CFO is generally someone with a background in accounting.
ICT is a very different arena. As a result, the CFO takes the lead primarily as an accountant. Not desirable, because talking to an accountant about technical decisions to be made quickly becomes a very difficult conversation. He simply does not understand the subject matter sufficiently.
Hire a (CTO) Chief Technology Officer
Who then should take the lead? You don’t need to look far. As it happens, the position that solves this problem already exists: Chief Technology Officer (CTO). This role is already a success in several industries, but not yet in the metals industry. And that’s striking, because most of this business hinges on technology.
What exactly does a CTO do?
Many metalworking companies don’t know exactly what a CTO does. To properly map that, we divide his world into quadrants. On one axis are ‘change operation’ and ‘continuous operation’, on the other ‘strategic’ and ‘operational’. That’s what all falls under the responsibility of the CTO.
What exactly do these different components entail? To begin with the first axis, continuous operation encompasses everything that ensures that the enterprise operates digitally without problems and keeps running. Think about security, fixing bugs and making sure there is enough processing capacity. So no major changes, but keeping the entire digital infrastructure up and running continuously. And also: continuously working to improve. Japanese know this phenomenon as “kaizen”: change for the better. What you call a progressive assignment for the CTO.
The change operation involves much larger change issues, where as a CTO you have to think carefully about how you are going to implement the innovation in the existing organization. A different ERP system, for example. These are issues that you must first solve on a project-by-project basis, and then address how to make the change a permanent component of the continuous operation.
Arriving at the quadrants strategic and operational. A CTO must know what is going on in the market, where the company wants to go, and he must translate the changing environment and business objectives into how technology can contribute to it. Then a technology roadmap is created: a timeline that indicates when you will build or purchase which systems and machines and which business objectives you should achieve with them. From there, a project calendar emerges.
Selecting the right ICT vendors and partners is also part of the CTO’s activities. These are typical make-or-buy decisions. The issue up front is then: are we going to develop the solution ourselves or are we going to buy it in the market and outsource it?
In a nutshell, this is the CTO’s job description. And in doing so, he can bridge the gap between the world of metalworkers and that of technology companies, which is so greatly appreciated. Time to consider and look at your own organization. Do you experience a lot of hassle with ICT vendors? And do you lack people in your organization with an affinity and passion for technology? Then you’ve reached the point where you might do well to add a CTO position to your company.
The CTO, digitalization, smart factory and industry 4.0
Digitalization, smart factory, industry 4.0: these are big themes in the metal industry, but they are only slowly getting off the ground at most companies. Not to mention the lack of efficiency. It is quite possible that the lack of the CTO position is one of the biggest reasons for this. The implication? These metalworkers don’t yet make a dent in ICT butter. The affinity with technology is far from the norm.
Fortunately, there is the CTO. Who is strong in specifying the vision and defining the strategy. Who is able to direct and delegate in ICT change projects, contract the right partners and vendors and set priorities. The CTO does not allow itself to be led by the delusion of the day. Above all, he brings two worlds together resulting in good cooperation. Irreconcilable cultural difference? Make way for the CTO as a director and he will prove otherwise.
All too often, the quotation process within the metals industry consumes valuable time from entrepreneurs. They therefore work more ín than ón their metalworking company. And that’s a shame. More importantly, it is a drag on progress. Recognizable? Keep reading, because things can be different. An automated quotation process gives you, the entrepreneur, the time to move your business forward.
It is a common dilemma. As a business owner, you would like to spend less time creating quotes, but the significant investment of time and money in an additional estimator is holding you back. Perhaps your budget is not adequate or you are reluctant to put a lot of energy into getting the new hire ready. It just so happens that the recruit needs time to get to the desired level. Essential, because those who misjudge their price may well find themselves at the expense of many a profit.
Not a big surprise, then that it’s an exciting step to outsource the quotation process. The consequence of this is that, as a director, you spend a substantial amount of your time working on quotations. Chances are you’ll also have to deal with some workplace issues from time to time. Want to distance yourself from your company in order to look at it from a zoomed-out perspective and work on it? In this respect, you can forget about that. You work primarily ín your company.
Working on your company is crucial for further growth
Working on your company is crucial for further growth of your business. For example, you could improve the marketing of your company. You could also apply new developments in the market within your factory, such as applying machines and software that optimize processes.
Kaizen is the Japanese word for change for the better.
Additionally, you could also do much more forward-looking business. How will the market change over the next few years and what strategy can I outline with that in mind? And you could continuously work on making improvements in your organization. Kaizen, is what it’s called in Japanese: “Changing for the better”.
So instead of being lived by the delusion of the day, and your company just keeps moving along as it always did, you can make much more progress when you start working on your company. Moreover, this also gives you more time with your customer and allows you to better empathize with what is going on in their world, and then adjust your proposition accordingly. Count your winnings.
Automate your quotation process to save time
Properly considered, working ín your business is a drag on the progress of your organization. Fortunately, there is a possibility to remove that drag and create more space to work on your business. Automate your quotation process and you’ll be swimming in time.
There is just one big but: automating the quotation process is complex and time-consuming. At least, if you want to do it yourself. Because then you soon have to create complicated excel sheets. Or you need to connect ERP and CAM systems. A lot of hassle.
Spend eight times less on quotations.
But what if you could have your quotation process automated within three weeks on the basis of a low-profile subscription? Almost too good to be true, but it really is possible thanks to the Quotation Factory. And the results this platform produces are even more magnificent.
Practice has shown that you can spend at least eight times less energy on quotations. So instead of spending all day quoting, this work will now only take an hour. The time savings are huge.
Self-service portal for customers to create their own quotations
For most metalworking plants, at least fifty percent of their customers are suitable for this, practice shows. There are even examples of companies that have over 75 percent of their customers quoting automatically.
Get back to entrepreneurship and doing with it what you do best
Then experience how much time you can save as an entrepreneur – and the value it brings. By taking this step you can finally start working ón your company. Automatic quoting has its price, of course, but you can also look at it differently. It’s a simple return on investment sum: for the price you’d normally spend on half a full-time (0.5 FTE) estimator, you have your quoting process fully automated, including a self-service portal for customers. You’ll notice it right away: as a director, you can finally get back to doing what you do best: business instead of creating metalworking quotations.
Looking for estimators and work planners in the metal industry? Virtually impossible to do. The number of vacancies is large and then they are also open for a remarkably long time. Meanwhile, this is holding back the continued growth of many metalworkers. But it can be done differently thanks to new technology. An automated quotation platform is the solution. Too good to be true? Just read this blog.
It is a well-known problem for many metalworkers. Due to investments in more machines and more diverse operations, the quotation department can no longer manage to handle all requests quickly and accurately. The reason is obvious: there is an urgent shortage of estimators and work planners.
And this in a market where customers find it increasingly important to be able to see prices, conditions and delivery times immediately, so that they can then make a quick decision to order. That desired pace is currently a utopia for many metalworking companies.
t is searching for a needle in a haystack when it comes to qualified estimators and work planners.
Due to the shortage of estimators and work planners, the requesting party must wait days or sometimes weeks for a quotation. On the other hand, for the supplying party, it is the bottleneck for further growth.
You could do everything you can as a metalworker to look for ways to strengthen your team, but that would not bring any joy to anyone. It is almost impossible to find estimators and work planners who meet the requirements. College+ or Bachelor Degree level and if possible with years of experience on the clock. It is searching for a needle in a haystack.
Frustration among younger generations of estimators and work planners causes exodus
Is this a dying breed? In any case, there is a lot of natural lapse within companies, as experienced professionals often work in the estimating department of metalworkers. And they retire one day. If there are already younger estimators and work planners on the team, it is a difficult task to retain them. The question is how.
The answer lies in the field. Exponents of the younger generations in the field, a survey found, are especially frustrated that they don’t have the tools to do their jobs well. They feel like anonymous ticking boxes because they have to type information from systems all day long. These talents are highly educated, but seventy percent of the time do nothing more than production from behind their keyboards. They think that this is – and it is – a waste of their abilities.
Technology as a solution to the shortage of estimators and work planners
You might think that the shortage of estimators and work planners within the metalworking industry is an unsolvable problem. As is often the case, technology provides the solution here. The Quotation Factory represents an automated quotation process between applicant and manufacturer. As a result, those who use the platform enjoy several benefits that offset the shortage of estimators and work planners.
For starters, this digital quoting platform makes estimators more productive by at least a factor of five. Why? Because estimators can leave the hard work of counting and tallying that they normally have to do to the Quotation Factory software, which does it automatically based on intelligent recognition.
Fully automatic estimating avoids unnecessary and error-prone typing
Then again, this software allows metalworkers to fully automatically estimate eighty percent of products of a somewhat simpler nature. So as a human being, you don’t have to look at that at all.
Another crucial perk: all typing, data entry from Excel sheets to ERP systems, is completely eliminated. Because there are automated connections between ERP and CAM systems within the Quotation Factory. This means that an estimator only has to spend his time on the twenty percent more complex requests.
As a result, he can simply return to fully utilizing his college degree, also aided by a tool that is totally specialized for his job and easy and quick to use. In an instant, it makes the job of an estimator interesting and sufficiently sexy for the younger generation – lo and behold, the solution to possible employee lapse.
All knowledge and experience for everyone and always available
There is another scenario in which the Quotation Factory platform is of great value. Suppose your estimators are coming of age. Even if you were then to find new people with great difficulty, it is still quite a challenge to transfer all that knowledge and experience from your original estimators to the young successors.
The moment you use the automated quotation platform, the first step is to bring that existing knowledge and experience into the system. You package those into estimates, formulas and algorithms. And then you only have to train the new generation to handle the twenty percent of the more complicated requests.
No more inconsistent quotes
The fear of quotes becoming inconsistent will disappear like snow under the sun. In fact, it doesn’t matter who makes the quotation. Whether it’s the old or young generation, the same outcomes will always emerge.
An additional positive consequence is that part of the estimator’s work will be to improve estimation algorithms by comparing pre- and post-calculations. This is an activity that the estimating department traditionally does not get around to, but it is very important. After all, anything you misjudge costs you in terms of profitability; you’re either too expensive or too cheap.
Automatic quoting via self-service portal
Then finally, there is a major advantage of working with a fully automated quotation process. As mentioned, customers want to have immediate insight into prices, stocks and delivery times. By that they actually mean now. A common way to facilitate this is a self-service portal. That portal can only provide the desired information directly if you have fully automated the quotation process. Thanks to the Quotation Factory system, you’ll be on top of that from day one. And then you will very quickly find out which customers make such simple requests that you can quote them fully automatically.
This makes it very transparent for you as a metalworker to see what percentage of your requests you can quote automatically. If that percentage is high enough, it could be very interesting to offer customers self-service portals. For them this means more service, because they have direct access to prices and delivery times. On top of that, you unburden your estimating department, giving them even more time for the complex quotations. Win-win situation.
In short, it is highly questionable whether an old-fashioned tool like a job posting is the right solution to the shortage of estimators and work planners. Technology is already miles ahead and offers the ideal alternative: a fully automated quotation platform.
Opting for a self-service portal pays off, especially for metalworkers with customers who request relatively simple products. What does it yield? Less pressure on your own sales department, more convenience for your customers. There is one big but: developing a self-service portal yourself comes with major challenges. Give yourself a carefree alternative and opt for a SaaS solution. This blog explains why that is the best choice.
Convenience serves man. This time-honored adage also applies to user-friendly self-service portals in the metal industry. Because they ensure that your customers can request quotes at any time of the day and throughout the week. All they have to do is select the material and the quantities. They then immediately have insight into the prices and, possibly after comparing with the rates of other suppliers, they can immediately decide whether they want to turn it into an order.
This takes customers less time than preparing a request via email. They just need to pour the information into the self-service portal. In addition, your customers have greater assurance that the request will be processed properly. The factory’s sales department cannot make mistakes. After all, the customer makes his own request and is therefore in control of the information and the process.
A metalworking quotation quickly and easily
These advantages apply even more strongly when dealing with customers whose buyers are of a younger generation. They don’t really need telephone conversations and warm contact. They want to be able to arrange standard activities easily, quickly and digitally.
Combine this with a full customer portfolio consisting mainly of customers who request relatively simple products and a self-service portal can triple your turnover as a metalworker. And the great thing is that you hardly have to pay attention to all those offers. That means a lesser burden on your sales department.
More air for estimators and salespeople
There are more reasons that make it very attractive to choose a self-service portal as a metalworker. For example, if you have customers who engineer themselves. This means that they often have to make design decisions. The associated pricing issues all come through your sales department.
This costs you a lot of time and hardly yields you anything. If you give your own engineers and those of your customer access to a self-service portal, so that they can work with it themselves, there is more room for your estimators and salespeople.
Self-service portal as additional sales channels
Another advantage of self-service is that you can see it as an extra sales channel in addition to the telephone and email. And what a great one. It is the basis for deploying multiple channels (omnichannel strategy), through which you can receive quotation requests in all kinds of (digital) ways.
For example, a marketplace to which you connect your self-service process. Or ERP systems of very important customers, so that you can receive requests directly from their systems. And of course the requests that can be received and processed via the SCSN network (Smart Connected Supplier Network).
Essentially nothing changes for you as a receiving metalworker. Underneath is the same automated quotation process. That is, the same IT facilities needed to estimate everything needed to prepare a quotation. It is about a powerful and versatile expansion of your options. The moment you opt for a self-service portal, it opens up gateways to use many more sales channels.
The challenges of a self-service portal within the metalworking industry
And so the arrival of a self-service portal extends in all sorts of ways the business model that you have as a metalworker. But that doesn’t happen automatically. There are significant challenges you will face when developing and maintaining a self-service portal yourself. Or rather, problems. And they make it complex.
Automation of the quotation process
The first challenge is technical in nature. Many companies offer quotations based on excel sheets, CAD viewers, CAM systems and ERP quotation modules. They run on computers within their own factory walls (on-premise), while the website with the self-service portal is active in the cloud. This raises the question of how to connect them.
A complicated exercise. If you work with excel sheets, this means that your employees make many decisions themselves. Then you will first have to automate before you have an automatic quotation process that you can connect to your web portal.
In addition, your estimators and work planners often use local CAD/CAM systems to estimate production times and determine manufacturability. They usually operate it manually. So you will also have to automate all this if you want to connect a self-service portal.
The possible (over)loading of existing systems
The second problem is scalability. The moment you start using self-service for your customers, it may be that many users use your web portal at the same time. That is different from roughly two to five estimators within your own organization that are making quotes in the familiar way with the available tools.
It is highly questionable whether the interconnected systems running in your factory can handle that load. Before you know it, you have to think about purchasing more licenses of CAD/CAM systems that can run simultaneously. And how do you get them to work together in parallel to distribute the load?
Continuously monitor and optimize the process
Then there is another shortcoming that soon presents itself. Let’s say you’ve been able to tie all the systems together and the self-service portal is finally up and running. Then there will soon be one, two, maybe even three people watching monitors all day long to see if something is going wrong somewhere in the process. And that happens regularly, for example because your customers’ drawing errors prevent your CAD/CAM systems from being able to use them. Or that a link between systems falters.
Moreover, your customers can draw and design with such a great diversity that the same CAD/CAM systems regularly suffer from it. Your people have to continuously fix that manually. So they are putting out fires all day long. And that is very expensive.
In addition, CAD/CAM systems have not been developed with this vision and the connections between the systems are often not made to be robust. If something goes wrong, it messes up the quotation process. And then you have to intervene manually to get the process going again. That is a lot of hassle and takes time. Moreover, it requires constant tinkering and refining.
Alignment with all software suppliers
The problems are piling up. Because if you want to connect your self-service portal with the systems in your factory so that you can quote automatically, you have to deal with a multitude of software suppliers. This makes the development of the portal very sluggish. After all, you have to interact with many parties to make it a whole. Do you want to make a change? Even then, in many cases, you will have to deal with all those parties. Usually they don’t have time right away and planning and coordination becomes a lot of hassle.
You are often also dependent on the parties that made the software, such as the ERP or CAD systems. You can still have such inventive ideas for new features in your portal, the question is whether the integrated systems can do it.
An example: If you want to perform manufacturability analyzes in your self-service portal – after all, you don’t want to make quotations for things you cannot do – you depend on systems in your quotation process and whether they can perform such analyses. There is a good chance that you will also need your work preparation department, so that you are again dependent on people who do feasibility checks. In that case, the business process is not yet suitable for a self-service portal.
High investment costs
Finally, you have to deal with the valuable time that is required and the risk that it entails to have a self-service portal developed. It is so complex that you quickly need a turnaround time of one to two years. The fact that you have to wait so long before your portal can pay off makes you consider the cost of “not having it” as well. Moreover, it is difficult to find IT parties that can deliver on these kinds of promises, because these are IT projects with a high risk profile.
All these factors mean that developing a self-service portal quickly costs hundreds of thousands of euros. And then it also takes two or more FTEs to manage everything on a daily basis and keep it up and running. What you will then have for that money and that time investment is a minimal variant that you will continue to tweak for years as well. In addition, the price can sometimes double or even worse: triple or even quadruple…
The alternative to a self-developed customer portal
It seems impossible to get a customer portal up and running, were it not for the fact that the solution already exists. The Quotation Factory provides self-service portals for the metalworking industry as a service. Namely Software as a Service (SaaS), which can completely unburden its customers. This cloud native platform is built for the cloud. That is, it was conceived from the start with scalability, robustness and security in mind. The features are so extensive that it is virtually impossible to compete with it with your own project.
All customers benefit from a learning platform
Forget the FTEs you should make available to monitor what goes wrong. Get rid of that hassle. The Quotation Factory is responsible for meeting service levels, such as availability.
Gone are the concerns about disruptions due to the quality of drawings. Because such an enormous volume of drawings passes through the Quotation Factory platform that it only has to solve the problems that arise for all drawing variants once. All customers whose self-service portal runs on this platform will benefit from this. The platform learns from all customers who upload drawings for quotation. In short: you ride along with the solutions for the other.
Safety, reliability and operational security guaranteed
Finally, the Quotation Factory solution is set up in such a way that its infrastructure is able to communicate with ERP and CAD/CAM systems. Safety, reliability and operational security guaranteed. Regardless of which link is involved with which system in your factory.
Offering this solution and thus tackling all the aforementioned problems is the core business of the Quotation Factory. That makes the difference for you as a metalworker and your customers. You focus on your core business, the Quotation Factory on its core business. Software as a Service, in other words.
Conclusion of this story? In particular, opt for a self-service portal, because it pays off. But those who want to invent the wheel themselves are in for a treat. Especially now that the advanced SaaS solutions are available and it has become the core business of specialized IT companies, you have to ask yourself whether outsourcing is not the most sensible option. Especially because your competitors can now have a self-service portal very easily and quickly, without all the increasing costs and headaches.
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 😊