Articles

Three Steps to Cost Control: Addressing the Root Cause of Unexpected Product Costs

By Eric LarkinChief TechnologyOfficer and Co-FounderArena SolutionsFoster City, CAWe often hear a common story from small and mid-size manufacturers. The VP of sales nails a really big order that will secure the company’s future — if the company can deliver. The challenge ignites chaos, and it’s a frenzy of frantic phone calls and sleepless nights to get the product built. The company fulfills the order, and everything is great in the end. Right? Usually not. When the final numbers come through, the big deal often does not mean big profits. No bonuses because cost overruns have eaten into the margins, and everyone tries to place blame. It’s a virtually impossible task to manage thousands of parts in a multimegabyte, multicolor, and multi-worksheet spreadsheet-based bill of materials (BOM). And when those spreadsheets are e-mailed, suddenly multiple different “official” versions result. The steps that then get taken to make sure the factory builds the right revision can be downright embarrassing. The problem, so common at companies racing to get products to market, is that they rely on old ways to save time and money. But using trusted shortcuts like spreadsheets for managing company BOMs and “free” tools like e-mail for communicating critical manufacturing data almost always reduce profitability. Spreadsheets grow complicated and unmanageable so quickly that profits are eaten away. Additionally, delays from out-of-control change processes — and steps to recover from delays — create unbudgeted overhead costs that further undermine remaining profits. Three steps can help companies get the right systems in place to control their product information and their costs: Step 1. Control your CAD data. Take the time to configure a product data management vault to keep data secure, revision-controlled and accessible by downstream applications. Step 2. Manage your BOMs. Invest in a collaborative BOM management system to ensure all parties are working from the accurate version of the product record. Make sure the BOM management system can accept CAD data, manage documents, control change processes, and integrate with other applications like ERP. Step 3. Imagine no shrink-wrap. Companies often find they’ve pushed the limits of shrink-wrapped software for functions such as accounting and materials planning. Anticipating that, plan for growth into business applications such as ERP and MES, and be sure the ones you choose are compatible with your BOM management system. Sometimes companies just have to get product out the door, forcing them to bank success on shortcuts and traditional processes. But not all traditions can handle the stresses and speed of modern manufacturing. Shortcuts like relying on spreadsheets to manage BOMs can introduce delays, unnecessary complications, and miscommunications that cost time and money throughout the project and into the future. By carefully selecting systems, companies can control costs by eliminating risks associated with manual, error-prone, and time-consuming processes.More Information For more information on Arena’s collaborative bill of materials and change management software, visit http://info.hotims.com/22920-122.

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The Opportunity of Economic Uncertainty

By Susan OrrSenior DirectorStrategic MarketingThomasNetNew York, NYThere’s no question that the economic slowdown has taken an enormous toll on the industrial and manufacturing sectors. But despite the downturn, the glass, in my view, remains half full for industrial businesses, including the many firms that we talk with every day. Companies are telling us they’ve been able to keep sales level with last year’s — or even increase them — by diversifying into new markets, and attracting more overseas clients. They’re making better use of the Internet to extend their reach, and it’s working. How can your company, too, stay “recession-resistant” during the downturn, and position itself for new growth? As a first step, take stock of your unique selling proposition (USP), and how that translates into a unique value proposition (UVP) that will appeal to new buyers. Then, make sure that your Web site reflects these differentiators. Research shows that 50 percent of industrial buyers choose suppliers based on what they see on their sites.What Sets You Apart? To identify your USP, ask yourself: What are our core competencies as they relate to meeting customers’ needs? What do we offer that is integral to our customers’ ability to do business? How can we deliver added value and turn our customers’ ideas into reality? In answering questions like these, you will identify new ways that you can differentiate your company’s products or services. And along with differentiation comes discovery of your UVP. Think about repositioning your core competencies as UVPs in terms of solving problems for your customers. These may include: Delivering cost efficiencies. Delivering products faster. Offering customized products for unique applications. Enhancing customer service benefits.Taking Your UVP to the Web When you understand your company’s UVP, you are in a position to more effectively communicate it over the Web. Industrial Specialties Manufacturing of Englewood, CO — which supplies miniature pneumatic, vacuum, and fluid circuitry components to OEMs and distributors all over the world — has successfully followed this strategy. The company offers 150,000 individual products for a broad range of markets — from medical, laboratory and research to automotive. Its UVPs include an exceptional focus on the customer, as evidenced by its ability to fill large and small orders, including those with highly customized requirements, on time and with tremendous accuracy. By enhancing its site with a comprehensive online catalog, complete with parametric search, item comparison, and RFQ capabilities, ISM increased sales 15 percent from March 2008 to March 2009, and improved penetration in key markets.Use VSET to Maximize Site Impact In addition to reinforcing their UVP, Industrial Specialties Manufacturing used a ThomasNet strategy called VSET to improve the effectiveness of its site. VSET involves four “steps”: Verify – Ensure that your site makes it easy for prospects to immediately determine that you have what they are searching for. Research demonstrates that companies only have 5 to 8 seconds to do this before prospects hit the “back” button. Search – Give buyers the flexibility to look for your products in multiple ways. Evaluate – Provide enough detailed information for prospects to make buying decisions, such as side-by-side comparison capabilities and downloadable CAD drawings. Take Action – Offer multiple ways for buyers to request additional information or make a purchase, from a phone number on every page to shopping cart technology.UVP + VSET = Momentum As history has demonstrated, companies who take leadership positions and create high profiles in their respective markets during times of economic uncertainty are the ones who ultimately move up in a downturn. Let your UVP help build your momentum over the Web. For more information, contact Susan Orr at SOrr@ThomasNet.com or visit http://info.hotims.com/22922-122.

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Introduction to Linear Actuators

Students trained in classic mechanical engineering are taught to construct a system using conventional mechanical components to convert rotary into linear motion. Converting rotary to linear motion can be accomplished by several mechanical means using a rotary motor, rack and pinion, belt and pulley, and other mechanical linkages, which require many components to couple and align. Although these methods can be effective, they each carry certain limitations.

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Fluid Handling Products Gain in Performance, Efficiency

Today’s pumps, valves, and flow meters are being designed with greater accuracy and flexibility to handle a wide range of fluids, chemicals, and other materials. Demands for more reliable operation and lower energy usage dictate these parts be made of materials lighter than previously available, yet robust enough for high pressure, high duty cycle applications.

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Windshields to Reflect Sunlight, and Perhaps Produce Electricity

The California Air Resources Board will require new cars sold in California to have windows that reflect or absorb heat-producing rays from the sun. Starting in 2012, windows must prevent 45 percent of the sun's total heat-producing energy from entering the car, and the windshield must reject at least 50 percent. In 2016, this increases to 60 percent.

Posted in: Features, Products, Articles, Solar Power

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Beyond the Box: A Software-Defined Approach to RF Testing

The traditional engineering re sponse to testing a new wireless standard often involves selecting a box instrument with the closest specifications. For automated test systems with multiple test requirements, this approach usually results in a different box for each measurement requirement in the system. When the test requirements are uniform and non-changing, this method may be sufficient, but it becomes cumbersome, slow, and ultimately more expensive for testing today’s complex radio frequency (RF) devices, which often use multiple wireless standards. A software-defined approach is ideal for automating RF verification, validation, and production tests, while traditional RF box instruments continue to play an important role on the design bench.

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$32 Million Initiative to Expand Hydropower

U.S. Department of Energy Secretary Steven Chu announced up to $32 million in Recovery Act funding, which is designed to support the deployment of hydropower turbines and control technologies to increase power generation and environmental stewardship at existing non-Federal hydroelectric facilities.

Posted in: News, Articles, Hydroelectric Power, Renewable Energy, Government Initiatives

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