SMC decided to see if an online interactive catalog could be the solution that would solve both its product complexity issues and the need for so many CAD models. By building an electronic catalog that also could generate custom CAD models on demand, SMC would be able to improve customer service through its catalogs and reduce costs by eliminating the need for so many man-hours of customer sales support.
“In 1999 we started to look for a solution, but we weren’t sure if we should go with a CD-ROM or a Web-based solution,” Hoffer says of the initial phase of the project.
Two key variables determined which direction SMC should take with the catalog. First, it needed the capability to configure an almost-custom product. And second, the ability to provide CAD files to display which options customers wanted to see.
To explain how difficult it was to find the right solution, Hoffer notes: “We offer a very configurable product. But on the printed page of a catalog, it’s challenging to convey the full range of product options.” He cites one base product line, such as the company’s series of pneumatic cylinders. “These could be used by engineers in the heavy vehicle, automotive, electronics and food processing industries. And all of these need a slightly different product configuration.
“In addition,” he continues, “we serve all types of industrial applications — from pick-and-place to packaging motions. So the technology is slightly different from application to application. Typically, an engineer will order our products, and a lot of times they like to have the printed catalog on their desks. But they may not have all the time in the world to sit there on the phone and spec out their product order with a sales rep.”
Time is especially precious to today’s engineers, Hoffer says, as they’re often asked to do more and more projects and take on larger workloads. “So anything we can do to help streamline their ordering process is going to make it easier for them to do business with SMC.”