Manufacturers and engineers are responding to today’s “need it now” marketplace by turning to online CAD publishing technology that improves design productivity and precision, reduces costs, and speeds time to market. In fact, this technology is migrating traditional conversations, e-mails, and faxes between design engineers and suppliers to the Internet—streamlining communications and eliminating errors inherent in multi-step processes along the way.
ThomasNet WebCAD features a CAD viewer to make it simple for engineers to find the parts they need. This shows a sample search result for industrial rod ends on a supplier’s website.
Consider this more traditional method of communicating: A design engineer talks with a supplier about his need for a particular part; perhaps a bearing. He tells the supplier what the bearing will be used for and describes the exact dimensions that he requires. The supplier will then provide a drawing by fax or e-mail, and 30 minutes or more of conversations will follow as both sides ensure that their precise needs are met. Along the way, errors may be introduced due to a poor fax transmission that no one catches.
Newer technological capabilities enable engineers to search a supplier’s site for the part they need, use parametric searches to narrow down their options, and “build” that part by downloading a 2D or 3D drawing, inserting it into their design, and immediately assessing its fit. The direct insert also reduces risks of “$100,000 mistakes,” which can easily occur when one wrong spec gets picked up by an individual engineer, who copies it into several colleagues’ systems. These can lead to errors in the field later on.
ThomasNet’s WebCAD offers Parametric Search functionality that allows engineers to search by their specifications.
ThomasNet, which researches the needs of engineers seeking industrial products and services online, has developed its own CAD solution to make the collaboration between engineers and their suppliers more efficient. Suppliers working with ThomasNet to improve their websites have access to this WebCAD technology, which is part of the ThomasNet Navigator Platform. WebCAD features a CAD viewer, plus the ability to configure drawings to create customized parts—literally millions of design variations are possible.
Engineers can use the technology in just a few steps. For example, if your design calls for a 3/8 in. rod end, you can quickly source and find the exact part you require. It’s a simple 1-2-3 process to find and specify parts.
You can search manufacturers for the parts you need. Companies that offer CAD drawings via the Internet are all searchable on ThomasNet.com, which features more than 607,000 suppliers of industrial and business products—including their online catalogs, CAD drawings, and other content for decision-making purposes. The site is free for engineers, purchasing professionals, and all other users.
Once you have identified relevant suppliers that offer CAD drawings, you can conduct a parametric search on ThomasNet to narrow down results by your detailed specifications.
Then you can compare parts side by side, and download the closest matches. You can also search the sites of those suppliers of interest for related information (pricing, related products, certifications, etc.) to help with decisions.
The WebCAD solution is compatible with all CAD systems, including SolidWorks, AutoCAD, Inventor, and many others. Once you specify a part, you select the CAD system you’re working in and hit a Go button to automatically download and insert the desired part directly into your design. Engineers can choose a variety of views—front or back, top or bottom, or right or left side. (For an online demonstration, go to: http://websolutions.thomasnet.com/caddemostration/index.html.)
Another very helpful feature of ThomasNet’s WebCAD technology is that it generates and delivers the bill of materials for the part inserted, including the manufacturer’s name, the specific part number, and all of the detailed specifications for that part. This makes it easy for everyone involved in the buying process and virtually eliminates the possibility for error during specifying and purchasing.
Engineers are increasingly depending on these online CAD capabilities for their jobs. And, ThomasNet research indicates that up to 80 percent of the time a buyer or engineer downloads and specs a CAD drawing into a design, that part is purchased.
Specialty Manufacturing Corporation, a manufacturer of a variety of standard, custom, and specialized products from valves to dental components, is a case in point. The company classifies the buying of their company’s products as being an “engineering-driven process.” Specialty Manufacturing offers online CAD capabilities to help its engineering customers.
ThomasNet’s WebCAD dynamically generates 3D CAD models based on engineers’ specifications and allows engineers to download and insert the model directly into their designs. The download includes the bill of materials for purchasing.
“In our … custom valve model, what we have found is the key … decision-makers are engineers,” says Dan McKeown, president of Specialty Manufacturing. “Most of our products come from engineers going to our website. They have a unique application and they’re looking to solve that problem. We’re trying to provide them the opportunity to find that solution online…. Our products can be customized to uniquely fit within their application. And, through ThomasNet, not only can they find the valve and configure it online, but they can actually build a complete CAD file that they can insert right into their drawing…. It’s really an engineering-driven process versus a buying process.”
Online CAD solutions have transformed the industrial buying process and offer a precise way to easily do business today. For design engineers working with suppliers, online CAD solutions are all about exchanging information and tools needed to specify and buy. Online CAD solutions save time, encourage productivity and generate greater ROI (return on investment) for everyone.
Peter Mooney is product manager of CAD Solutions at ThomasNet, an online destination connecting industrial buyers and sellers worldwide. To comment on this article, please send e-mail to DE-Editors@deskeng.com.