The Battle for Design Wins

Here's a primer on some of the newest Web-based tools you can use to increase your company's share of design wins.

For a direct materials manufacturer, few business achievements rank higher in importance than that of capturing a design win. And for today's manufacturers, many new opportunities for achieving design wins are now coming from the Web through new types of tools that take advantage of the Web's potential for interactivity and its ability to exchange rich graphics and textual data.

Here's a look at some of the newest Web-based tools and what they can do to increase your business' share of design wins.

Capturing a Design Win

Say you're a manufacturer of temperature sensors, and one of your product divisions sells into the automotive industry. Right now, your largest customer is working on the electrical design for next year's model, and that model will use an upgraded electrical system. Meanwhile, your designers are working on a new sensor that would be ideal for that design. It's not in production yet, but it's close enough to being complete that you can offer it to the automaker's electrical design team.

What you're hoping for is, of course, a design win. If the automaker's designers decide to use your sensor, they will then specify it for their design. Their design, once approved, may become that maker's electrical-system standard for the next five years. That translates into a lot of sensors  and a substantial, dependable revenue stream for your product division.

So what are your chances of securing this, or any other design win? They're excellent, no matter what industry you're in. Surveys show that between 80 and 90 percent of the parts included in early-stage design end up in the final product. It's well worth it for you to get your sensors  or relays, switches, door handles or other parts  into the hands of your prospect's design engineers as soon as possible.

Tool #1: Interactive Product Catalog

But what if, as in the example above, you haven't put your part into production? That's OK, as long as you can give the design engineer enough detailed information to feel confident the part will work and fit when the time comes.

Today's design engineers understand this, and they also know the Web is a handy medium for looking into suppliers' parts and assemblies. Traditional, paper-based catalogs are frequently out of date because of their static nature. By contrast, the Web gives parts makers a dynamic medium. Thanks to the interactive product catalog, they can now update parts listings at any time, either when a new design becomes available or before a new part is produced.

The online, interactive product catalog represents a new generation of Web-based tools  one that's a definite step up from first-generation online exchanges and auctions.

Exchanges and auctions are good at grouping parts together and for presenting them to design engineers. But exchanges and auctions don't have the ability to present much more than the names, numbers, dimensions and prices of the parts they show. For commodity items, this is generally sufficient. But for more complex parts, it's not. Here's where the interactive product catalog earns its keep.

Picture this: A design engineer, shopping for a temperature sensor, finds your Web site. You've got an interactive product catalog that lets the designer download a computer-aided design (CAD) model of one of your newest sensors. The designer inspects your model, rotates it, analyzes it, zooms in and out, and places it into a larger assembly model of the new auto's electrical system to check tolerances. The designer decides to build your sensor into the new auto design, and quickly imports your solid model into the working CAD model of the auto.

Not only do you get a design win, but you also get it without expending any extra effort or costly resources. And you get it because your design was in the right place at the right time  that is, it was in an interactive product catalog.

Tool #2: RosettaNet

RosettaNet is a popular industry standard for exchanging eXtensible Markup Language (XML)-based design information. Today its focus is electronic components, but in the future it will probably expand into mechanical parts as well, allowing suppliers to push product content information directly into their customers' component management systems.

For instance, a large electronics original equipment manufacturer (OEM) might use an internal component management system to store information on all components that are used by their products. Whenever an engineer wants to source a new component, he or she would first look in the component management system. After all, these parts are already "blessed" by the OEM, since they come from the OEM's regular suppliers, and since the OEM already has technical information on the part.

With RosettaNet  assuming the OEM is compliant with the standard  the suppliers can now push new parts, with their accompanying specifications, directly into the component management system. This way, the supplier improves the chance of capturing a design win, and the OEM is confident that the information in its component management system is accurate and up to date.

Tool #3: Engineering Configurator

While tools one and two deal mostly with standard parts, a third tool, the engineering configurator, makes it possible to capture a design win with custom-configured parts.

The engineering configurator application typically sits on the supplier's Web site. It employs a rule base, and it has links to the supplier's product data management (PDM) and CAD systems. Design engineers can describe the component (or assembly) they want by entering their specifications. The rule base then works with the back-end product-management systems to create a custom-configured deliverable, which might even be configured in a way that the supplier had never thought of before.

As useful as this can be for design engineers who are sourcing new components, it is also a valuable sales tool. It lets the supplier's sales people create custom configurations while sitting in the offices of their prospects, thus greatly increasing the chances of securing a design win.

Tool #4: Virtual Project Workspace

At the far end of the custom-component spectrum is the virtual project workspace. This application gives the supplier's and the OEM's engineers a virtual meeting place, complete with a secure repository, model visualization facility and other functions.

It allows the OEM's engineers to look inside the supplier's CAD systems, to see  and comment on  what new products are underway. Where the engineering configurator permits custom configurations, the virtual project workspace permits custom design. It's good for the OEM because it provides a view of supplier works-in-progress. And it's good for the supplier, because it provides the opportunity to tweak a new-product design in order to satisfy the OEM and to create a design win.

Freeing up a Marketing Budget

Taken together, these tools give the supplier a powerful repertoire of design-win assets.  They take advantage of the Web's interactivity to let suppliers and OEMs keep up to date on one another's needs, and they also can save the costs of generating paper catalogs and other sales tools.

This points at yet another benefit of using such Web-based tools. The money saved can be put into more effective direct-marketing programs. These programs, and their sales force constituents, can therefore add proactive marketing to the pursuit of the design win.  Sales force and marketing materials can target OEMs at times when their new-product design cycles are starting up.

Once the prospect-OEM is aware of the supplier's products, the sales person can then point the OEM to an interactive parts catalog, engineering configurator or another of these tools. From there on, the Web will help do the selling and capture the design win.

As vice president of the Windchill PartsLink Solution, Spurway is currently managing PTC's technical catalog and content solution strategy. Prior to joining PTC, Spurway worked for Merrill Lynch and Co. in its New York City and London offices as a specialist in fixed income institutional sales and trading.  He also worked as an attorney for Ropes and Gray in Boston. Spurway received his AB from Dartmouth College and his JD from Harvard Law School.