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Business Case For The Epicor Product Configurator

By now most, if not all, of you have heard of the Epicor Product Configurator and some of you may be very familiar with it. For those of you who are not that familiar with the Configurator here is a brief list of things that it can do for you:
1. Automate the part configuration, engineering, or quoting process. This is crucial during the sales process to ensure the customers get what they need.
2. Generate “intelligent” part numbers and descriptions. These can be catalog part numbers or “one off” parts created for a single quote or sales order.
3. Generate a Bill of Material and Routing to assist in developing product costs.
4. Prevent invalid configurations and combinations of options.

The Configurator does this by capturing the knowledge of your engineering and design staff and placing it into the Epicor database, and then applying that knowledge during the sales process.

How Does It Work?

The Epicor Product Configurator is a rules-based “expert system” that applies a set of “rules” to user inputs. Basically, the Configurator designer creates input pages which prompt for user inputs and then execute the rule set to accomplish the tasks listed above. The inputs could be very simple, such as “yes / no” questions or a selection from a list, or more complex requiring users to enter measurements or other alpha-numeric data. The output could be a unique product design, a standard configuration, or something in between. The output may also include a “smart string” which can be used as a part number or a means of retrieving a unique configuration of an item.
The “rules” can do many different things, such as
1. Specify when to include or exclude an option or subassembly.
2. Set the value of a field, such as “Quantity Per”, or create a block of text.
3. Look up values in a table, similar to a spreadsheet, based on several input values.
4. Retrieve data from the Epicor database tables.
5. Perform calculations to set values or read a table.

Basically, the Configurator can do as much as you need it to do as a means of generating a sales order or quote, or provide a starting point for further development during the sales process. It all depends on how much “knowledge” you are able to store in the Configurator database tables.

Why Would I Use the Configurator?

If you answer “Yes” to any of the following, you are a good candidate:
1. Your products are very complex with a large number of options. The Configurator is used by many “Engineer to Order” companies that build unique configurations of machinery. These include a manufacturer of equipment for making and installing doors, a manufacturer of pollution control machinery, and numerous electronic manufacturers that sell high-end servers and peripherals.
2. Your products have dimensional characteristics, such as a leading manufacturer of sky lights that uses the Configurator to create both catalog part numbers and unique configurations. In addition, many of the window manufacturers in the USA use the Configurator.
3. You are an “Assemble to Order” manufacturer which creates unique end-item configurations from a base product and a set of options. There are too many combinations to create unique part numbers for each one and you need a way to differentiate the product on a sales order from the last order for the same product.
4. Your products must meet industry standards for safety, purity, or be in compliance with Federal and State laws.

If it appears that the above list includes almost every manufacturing company in the USA, it’s not a coincidence.

If the Configurator is so Great, Why Doesn’t Everyone Use It?

After telling you all the great things the Configurator can do, I feel the need to point out that it has some shortcomings as well.
1. The development time can be lengthy, certainly if your product is overly complex. It took a long time for your engineers and designers to learn everything they need to know about the products and it can take a long time to input that knowledge into Epicor. But in most cases the time saved in the future by using the Configurator more than covers the investment in development time.
2. Along the same lines, the Configurator may not be able to address all customer situations for very complex products. Or, as is often the case, the additional benefit to be gained from Configurator development is not worth the extra effort. Many Configurator users will create a model that will handle, say, 80 – 90 percent of the development effort and then do the remaining development manually.
3. A product re-design almost certainly requires re-development of the Configurator model (see number 1, above).

If your products can benefit from the Epicor Configurator then you owe it to yourself to take a look at it. We at Tomerlin-ERP have implemented the Product Configurator in dozens of companies in many different industries and are ready to provide any assistance we can. If you need our help, contact us now at 818-887-9162.