Configurators: Online Ordering for End Users

In today’s market, Amazon’s online customer centric ‘The Everything Store’ model has transitioned to the process control industry in the form of industrial style ‘configurators’. Using a configurator, process control engineers can develop the best combination of components to satisfy detailed industrial operational specifications.

By Robert M. Donnelly, Vice President of Business Development, Flo-Tite Valves & Controls

A configurator is a sophisticated software package that can be used to determine the cost and optimal configuration of components for a specific process. More specifically, a configurator is a digital application that can be used on websites by a large number of users, at the same time, to adapt the components and properties of a product to achieve the user’s ‘ideal’ product.

How Do Configurators Work?

To use a configurator, an engineer signs on to the digital application using the same series of steps they would for any other type of App. They then search the configurator for the components they need for their specific application e.g. hoses, valves, pumps, actuators, solenoids, positioners, etc. The configurator itself is loaded with drawings, illustrations, pictures, and technical data/specifications for each individual component. CAD drawings are also available for interactive viewing and/or downloading from the configurator.

Once all of the required components have been selected, the user configures all of the sections and the configurator automatically assemble an illustration of the complete package. It is then displayed for the user and details a quote for each component as well as the total cost for the complete package.

Any configuration can also be shared via email or social media post from the configurator.

Configurator Parameters

One of the most valuable aspects of configurators is that they will not allow the wrong components to be selected for any specific application. For example, if an engineer selects a specific size fitting or coupling that is not suitable for a high pressured hose, the configurator will alert the engineer to this discrepancy. Many configurators can also offer the proper fitting or other component for the specified application; links to data sheets, price lists, installation instructions, and maintenance manuals are available for download.

When one considers what is typically involved in today’s sophisticated process control operations the benefit of a configurator’s ability to store all of the data for a myriad of hundreds and hundreds of components becomes apparent. The advantage of these Apps is made especially clear when they are compared to the old school process of searching printed component catalogs for relevant data and information; as components are constantly changing, printed catalogs often have outdated material.

In the past, determining what was needed for a detailed application required the engineer to siphon through a number of different physical catalogs, which was a very time consuming process. Most engineers and industrial component salesmen had a huge array of catalogs on their desk or bookshelf. Today, configurators have all of the information available online and can update any changes in component specifications automatically, making it simple to search for components and assemble them accurately.

Image credit: KBMax.

Additional Benefits

With the advent of smart phones, pads, and other similar devices, configurators can also be accessed ‘on the go’. This is ideal for quoting and developing process control application solutions, as they can be modified on the spot and render complex application designs with little effort.

In an era where the concept of ‘time is money’ is becoming more critical, the evolution of configurators has become a very important tool for end user engineers and industrial sales representatives.

Final Thoughts

In summary, the primary advantages of using online configurators are:

  • • A faster way to configure complex, as well as simple, process control application configurations with the right components.
  • • Eliminates errors by automatically checking the proper interface of components.
  • • Simplifies the time and accuracy needed for quoting.
  • • Saves each configuration by customer for reordering or modifying past orders.

The use of this tool will aide both hose distributors, and their end user that they are receiving the best combination of components to satisfy the required specification for safe hose operation. As it has developed, it has brought the industry into sync with the push towards more accessible collection of up-to-date component data and information.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Robert M. Donnelly is the Vice President of Business Development for Flo-Tite Valves & Controls. Prior to Flo-Tite, Bob was the CEO of the U.S. subsidiaries of several foreign multinational valve manufactures and a pioneer in introducing valve automation technology to the U.S. market. He is a frequent contributor to Valve World publications.