By Terry Wohlers
An edited version was published in Rapid Prototyping Journal, Vol. 7, No. 1, 2001, MCB University Press. Copyright 2001 by Terry T. Wohlers
Product development teams will face daunting tasks in the future. Consumer products that once took 18 months to develop now take as few as three months. In the future, this time will shrink even more. Increasingly, companies cannot afford the luxury of spending days coordinating quotations from outside suppliers. Even so, most companies today use traditional methods of obtaining quotes and awarding work to the supplier that offers the best value and service.
Over the past year, services such as Ariba Sourcing (formerly SupplierMarket.com), Bits2Parts.com, ManufacturingQuote.com, and Protomarket.com have developed as alternatives to traditional methods of sending requests for quotations (RFQs), getting quotes, and finding good service providers. I am most familiar with Bits2Parts.com. In 1999, Spatial Technology (Boulder, Colorado, USA) began to expand its business from component software products, such as its ACIS modeling kernel, to web-based products and services. In November 2000, Spatial spun off its Internet business, named PlanetCAD, when Dassault acquired its component software business and the Spatial name.
Earlier in the year, the company made the strategic decision to develop a site that would help streamline the process of submitting, tracking, and organizing RFQs and quotes. The company chose to concentrate on the rapid prototyping industry in its first wave of development. The company also felt it was important to serve companies that were in the business of tool making, plastic injection molding, metal casting, and related engineering and manufacturing methods, so Bits2Parts.com accommodates them too.
The site was developed with input from industry experts, partners and test sites. Prior to announcing Bits2Parts.com in April 2000, the company formed a group of early adopters called Anchor Members. The companies included Accelerated Technologies Inc., ARRK Product Development Group, Caterpillar, Cummins Engine, Eagle Design & Technology, Express Pattern, General Pattern Company, Materialise, Prototech Engineering, and Soligen. These companies helped guide the development of Bits2Parts and provided valuable feedback, as the site took shape.
During the summer, the site progressed from Phase I Closed Beta to Phase II Closed Beta, and then to Open Beta in October. The Open Beta program gave service providers and customer prospects a chance to "test drive" the site without any obligation or cost. During this period companies sent real RFQs and quotes and tested the site under normal working conditions. Problems were found and fixed.
Time will tell whether the majority of potential user companies will favor Bits2Parts and others exchanges over traditional methods. People are creatures of habit, so it will take time for many of them to accept this new way of working with suppliers and customers. However, as time to market shrinks further, companies will have little choice but to rely on the power and vast reach of the Internet. Bits2Parts.com and other exchanges are now in place to serve this need.