Win more bids with sales configuration automation

By Will Haines

To compete in complex, global markets, manufacturers are increasingly turning to sales configuration automation in order to quote and deliver configured or custom products as quickly and with the same accuracy and reliability as standard products.

For industries like heavy equipment, industrial machinery, and energy and utilities that produce high complexity, low volume products, customers often demand a high degree of customization to meet a very specific purpose. Think of compression systems, commercial refrigeration systems, warehouse conveyor systems, semiconductor fabrication equipment, or just about anything for the energy industry; the level of individualized specification your customers demand makes a pre-engineered approach too inflexible and too complex to win business consistently and efficiently.

When do you need engineer-to-order automation?

Let’s imagine the configurations of a forklift. The body might have a few different types of engines (gas, diesel, propane, electric). There might be a few types of operator seating options as well as options for safety equipment. There might also be a few options for tires, operator control layout, and color schemes. All are fairly simple product options that could be primarily supported by a configure-to-order (CTO) approach.

But what if your customer has highly specific requirements for this forklift? A design team might be asked to consider a certain material to be lifted (bags of cement on a pallet, bulk aluminum in rolls, bales, or barrels of material), how high the material needs to be lifted, how far forward the material needs to be placed, and over what kind of surface. To quote this order, you would need to engineer and customize the design with the right mast, fork, counterbalance, and potentially a different kind of nonstandard tire.

The resultant final design of your forklift might truly be a unicorn – something you have never had the need to build before.

The challenge of configuration management

Companies that deploy CTO and engineer-to-order (ETO) business strategies often lack linkages between their product development and sales structures. Product information, such as drawings, bills of materials (BOMs), specifications, and costs, are dispersed without an integrated management system. When a company has specification or engineering changes, it requires manual data input from one system into another; a process that is not only time-consuming, but also can introduce potential errors.

Information critical to the bidding process often exists across multiple silos:

  • Sales configuration management
    • Quotation management
    • Solution definition
    • Specification generation
  • Engineering processes
    • Product sizing
    • CAD
    • Drawings
    • Documents
  • Technical configuration management
    • Product lines management
    • Features management
    • Modular design
    • Variant management

An integrated system for all engineering information, connected to a sales configurator, can help address this disconnect. With a seamless process integration, you can automate your bidding process, increasing efficiency and reducing development costs.

Automating the sales configuration process

An automated sales configuration management solution can transform previously siloed product information into accessible knowledge, helping your business generate custom products.

The product configuration solutions in Teamcenter can deliver engineering automation enabling you to quickly develop and easily maintain systems to automate the design of highly complex ETO products. Rather than rely on limited pre-engineered configurations, automated rules managed with Rulestream software allow products to be dynamically engineered at the time of order. Customers can estimate costs, facilitate better logistical planning in less time, and maintain alignment between Engineering BOMs and sales technical proposals within a streamlined and fully automated Cost-Price-Quote (CPQ) workflow.

In Rulestream, ETO automation authoring is performed by product experts using a feature-rich, easy-to-use environment for expressing different types of product rules such as functional engineering, design, estimating, pricing, and process planning. Using Rulestream allows companies to capture the complex engineering, design and manufacturing rules needed to automate the design of a new part. This contrasts with most configurator technologies, which are limited to Boolean expression rules governing the selection of existing parts.

What Rulestream helped us with is, if we are doing a proposal, maybe it takes a day or a half a day or so. If it can be cut to one hour, then that means I’m able to do more proposals within the same day that I couldn’t do before. Now you’re doing more proposals and you’re increasing your win rate. And that will translate to an impact in the business.

Pallavi Baddam, Manager – US Applications Engineering & Process Automation | Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Compressor International

The resulting automation may be deployed to the field for guided capture of customer requirements so you can automate bid content. This automation makes it possible to have an accurate design at proposal time. That in turn allows accurate cost and schedule estimates that drive a competitive bid. When you add in integrated, automated CAD and document generation, you have a robust and compelling bid package ready in minutes rather than weeks.

Want to learn more about Engineer-to-Order process automation?

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This article first appeared on the Siemens Digital Industries Software blog at