Twenty years ago, we launched TraceParts to help design professionals save precious time looking for – or worse, recreating – CAD models for standard parts. At the same time, we wanted to help parts manufacturers harness the power of the internet to reach new customers and new markets.
In 2001, the internet was exploding with innovation, having moved in just a few years from the first crude, graphical HTML pages of the mid-1990s to sophisticated online systems for interacting with databases and executing transactions.
That same year, we launched Traceparts.com with an online database of 100,000 parts, including 2D and 3D models and drawings. In the first year, users downloaded 6,800 of these files. Against an industry backdrop of paper catalogs and cumbersome enterprise file servers, this was a grand success and a quantum leap beyondn our first digital catalog-distribution method: floppy disks. Today, this digital library has grown to more than 100 million parts, with more than 80 million CAD files downloaded per year.
For OEMs, this represents a savings of tens of millions of hours of design and engineering time, as well as deep reductions in the tremendous upstream and downstream costs associated with the unnecessary introduction of new parts. For parts manufacturers and distributors, it has meant access to a large and highly qualified new customer base, with 85% of downloaded products resulting in a purchase. It also has given suppliers important, data-driven visibility into customer needs and preferences.
ONLINE CATALOGS MEET B2B MARKETPLACES
Now, a new generation of online business-to-business (B2B) marketplaces is bringing suppliers and buyers into an open and direct ecosystem that eliminates the middle man and removes geographical, scale and process barriers to trading. For manufacturers, this means direct purchasing of standard parts and equipment, or direct contracting for custom manufacturing.
These marketplaces provide sourcing professionals with a discovery tool for expanding their pool of qualified suppliers, while simultaneously helping suppliers discover new business opportunities. Equally important, they break down the system silos that have long impeded collaboration between CAD designers and purchasing agents.
Our partnership with B2B marketplace innovators is an important new channel for our manufacturers’ CAD content. These partnerships instantly multiply the number of potential customers these manufacturers can reach. It also delivers additional benefits, including accelerated sales cycles, modernized procurement processes and increased lifecycle visibility.
A MULTICHANNEL STRATEGY
As a distributor of CAD content, not physical goods, it makes business sense for us to participate in emerging B2B marketplaces. Our motto, afterall, is “Product Content Everywhere.” Maximizing access to standard parts via marketplaces brings tangible benefits to all of our stakeholders.
For distributors of goods, on the other hand, new B2B marketplaces represent a disruptive force, which they will need to address. But for OEMs and suppliers, the benefits are clear. And so I’ve encouraged my customers to become transactional partners in the marketplaces we’ve already partnered with, and to engage in others as well.
We also recommend that our customers consider integrating Software as a Service B2B ecommerce solutions into their own websites. Multichannel sales and marketing is a proven strategy for growing a business, and it can help businesses gather valuable data on customer needs and preferences.
OFFER CONTENT DIGITALLY
The first step to executing a multichannel strategy is to produce your product information in a standardized digital format; 3D and BIM models are the foundation of current B2B commerce and Industry 4.0 business models. We estimate that fewer than 20% of parts manufacturers have online 3D catalogs, so this strategy has tremendous room for growth.
Accordingly, a substantial part of our business is focused on helping customers digitalize their paper catalogs and build 3D models of their parts. The emergence of powerful B2B industrial marketplaces adds a compelling – even urgent – new motivation for companies to get their digital houses in order.