In industry as well as in our personal lives we want quick, easy, selection and rapid delivery. Websites that offer products from multiple, leading suppliers can save search time and then intuitive online interfaces can speed selection and delivery – Amazon and its ‘Prime’ service is evidence on the largest scale. The same philosophies apply in areas as niche and specialised as technical materials for the electronics and lighting sectors where customer needs and expectations are just as strong.
We all want to complete tasks quickly and effectively but the younger age groups, perhaps unsurprisingly are the most demanding in terms of online patience. The speed and the convenience of the Internet has had an interesting impact on our expectations, with for example, one study indicating that the youngest working age groups have an attention span of less than ten seconds. This doesn’t only mean that pages need to load quickly, be clear, concise and logical and site maps need to be intuitive and straightforward to navigate, it also demands that any transactional processes online must be slick and easy – obviously not sub ten seconds, but certainly without any barriers that may cause users to quickly give up and go somewhere else for their requirements!
Materials Direct is an early example in the B2B electronics sector of a company offering a high-speed, easy-to-use model that lifts many ideas from prominent B2C sites. The company has a value proposition for supplying customers with a wide choice of 100% custom, precision cut parts without the need for tooling. In the case of Materials Direct it is for what can broadly categorised as ‘technical materials.’ These materials –widely used in the electronics assemblies and especially in the rapid growth LED lighting sector – perform functions including electrical insulation, thermal interfacing, adhesion of parts and assemblies, environmental gaskets, light diffusion & reflection and EMI shielding.
Materials Direct is filling a gap in the market where previously customers have had to go down one of two imperfect routes. The first is to use wholly inadequate and unrepresentative crude hand cut parts, or the second, to pay and wait for expensive tooling to give precision parts, that may end up being re-specified if design parameters change as a product design evolves.
Three key demands are synonymous with new product design in the electronics (and any other) sector, they are: speed, also often referred to as time-to-market, ease of use, and the need to minimise costs. These can often be conflicting wishes as sometimes the way to hurry a new design through from concept to launch is, to be simplistic, to ‘throw money’ at it. Needing to tool and then wait for custom parts in the development and prototype phases of a project conflicts with the need for speed and keeping costs under control. So Emech designers really welcome a scenario whereby these issues are all addressed effectively. With Materials Direct’s approach customers can get parts that are, in terms of appearance, function and performance, exactly the same as they would get for volume production. The have consistent quality and repeatability from piece-to-piece, without the burdensome investment in time and money, for tooling.
The Internet is a valued tool for all and perhaps more so for millennial engineers who have not really known a world without the ‘www’; in fact for almost all of us it is hard to remember how we go things done before its inception. It has given the potential to speed-up most aspects of business including finding and ordering parts such as technical sheet materials.
Modern day engineers don’t want to be hampered by ‘old school’ problems such as waiting for tooling, which slow the progress of their project to production where it can begin repaying the initial R&D investments made. For that reason they welcome initiatives that overcome this, and if they are enabled in a completely ‘self-service way via the Internet – then even better.
Having to search for and then visit and navigate multiple supplier sites for technical sheet materials takes time; there are many companies in the sector and there is overlap between what types of end applications they can support – time to trawl several sites is a luxury design engineers don’t generally have. So consolidating the offerings of the leading companies in the industry in a single location has big benefits. Materials Direct includes and can make custom parts from materials from big name suppliers such as 3M, Du Pont and Laird. This consolidation of a niche sector of the electronics market combined with an advanced and fast custom parts service is something quite new and mirrors successful and highly beneficial examples in the B2C world.
As has been mentioned, speed and simplicity are crucial when sourcing parts for prototype or early production run builds of electronic equipment. Materials Direct’s user interface for sourcing custom technical sheet materials has been broken down into four clean, logical steps that can all be completed online without the need for human intervention from the supplier side meaning waiting for a phone to be answered or ordering parts out of regular working hours are not an issue. Firstly, users obtain a quote by entering the overall external dimensions of the part required, selecting a material, entering a quantity and finally choosing desired delivery date or profile. Then, unless the part needed is a basic square, circle or rectangle, a PDF or CAD file of the part is uploaded via a simple user interface. The site software then confirms all details and allows the user to place their order and make payment. Part manufacture then takes place and goods can be despatched in as little as 24 hours if the need is urgent.