A product configurator is software that enables you to configure a complex manufactured product. Manufacturing ERP solutions like Acumatica have product configurator modules that port configuration data directly into sales quotes, order management, supply chain management and operational scheduling. Configurators help manufacturers run more efficiently. They have another benefit as well, which is to smooth the process of expanding a manufacturing product line.

How Configurators Work

A configurator lets you establish options and rules for a manufactured product. To take a deliberately simple example, let’s say you make two types of electric pumps: Wall-Mounted and Free-Standing. As shown in the grid below, the Wall-Mounted model can take a 1” diameter hose, but not a 1/2” hose. The Free-Standing pump is the opposite. It can only take a ½” hose.

Wall-Mounted Free-Standing
Takes 1” hose Yes No
Takes ½” hose No Yes

If a salesperson wants to create a quote for a Wall-Mounted pump, the configurator will not allow her to configure it with a ½” hose. That’s a configuration rule. In real life, the rules and options can be extremely extensive and complex, so the configurator is essential for ensuring accuracy and preventing accidental combinations of parts that won’t fit together.

Where Configurators Help Save, and Make Money

Configurators save money partly through avoiding configuration errors. There are many other opportunities to save and make money with configurators. For example:

  • Reduce or eliminate manual processes in the configure-to-order workflow—If you take a close look at your quote-to-order process, you may find manual hand-offs between people and systems. For instance, once the configured product is set for production, a procurement person may have to take the specifications and input them into a supply chain management system. This not optimal. People become more productive throughout the manufacturing process once configurator are in use.
  • Close more deals—Configurators make salespeople more responsive to customer inquiries. In so many cases, the winning manufacturer is the one that is “fastest on the draw” with accurate specifications and pricing.
  • Avoid vendor problems and supply shortages—Having accurate manufacturing specifications and parts requirements in advance enables your team to stay in top of ordering and steer clear of situations where vendors can’t come through with needed manufacturing inputs.

How Configurators Facilitate the Expansion of Product Lines

Configurators facilitate product line expansion in several ways. For one thing, configurators allow product managers to mock up multiple hypothetical versions of a complex product. With sophisticated version management features, configurators like the one found in Acumatica make it possible to show prospective customers or market researchers different editions of a product—determining which will sell the best and make the most profit, before any actual manufacturing is done.

With a configurator, the complete manufacturing team can participate in the development of an expanded product line. For example, with configurations readily available for discussion, every stakeholder can look at proposed new products and offer their input. Issues might include problems with manufacturability, supply chain, shipping and more. If a proposed product is too big to ship or has parts that experts know won’t work in real life, the configuration process will save a great deal of trouble later on. Alternatively, if everyone signs off on a proposed new product configuration, that can lead to productive, profitable additions to the product line.

Adding a configurator could be a good way to add on to an existing ERP system. It could also be the pretext you need to think about updating your legacy ERP. We have worked with many manufacturers on the implementation of configurators. If you want to learn more about how a configurator can help your business, let’s talk.

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