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Showing posts with label cpq. Show all posts

The Visual Asset Creation Process - Part 1

Posted On Thursday, October 15, 2020



Note: This blog has previously been published on www.tacton.com. The  author is Marco Lang, Tacton’s Senior Visualization Product Manager. Marco has more than 10 years’ experience working with visual asset creation, and configuration at Lumo Graphics, and now Tacton.  

Showcasing your manufacturing product to buyers is an important aspect of the sales pitch for your company. Many companies lose opportunities because they rely heavily on text-based descriptions of products. That’s why it’s as important as ever to add visual configuration to your sales pitch.

Visual representations of your products, services and brand are key drivers of online engagementDigital assets link your customers and company by giving a way to accurately interact with your products.  

In this blog, we’re going to take a deep dive into the visual asset creation process and how putting in the time on the back end will ultimately benefit not only your sales team but most importantly, your customers.  

Digital Twin 

A Digital Twin is a digital model of a physical counterpart (product, system or process), describing its characteristics, attributes and behaviors. Or to be more precise, a Digital Twin is the link between a Digital Master (Master Data or Template) and a Digital Shadow representing a unique relationship to a specific real-world counterpart. 

This virtual representation dynamically collects and combines data from the field as the counterpart matures along the different life-cycle stages. Business systems such as data from engineering, manufacturing, marketing and sales sensor data from operation to service and maintenance. This connection allows new ways of analysis, simulation, optimization, prediction, monitoring, documentation and communication for increased operational efficiency. 

A Digital Thread 

Learning and growing by capturing data from the past and current behavior creates a Digital Thread representing the birth-to-retirement records of the product as it moves through its lifecycle. 

Depending on the use case or the goal of a Digital Twin (e.g. manufacturing, operation or service, …), different kinds of data is collected on a Digital Twin. 

Visual representations (3D Models), as part of a Digital Twin, enable the end-user to evaluate the product by looking at its shape, form or fit and analyzing and understanding its features, options and constraints. 

visual asset creation

(Image showing form, fit and function use cases of visual representations)

Configuration-compatible 3D real-time Models build the core of Tacton’s Visual Configuration solution. 

Visual Configuration of a heavy vehicles

(Image of some configuration possibilities of a truck)

Visual Assets 

All data and files that are necessary for a configuration-compatible 3D real-time visualization are referred to under the umbrella term “Visual Asset. 

Important Visual Assets are: 

1. 3D Models
2. 3D Scene with its environment
3. Materials and Textures  

3D Model (Mesh/Geometry) 

polygon-based model representing the product’s shape and components in 3D.  

visual assets

(Image of a polygon-based model of a teapot)

3D Scene 

The virtual 3D scene defines the scenery in the 3-dimensional world the product is put inThis includes the environment/surrounding, lighting and cameras to look at the product. 

The environment can be a simple Background image or a complete 3D surrounding adding additional 3D models to the visualization. Check out how we do it with our Tructon or Parker Lift Demos.  

Lighting in a virtual 3D world is as essential as it is in real life. Without any lighting it is dark and the product is not visible at all. Therefore, Lighting is a crucial part in setting up a virtual 3D scene.  

There are two ways of lighting. Gathering the information from 360° high dynamic range image (HRDI) or by setting light with specific light types and their individual properties like in a real photo studio. 

Cameras define the different viewpoints on a product in the scene, often along with interaction possibilities and constraints like degrees of freedom and distance/zoom restrictions. 

(Image of different scene elements like light, camera and environment)

Material 

While 3D Models define the shape of an object, Materials define the surface properties and therefore the look and feel of the object in the scene. Depending on the underlying calculation models and their parameters the visualization can range from simple colors to real-world looking surfaces approximating real-life lighting behaviors, for example by using Physical Based Rendering 

(Image of a teapot with two different materials)

Texture 

Textures are images used by Materials to help create realistic materials. They help to add details and real-life variations of materials over a surface. Those images can be created from scratch in dedicated applications or retrieved from real-life photographs. 

In many cases, it can be helpful to simulate e.g. heights or small details on a surface via textures to keep the overall performance of the visualization as high as possible. 

(Image of materials using additional textures for diverse looks)

End-User Constraints to Consider: 

System capabilities 

Since 3D visualization is executed on the customers’ device, (think cell phone or tablet) the performance of the system is critical to the experience. 

Although there have been huge improvements in consumer hardware (graphics cards) and platform capabilities (native and browser applications) over the last few years, there is still a very disconnected technology landscape out there 

Less capable systems prevent the usage of optimized functionalities. And if a device doesn’t support the amount of data necessary for the visualization, the visualization will not be complete or not showing anything at all. Therefore, experiences are typically designed to work well on the lowest common denominator. 

Download speed 

Since all necessary visual assets need to be transferred to the users’ device to get displayed by the visualization, the amount of Visual Assets, the internet connection speed and stability is affecting the experience as well, especially the initial loading time till the visualization is visible for the first time. The bigger the visual assets are used or the slower the connection is, the longer it takes to download the content and to start the experience.  

Rendering Performance 

Depart from the capabilities of the underlying system, the rendering performance depends on other criteria as well, like Visual Asset Weight and the resulting Visual Fidelity (Realism). 

Visual Asset Weight refers to the “complexity” of the Asset. The important performance measurement for 3D Models are the number of polygons those models are composed of. The higher the number of polygons, the slower the performance of that 3D model. Lightweight assets are 3D models with a low polygon count. 

Besides the individual weight, the actual number of different objects in the scene can be a very crucial factor as wellMany different objects with different materials typically relate in a higher number of Draw Calls on the graphics cardimpacting the rendering performance since more work needs to be done. 

For Texture, the weight defines the dimensions and the texel variety within the texture. For Materials the weight defines the complexity of the underlying shader, referring to the number of textures combined and the complexity of the underlying algorithms. 

Optimizing your visual asset creation is essential to a good end-user experiencePart 2: Optimizing Visual Asset Creatiowill be available next week.

CPQ for the Truck Industry

Posted On Thursday, October 1, 2020

What's unique about sales and product configuration in the heavy vehicles manufacturing industry (or in other words - CPQ for truck manufacturers)?


I might be the person that has analyzed and spoken to the most truck manufacturers in the world in relation to CPQ. I've met 7 out of the 10 largest truck corporations in the world.  

I thought I might summarize the unique requirements of this industry:

Legacy

All truck manufacturers are heavy users of (semi-)old legacy systems. They have all been configuring their products since the 80-ies or 90-ies. This means that whatever system (and specifically CPQ) you introduce - it needs to be heavily adjusted to fit into the existing system landscape. Many of these systems are very specialized - and sometimes uniquely built for the manufacturers. Since they often old, good APIs may be missing. 


Systemized BOM usage
It's quite common generally in the manufacturing industry to separate Engineering BOMs from Manufacturing BOMs. It's also getting common to introduce a Service BOM. Since truck companies have been working with configurable products for so many years - they've systemized the usage of multiple BOMs. 

One thing that most truck manufacturers use is the concept of a Sales BOM (they might call it something else like 'Variant Codes'). The idea is to separate the 'As-sold' BOM from the 'As-delivered' BOM. This also separates engineering updates of BOM-items from Sales. So only when an engineering updates actually changes the function the customer receives - that's the Sales BOM item is updated. This decreases the need of maintenance of CPQ during the product lifecycle. 

Localized needs
The needs of the customers differ quite a bit between markets, due environmental, regulatory or cultural reasons. 

Local market offices has a big influence on all the three letters of CPQ (configuration logic, how to price the product and the look-and-feel of the quotes). 

This means that the global configuration needs to be flavoured differently for each market - with market unique defaults and optimizations. Local accessories may be needed in addition to be included in the CPQ.

Body builder integration
A truck is nothing without it's body. And body builders are usually local, specialized and (most often) small companies. Ideally, the customer should be able to configure the vehicle and the body in one CPQ - but that requires a tighter co-operation between the two types of manufacturers. 

As a bare minimum the CPQ needs to allow for sharing CAD-drawings for the body builder before the truck is actually built. An easy workaround is of course to limit the configurability - and use semi-standardized drawings - but that limits the sales. Note that this does not only apply to mechanical CAD, but also circuit diagrams etc. 

Calculations
There are a number of calculations that need to be done as a part of the sales configuration (e.g. turning radius, weight distribution per axle, powertrain optmization). Some of these calculations are simulations. 

Let's take the powertrain optimization: the optimal combination of engine, gearbox and axle gears for a specific usage of the vehicle can't really be configured. Essentially you have to use heuristic rules to find the most likely good combinations - and then run an external simulation of the combinations. This means that the CPQ has to be 'open' for including these calculations - during runtime. 

Complex Configuration
A truck consists of a large number of configurable options (500+), and each option can consist of many alternatives (20+). This means that the theoretical number of configurations is even larger than the most complex configurations. 

Most manufacturers solve this by creating 'sub-models' - a sub-set of the product which they let their sales reps offer. However, one big issue with this approach is that quite often neither the customer or sales rep know exactly which model is the optimal one. 

Traditional guided selling just doesn't do the trick - because you might not be able to know the best model until you're halfway through the configuration. The trick here is to let the user configure the whole product family at the same time - and let the configurator help the user find the optimal solution - not necessarily a predefined model. 

Summary
There are a lot of unique complexities in CPQ for the truck industry. Some you might recognize from your industry even if you're now working with trucks. 

If you need help with CPQ - you know who to contact!


cpqbot - cpqbot.se

Posted On Saturday, September 26, 2020


cpqbot is an automation tool for Tacton CPQ.

cpqbot automates the creation of models, pricelists and document templates.

cpqbot helps you integrate external data from CRM, PLM, ERP into your cpq-logic and thereby increases quality and accuracy to keep your business in sync.

cpqbot is a cloud based robot that helps you do the things efficient and with high quality. It also extends the functionality of Tacton CPQ with functions such as PIM, CMS and system configuration.

cpqbot helps you focus on your business while the robot takes care of your daily routine.


Contact us and we can tell you more. Use the contact form or call us at +46 762 09 85 57.

Tom

Posted On Monday, November 25, 2019



The effort and cost of implementing CPQ is driven mostly by the quality of the documentation of your product. And let’s be honest – your product is not well documented.

So, is everything hopeless? No, because your company probably has a “Tom”. Who is Tom you might say? Let me tell you a short story.

One of my first projects at Tacton was with a company that produces really big machines, we’re talking €5,000,000 and 10,000 options big. When planning the project, the project manager sketched a project plan where the whole configuration model was supposed to be finished in three months. I tried to convince him that this was completely unrealistic, especially considering the team consisted of 3 people, the experienced product expert, me and a junior modeler. I did not convince him, and instead got ready for a tough project.

I clearly remember one of the first days of the project, when we were working on some oil tanks that the big machine needed. I asked the product expert about which oil tanks were available, and what the rules were: “Yes, they’re right here in a special Excel sheet I have in my laptop, and the rules are in my head”.

The product expert was a man in his early sixties that had been with the company for over thirty years. He knew everything about these big machines. He knew all the options, all the sales reps; and in practice, most important quotes passed by him before being sent to their customers. His name was Tom.

We did finish the project in three months – and it was entirely due to Tom. Not only because he knew everything, but also due to the internal political strength of Tom. If Tom said that the company should not sell customized electrical cabinets – well, then it was a decision. No design by committee, no delayed decisions.

I bet you have your own Tom in your company. Take care of him or her. But watch out, the ‘Toms’ are usually ready to retire within a few years. Are you prepared for what happens when he or she does?

Maybe it’s time to contact us at cpq.se to document all this knowledge in a CPQ tool? You’ll get a smoother and more efficient sales process as a nice bonus.

Note: Tom’s real name is something else (he might even be a woman).


Tacton CPQ with online CAD Automation

Posted On Friday, November 8, 2019


A common request from our customers is a simple visualization of their products. They're not looking for:

- An exact CAD-drawing, because that can mean that their customer can copy the product and get it produced cheaper

- A fully fledged visualization with perfect surfaces, because they understand the challenge of setting up and maintaining this over time.

Our customers are looking for something in between,  let's call it 'sales CAD'!

We decided to investigate the market for this type of product and found Dynamaker. Dynamaker calls themselves Online CAD for Mass Customization.

We decided to set up a demo together, and selected a electrical cabinet as an example. The electrical cabinet configuration problem is a classic in the CPQ-world. It's really challenging as it's essentially a 'Bin packing problem'. This means that you shouldn't try to solve it optimally, as it may take an eternity. So we're using a smart(er) version of the 'first fit algoritm'.

One of the key take-aways from setting up a demo together, is how easy both Dynamaker and Tacton are to integrate to. Tacton has ready-made functionality to allow external (visualization) windows in the tool, and to send messages to the visualization. Dynamaker in turn can easily pick up messages from external configurators and feed them to their online CAD. We essentially had a simple version up and running within less than 2 hours.




I think the integration of the tools is really cool, taking the best of both worlds. Don't hesitate to reach out to us, if you would like a demo of the combined solution!

CPQ Partner meetup


The partner network for CPQ and especially Tacton CPQ is expanding in the Nordics. Yesterday we had a first meetup in Uppsala, organized by cpq.se and hosted by Sisyfos Digital.

We started out with a short introduction of all attendants. There were six companies joining during the day.

CPQ Finland - CPQ implementation in Finland with extensive knowledge in PLM.

Cloud Exponent - 20+ Tacton experience with focus on business transformation and expert on SalesForce integrations

Metro Communications - Microsoft partner in the UK with long Tacton experience now focusing on cloud solutions including Microsoft Dynamics

OMT - Business engineering with 50 years combined experience within their CPQ consulting team

Sisyfos Digital - working with digitalization and PIM (and my favorite Uppsala consulting firm)

cpq.se - that's us. Tacton CPQ re-seller in the extended Nordics and CPQ expert consulting.





The purpose of the day was to bring together some of the people that have reached out to myself and Patrik over the last months. We started out with speed-dating, but quickly realized it was more of ex-on-the-beach.

Many of us knew each other from previous endeavors, but there were sure new faces to be introduced as well as new collaborations to be investigated.
Today’s topic - How to present CPQ

The topic for the day was sales and the second session focused on a meta-presentation how we at cpq.se present the concept of CPQ, challenges for our customer, value delivered, quick demo and subscription fees. The presentation ends with a proposed next step.

Next thing, after some traditional Swedish fika, was for every company to present their take on the CPQ sales pitch. After a few minutes of preparation each company presented their view of how to present CPQ to their customers.

With all the expertise in the room there was a very good discussion on how each and everyone of us could improve and optimize the pitch.

The afternoon went by really fast and we finished of the day with a visit to my favorite local brewery in Uppsala. During the evening we were joined by some old friends from Tacton. The picture above was taken by our guide Colin when we had a first ever taste of the upcoming collaboration between Uppsala Brygghus and Edge Brewing.

A very inspiring day. We will definitely meet-up again to discuss opportunities and challenges in the CPQ business.

Don't re-use your existing rules

Posted On Tuesday, October 15, 2019


Ok, so you've invested a couple of man-years to get your configuration rules working in your current ERP or PLM system. It took a lot of work, and you have over 10,000 rules - some of them really complex. You're really proud of the accomplishment of the team.

You don't always get the result you expect, and then some engineer has to debug for a few hours - but all in all it works.

However, the rules are now in you back-end system - and your sales are still using Excel or some other home-built tool to quote. The quotes never matches what the back-end system has available. Your have a lot of change orders, where you need to come back to the customer with a updated and correted quotes.

So you think, maybe you should buy a CPQ system and re-use the existing rules?

No - don't do that!

Switching system and keeping your rules is not the answer. I'm sorry to say, but your rules probably aren't very good. This is a classic 'sunk cost' bias where just because you spent a lot of money on something - doesn't mean it's good. If you have 10 people digging a hole in the ground for a day, is the hole worth 80 man hours?

You need efficient rules or even better constraints.

One example for a rim and tire:
tire.diameter=rim.diameter
Read more about constraints here.

These rules or constraint will be correct today, they will be correct tomorrow - because they describe the natural relation between two items in your product portfolio.

Write new rules!

Maybe even re-use them in your back-end system in the future. The complicated and error-prone maintenance will kill your old rules. Don't let them kill your CPQ-system as well.


Tacton Peer insight by Gartner

Posted On Monday, September 30, 2019

Do you want to know what customers think about Tacton?

Gartner has a page were 18 Tacton CPQ-customers rate Tacton CPQ and there are many valuable insights shared.

Check it out at

https://www.gartner.com/reviews/market/configure-price-quote-application-suites/vendor/tacton


Tacton CPQ Enterprise vs. Tacton CPQ Professional

Posted On Thursday, September 26, 2019

Tacton CPQ is available in two editions – Tacton CPQ Enterprise and Tacton CPQ Professional.

The Professional Edition is an out-of-the-box solution with predefined industry-specific workflows, templates and processes. This typically meets the needs of small and medium businesses looking for the advantages of a standard CPQ solution.

The Enterprise Edition can be more tailored to meet specific business requirements and extends the functionality of Tacton CPQ with even more configurability.

So, what’s the big difference?

In Tacton CPQ there are different objects very much in the same fashion as you find in CRM-systems like Salesforce and Microsoft Dynamics. Standard objects are Account, Opportunities, Solutions, Approvals, just to name a few.

In Tacton CPQ Professional all necessary objects are already predefined but new objects can not be created, but the existing objects can be tailored. In Tacton CPQ Enterprise it is possible to create new objects.

So, what does this mean? 

Let me give an example…

Say that you have something called “Purchasing agreements” that gives certain customer an extra discount for selected pricelists. Both Tacton CPQ Professional and Tacton CPQ Enterprise supports pricelists, but if you want to add additional business logic to your pricing combining pricelist with account one way to do this would be to define a new object, a purchasing agreement object.

In practice this means that if the initial CPQ-analysis shows that there might be a need for one extra object there is usually no need to worry. If we wanted to solve a few “Purchasing agreements” we could extend the pricelist objects, add a few extra pricelists and the problem would have been solved. 

The real difference is when there is a need for multiple new objects to sort out complex business logic. So, rule of thumb is to move to Enterprise once such complexities gets too tricky.

There are a few limitations to Tacton CPQ Professional that one needs to take into consideration. In the table below we point out the major differences in the table below.


Tacton CPQ Professional
Tacton CPQ Enterprise
Advanced Configuration
X
X
Advanced Pricing
X
X
Simple document generation
X
X
Advanced document generation
-
X
CPQ Branding    
-
X
Workflows
X
X
Lead generation
-
O
Industry-standard User roles
X
X
Custom User roles
-
X
Business approvals
X
X
Technical approvals
X
X
Visualization
O
O
iPad App
O
X

Tacton CPQ Professional is set up based on years of CPQ-experience to give an out-of-the-box setup ready to tackle the common CPQ challenges. In the illustration below the standard workflow and supporting objects are displayed. To put it simple; if you need to define more blue or gray boxes Tacton CPQ Professional is not for you. If you think that your business operates like most businesses, you should probably get started with Tacton CPQ Professional. 



So, what about the price? Is there a difference? What do I need to pay?

We’ll let you do the math and give you a clue; if you pay the same amount of dough Tacton CPQ Professional will increase your number of users by 50 % compared with Tacton CPQ Enterprise.

It’s our firm belief that 90 % of small and medium business will be more than satisfied with Tacton CPQ Professional. After a CPQ Analysis workshop we can tell you for sure.
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