Innovation: 3D configurator, Google StreetView
Doug Biggs knows potential customers in California, Australia or Germany aren’t likely to get on a plane and travel to Grafton for a tour of Gilman Precision’s facilities. But those customers, and anyone else for that matter, can still get a look at the company’s shop now that Gilman has added the inside of its facilities to Google Street View.
Gilman has also sought to bring elements of e-commerce to its sales, launching an online 3-D product configurator that allows engineers to download CAD drawings of specific linear slides as they are working on projects.
Biggs, vice president of sales and marketing at Gilman, knows the new technology the company is using won’t create a quality product or improve manufacturing efficiency or lower Gilman’s prices.
“We’re just finding ways to expand our reach through these tools,” he said.
The product configurator and Street View are two of the ways Gilman has tried to leverage technology. The former took about a year-and-a-half to develop, while the latter required about two hours with an area photographer taking pictures.
Gilman was founded in 1952 and manufactures linear slides and rotary spindles in a 60,000-square-foot manufacturing space, along with another 20,000 square feet of office space, in Grafton. The spindles are used in spinning applications for everything from blood centrifuges to the oil and gas industry. Linear slides are used to move an object along a single axis of motion with precision.
Biggs noted that salespeople have always invited potential customers to visit the shop, but that isn’t always possible in the aftermath of the Great Recession, as staff sizes have been cut and resources are limited.
“We wanted to express to people that couldn’t come here what we really are,” Biggs said.
He acknowledged some manufacturers may be hesitant to embrace the technology and opt instead to just invite people to visit.
“By doing that you really regionalize yourself,” he said, adding the use of technology will help with sales in Germany.
Biggs’ first effort at virtually bringing people into the facility was through short YouTube videos. The problem was each potential customer had its own area of interest and the videos weren’t targeted enough.
Using Street View allows users to navigate at their own pace and see specific machines they might be interested in, Biggs said.
He added the price was reasonable and Google has a list of photographers providing the service on its website.
With more than 33,000 variations to its linear slides, the CAD configurator was a different story.
“For us to come up with something that would be on-command able to get the customer exactly what they want, when they wanted it, is a very, very difficult process,” Biggs said.
Gilman worked with California-based Catalog Data Solutions Inc. to develop the configurator. It allows the user to choose the type of slide, measurement system, the size, base and saddle length, drive and surface. The program produces a model number, specification sheet, 3-D model and CAD download in 24 different formats. Biggs said the goal was to ease the workload, both internally and for customers.
“It really allows engineers to customize a slide for their needs and drop it right into what they’re designing without ever having to pick up a phone,” he said.
Gilman has not eliminated its own application engineers as it increases access to its product designs. Biggs said the idea is to work with customers on their schedule.
“We’re making it almost an e-commerce feel,” he said, adding that there has been a lot of use during evening hours when customers are likely no longer in the office.
Biggs and his sales team receive reports on customer activity on the site, which offer insight on how the configurator is being used. In some cases, Biggs can see someone downloading a few different options, almost as if he or she is trying to find the right fit. At that point, Biggs can call and offer assistance.