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FIRST, DECIDE WHETHER/HOW THE CONFIGURATION FUNCTION WILL GO TO THE FIELD

When scoping the functions that are common to field nomadic detached platforms, or Internet tethers, five items on figure 1 stand out as im­portant considerations:

1. If the company is considering the use of nomadic sales force automa­tion (SFA) contact management software in the field, the mainte­nance of customer master data in both the SFA and configurator may become a replication burden. Since SFA is often more new-prospect/ customer-oriented, it may be more effective for the configurator to read the SFA customer data under compatible (ODBC) protocol, and use the SFA facilities for synchronization and replication.

2. Quite often a configurator will be utilized to assist the user in the selection of a base model or other operating characteristics. These sessions can be highly tutorial in nature, guiding the user through an extensive question/answer scenario. Often, there can be techni­cal calculations or even curve fitting used as assistance to this needs analysis or "consultative selling" selection process.

3. All configurators are initiated in a question/answer (Q/A) mode whereby certain answers will condition subsequent selections to be added, highlighted, eliminated, or cross-referenced to previous con­straints. You should never be required to have a set scenario se­quence to these responses, e.g., the conditioning rules should all process upon any selection change regardless of any sequencing considerations. The various techniques to condition these selection screens are often termed "exclusion" rules, but have also been over-hyped as "constraints," "class/objects," or other artificial intelli­gence (AI) "inference engine" rhetoric! (Some feel that configura­tion tutorial technology is the last hurrah for AI techies!). Top-down tree structuring of this exclusion or constraint logic (regardless of the programming technique) often restricts the flexibility needed for more sophisticated rule logic. Perish the thought of stepping down a tree of selections, finding a constraint, and then having to go back up to traverse another branch of the tree!

Close observation of these knowledgeable customers has shown that hardly anyone will want to start with a blank set of Q/As after several days of experience. They will all want to copy an archived quote or order and merely tweak a few of the Q/As. This defies any consideration of a sequenced scenario. It also nullifies most of the highly touted use of a configurator as an effective tutorial media to foster new entry-level learning curves unless extensive investment is made in dual-purpose rule logic! Consideration also needs to be given to professional, heads-down order entry personnel who want the most efficient key-entry screen designs because they don't need the tutorial Q/A mouse movement overhead.

4. Often, there will be an advantage to the field sales force being able to show scanned (bitmapped) representations of segments or over­lays of their product. They may also want to utilize customized CAD overlays that can be exported in .dwg, .bmp, or .dxf format for customer inclusion in their own drawings. The configurator must be able to process rules in order to find displays that are required by a combinatorial selection of options instead of just one-for-one fea­ture selections.

5. The most sophisticated graphical representation of a product of­fering can be a full parametric drawing (to scale, rotated, and solid), again exportable to the customer's CAD system. This capability often eliminates the need and excessive memory storage capacity for an electronic encyclopedia catalog of fixed static drawing rep­resentations stored in an extensive PDM repository. In all cases, the nomadic configurator must provide the capability to develop a quote with interfaces to spreadsheet and word processing. It also has to process an order for a verified customer number with unlimited additional word-wrapped line-item acknowledgment text. There must be an effective way to archive the quotes/orders for copy­ing and status updating. All Q/As must be edited for combinatorial error conditions, and various protocols established to allow incomplete specifications that are beyond the scope of field personnel's technical input. There are often many cases where there are additional home office engineering specifications and terms required to complete the order. These communications can normally be executed as additional Q/A transactions, kept in synchronization by the configurator between cycled sessions with the field and host.

Each line item of a quote/order must have an abbreviated syntax format of all the answered questions that can be transmitted to the host configurator server. This takes the form of an attribute string syntax, consisting of all the Q/As in an unlimited variable length syn­tax. The configurator rule engine is then used to reprocess and gener­ate all output.

To Be Continued

For balance of this article, click on the below link:

Lean Manufacturing Articles and go to Series 01


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