Product configurators are evolving into engineering tools through AI, cloud, and digital twin integration, saving vendors and users tremendous time in design and manufacturing. This is a statement of Gunther Zimmermann, CEO Zimm.
:K: Do clouds, artificial intelligence and fast simulation solutions offer new approaches to significantly expand the functionality and use of online configurators?
Gunther Zimmermann: I would refer to them »significantly expand« as being relative because new features may not necessarily provide added value. Looking at today’s AI, there is still a great room for improvement. Semantic mapping depending on the industry is optimal only to a limited extent and it is associated with considerable amount of time and costs. At the moment, this kind of machine-learning is still a future scenario for us, as the current functions of the configurator with an AI would not bring any improvement. However, it does not mean that we are not positive about developments in this area and constantly scrutinise them. AI and digital simulation solutions (AR) certainly provide a new approach, but one must consider whether this extended customer experience really provides a useful functionality (just to question the meaningfulness). That is why we consistently work on interfaces for an extension of ZIMM CAD cloud, which enables the customer to save and share projects. In addition, this data will be linked to our Zimm-website in the future, so that the customer can view and access the order and delivery processing conveniently and at any time. Our long-term goal is to create a user-friendly customer experience.
:K: Plausibility checks and alternatives also make the configuration easier for the prospective buyers – does your configurator offer this?
Zimmermann: Of course. Similar to how one can imagine the predictive data integrated with AI, we have programmed all the collisions and the system continuously carries out a plausibility check in the background. Thus, the designer really cannot make mistakes with our configurator or should the user make a mistake once, he immediately gets an indication that this combination is not possible and the field is highlighted in red. If, for example, a limit switch is selected, the programme automatically activates all other components that are required for this purpose.
:K: Can the data from the configurator be used by the user in his CAD system?
Zimmermann: One of the biggest advantages of Zimm configurator is that we not only have standard add-on parts and the required accessories on call, but also the customer-specific configuration in common 3D-formats (STEP, SAT, IGES or DWG) for download. The trick with the whole thing is that the configuration is compatible with the respective add-on parts, making the import into own CAD system easier as well.
:K: What are the other advantages of the configurator for the user?
Zimmermann: Apart from the visual surface, which is visually very minimalist and thus stands out from others, as well as all individual parts for each size, the main advantage is that complete systems and facilities can be created quickly. With our system you can complete, generate and download an entire drive with a lot of options in a few minutes for the project.
:K: Can smart online configurators support you as a provider in relieving the engineering department?
Zimmermann: Yes, absolutely. As any online platform, it is available at any time and can be used with tables and PCs. The high time saving is obvious and the customer can very quickly request a detailed quotation with prices or send it to his purchaser, as the 3D data with a detailed order list (article numbers with correct sizes of all parts) is sent per e-mail. In addition, the user automatically receives a 3D PDF, which is very convenient for presentation or documentation purposes and does not require a CAD programme. With this configurator, we have a unique selling proposition in the market.
:K: Zimm has developed the configuration on its own – why?
Zimmermann: In the first instance, the goal was to develop a configurator with which the customer or the user can quickly achieve results, even if he has only rarely to do with this product. The advantage of Zimm modular system is that a lot of variants and solutions can be done from the standard, but the scope of types, sizes and accessories is very extensive. Therefore, such a tool as the configurator, which supports and accompanies the user in finding a solution, is an optimum instrument, which we provide as a free service. Such an extensive online application would never have been possible via an external service provider in this way, since a great deal of internal know-how and experience from the operation was invested directly and without any time delay. Desires and tips from customer discussions are recorded and actively contribute to further development.
Note: This interview was prepared by the trade journal :K – Kompetenz für Konstrukteure and was published on November 11, 2019.