What is a Configurator?

A Configurator created with Autodesk InventorSo what exactly is a Configurator?

A configurator can generally be classified as one of two major types, a Product Configurator or an Engineering/Design Configurator. Both of them are tools that allow someone to configure something –simple as that. The difference between the two types of configurators is who does the configuring, and what is being configured.

Product Configurator Definition

Most people have run across a web-based Product Configurator of some sort if they have spent much time on the internet. A Product Configurator is a web based interface that allows an end user to configure whatever product is being sold exactly the way they want it, get a price for the product “as configured”, and finally order the newly configured product. Many computer companies have offered configurators for years now, but the concept has spread to just about everywhere there is an option to be had. For instance, John Deere has a product configurator for their farm equipment, Panasonic has a Toughbook Configurator,  Maserati has a Car Configurator, and there are countless others.

All of the configurator examples above are for fully designed, mass produced products that are configured for a fairly simple set of static options such as color, amount of RAM, or the width of the rows of corn it will harvest. You cannot configure a slightly smaller car, or configure a corn combine into a manure spreader. Product Configurators are limited to adding and subtracting accessories that have already been developed for a base product, not for creating new products.  

Design Configurator Definition

A Design Configurator can produce an entirely new product by setting product variables that are bound by rules that represent the real-world limitations of the product’s design. Shipping limitations, machine capacities, code compliance, etc. With all of the design boundaries clearly spelled out and enforced by the rules, all variations inherent within the underlying design are exposed to the designer as new product possibilities.

For instance, we are working on a Cooling Tower project that was once a small line of products that a customer could choose from, but is now configurable to be any size product with any option within the limits set by built-in rules. For instance:

  • At a certain size, the sheet metal gets thicker
  • Bolts automatically resize, increase or decrease in quantity, and change patterns.
  • Motors ramp up or down in size accordingly.
  • Pipe diameters change –and at various points may change their material and specification.
  • Exterior stairways add steps and adjust their rise and run to remain OSHA compliant.
  • Manufacturing information is instantly available (drawings, machine data, etc)
  • Estimates can be generated in minutes.
  • Photo-realistic renderings can be made in minutes for proposals, literature, etc.

With the new configurator, the Cooling Tower company’s clients can get anything they want within the company’s real-world capabilities instead of the company guessing what customers will want (and spending time and money pursuing dead end products). You will likely never know how many potential customers you have sent elsewhere by offering a ridged product line that doesn’t include the one they need! “We can custom build” is far less likely to seal the deal than is a sales strategy that emphasizes product fluidity as a company credo. Bottom line is that if your competition offers a design configurator first, they will gain a competitive advantage that you may not be able to overcome in today’s business climate.

Configurator Example: A Base Cabinet Configurator

Here is a video of one of our configurators for a commercial cabinet company’s standard Base Cabinet. This is one of the five configurators that would comprise the entirety of this particular custom cabinet shop’s entire line of standard cabinets…

In use, the configurators for a custom cabinet shop would be placed into a master model of the floor plan for the given project, then either configured upon placement or after placement as needed. The client could then get a walk-through of the design in 3D, and if the OK is given, the model would then be processed for production and possibly Exported as a Building Component for inclusion in a master Revit BIM model…

Creating a BIM Model with the Configurator

That will wrap up this post on configurator identification. We will be posting a lot more on this subject as time goes by, so be sure to register with the website using the little widget in the sidebar to the right, and we will email you when there are updates and new posts on the website. Hope you enjoyed the post, and feel free to add your commentary below…

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