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4 Powerful Strategies to Transform Your Engineer-to-Order Process for Peak Performance

June 20, 2024
Does your engineer-to-order process need improvement? Apply these best practices to streamline your team and get impressive results.

The engineer-to-order (ETO) process caters to clients whose needs span beyond off-the-shelf, mass-produced goods. However, tremendous variation in customer requirements necessitates that companies have well-defined systems to meet these precise needs. Whether you are starting from scratch by implementing a wholly new process or want to enhance an existing one, best practices drive mutually beneficial outcomes.

Improve Your Request-for-Quote Prompts

Obtaining a customer’s request-for-quote document is the first step in the ETO process because the associated details provide a general idea of the requirements and the clients’ timeline. Evaluate your current quote form and look for strategic ways to change the wording or questions so the associated answers are maximally helpful to your manufacturing firm.

The fields on the request-for-quote form might ask people to:

  • Provide their overall vision for the product.
  • Describe how it will function or what purpose will serve.
  • Specify their desired quantities.
  • Include budgetary and timing requirements.
  • Detail any industry-specific needs.

The goal is to word the questions to encourage people to provide useful details that shape the project. Customers may not reveal such information without guidance, which the request-for-quote form can offer through what it contains.

READ MORE: How Custom Components Solve Design Challenges While Saving Time and Cost

Suppose your current form only asks for clients’ contact information and a general description of what they want. The responses may not be precise enough to give your engineers an accurate idea of what the project requires and how long it will take to finish. The more specific you can be with the quote form’s fields, the more likely clients will understand the questions and provide thorough, helpful responses.

Consider adding a final question that asks, “Is there anything else you would like us to know?” That open-ended query allows customers to mention anything not covered elsewhere in the quote documentation.

Additionally, refer to previously submitted quotes and associated customer records to identify gaps in the information-gathering process. Did some clients misinterpret the quote form’s questions or ask for additional clarification? If so, such feedback indicates it may be worthwhile to alter the wording or expand the question to make it more understandable.

Identify and Reduce Interdepartmental Communication Barriers

A smooth and highly functional ETO process requires communication between clients and engineering companies and their various departments. For example, the sales team usually handles incoming request-for-quote forms and engages with engineering teams to determine the feasibility and other specifics of clients’ needs. Then, later process steps require engineers to communicate with supply chain professionals to source materials and other essentials.

Address existing barriers by developing an on-demand system that provides all relevant details to relevant workers across departments. Traditional approaches require employees to develop mindsets about people in other parts of the organization having different priorities than themselves. However, you can enhance the ETO process by urging all workers to see the commonalities in their duties and workflows.

READ MORE: Dive into Software Solutions that Support Additive Manufacturing

Another option is to remind everyone that the ultimate goals are to satisfy the customer and increase the likelihood of getting repeat business and referrals. Then, although duties vary across departments, people engage in them while working toward a unified goal.

Rely on Specialized Tools With Advanced Capabilities

The ETO approach gives customers unprecedented flexibility to describe their needs and have them met with highly functional, aesthetically pleasing results. Consider the possible customization needs for one product category used by numerous industries.

Custom modular cabinets for a mobile medical unit may need custom-designed equipment compartments to keep specialized diagnostic tools from moving during transit. Alternatively, putting glass doors on a cabinet a field technician uses when replacing batteries in an IoT device for remote monitoring helps people quickly find what they need to finish jobs more efficiently.

Accelerate the ideation and iteration processes by adding purposeful, high-tech tools to your ETO process. Some customers may only need custom components for off-the-shelf products, while others need items built entirely to serve their unique needs. Scrutinize your process to find bottlenecks or ongoing challenges and determine how new platforms or other design resources could overcome them.

The team behind one possibility recently raised $21 million, bringing its capital to $40 million. The product stores clients’ design details in the cloud, boosting accessibility for all engineers who need to see them.

Ease of access is particularly important when evaluating various materials to determine which ones suit customers’ requirements. For example, ceramic and glass are inorganic materials that resist corrosion and offer excellent durability. However, metals boast high electrical and thermal conductivity.

Since there is no universal best material, the most appropriate one will become apparent through in-depth client discussions and—potentially—simulations or design suggestions made with advanced tools. Many cloud-based products allow customers to access them and provide feedback throughout the process, keeping communication flowing and preventing misunderstandings.

Enhance Your Documentation Process

Since those who create engineer-to-order products customize them to individual clients, no externally available documents contain process details. That reality makes it critical to maintain clear and thorough documentation at every stage of the process, including which departments or individuals handled specific steps.

READ MORE: How to Upgrade Quality Control for Better Performance

Such details will become extremely valuable if the client must satisfy safety or regulatory requirements to use the customized product in their operations. Some of your internal tools may have built-in reporting and documentation features to support this accountability.

One business deployed an enterprise resource planning tool during the ETO process, which estimates suggested would save it up to 15% in engineering-related selling, general and administrative expenses. Investigate whether your tools now have documentation features to support internal workflows.

Creating a robust internal process that documents what happened, when and by whom provides information that inspires client confidence, helps them understand the decisions made and justifies their project’s associated costs. Look for digital recordkeeping tools and project communication apps that create and maintain a centralized place for all discussion threads and documents. Ensure all workers have enough time to learn how to use these products, too.

Keep Refining the Engineer-to-Order Process

These tips will help you turn formerly inefficient engineer-to-order workflows into highly effective results that clients love. Consistently excellent outcomes will motivate your staff to keep improving their processes, too. Change can be difficult, but when it causes visible improvements, people see the worth of doing things differently for the long term.

About the Author

Emily Newton

Emily Newton is a technology and industrial journalist. She is also the editor in chief of Revolutionized. She has over five years covering stories about warehousing, logistics and distribution.

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