Prostep | Newsletter

Searching for and ordering spare parts with 3D PDF

By Timo Trautmann

Trying to find the right spare or wear parts in a normal maintenance manual is a time-consuming task that often leads to errors, in particular if the manual also contains parts for other product variants. That is why PROSTEP has developed a forward-looking 3D PDF solution for the automated creation of customer-specific spare parts catalogs that greatly speeds up both the search for spare parts and the order process.

Although much has been written about new, service-oriented business models, the truth in practice is that for many companies, the conventional spare parts business is still the most important source of service revenue. However, it is a source that is becoming less lucrative as cost considerations lead businesses to use increasing numbers of standard components. For such components, customers can also find replacements from third-party suppliers – often at more advantageous conditions. In order to secure customer loyalty, it is therefore immensely important to offer them additional benefits in the form of efficient spare parts provision and in this way make it less attractive for them to search for spare parts elsewhere.

The approach to spare parts provision adopted up to now does not meet this requirement. On the one hand, the task of identifying the correct spare parts in paper-based manuals is extremely time-consuming for the customer's service engineers and can often result in errors, in particular if the spare parts lists no longer precisely match the current configuration of their products. On the other hand, the process of ordering by email or telephone can be quite laborious and is also prone to errors because the spare parts information (name, article number, etc.) has to be introduced manually in the logistics systems before the order can be triggered. This repeatedly leads to incorrect orders that can result in delays in the maintenance process and unnecessarily long downtimes.

For producers who manufacture their products in a large number of different configurations, it would be particularly advantageous if they could use their design data and BOMs to generate customer-specific spare parts catalogs, while simultaneously minimizing the number of manual operations involved. They currently spend a considerable amount of time and money on creating and updating manuals and lists of spare parts. At the same time, the use of 3D models makes it easier for the customer's engineers to reliably identify the necessary spare and wear parts. Ideally, they can place the order for their parts directly from within the catalog.

What is needed therefore is an end-to-end solution for forward-looking spare parts provisioning that makes both the catalog creation process and the actual use of the resulting catalog, including the order process, more efficient. PROSTEP has developed just such a solution based on 3D PDF technology and the PDF Generator 3D. It automates the generation of electronic catalogs containing complete, up-to-date spare parts and service information for the respective product configuration. Thanks to the use of intelligent templates, 3D models from all the leading CAD systems, BOMs and other service-related information are interactively linked, irrespective of the enterprise application in which they are stored.

A major advantage of 3D PDF-based spare parts catalogs compared to other solutions, which require the installation and use of proprietary software, is that they can be visualized using the normal Adobe Reader, which is installed on every computer worldwide. Moreover, they are available in any number of different languages with no additional license fees.

Service engineers navigate to the desired assembly using the product structure, select the part they want to replace and initiate the order process at the click of the mouse. Adobe's forms technology allows the order-specific information contained in the 3D PDF documents to be extracted and automatically transferred to the ERP system. This makes a major contribution to speeding up spare parts ordering.

The 3D PDF solution for spare parts supply can very easily be integrated into an existing IT infrastructure in order, for example, to incorporate additional information from the PLM system in the spare parts catalogs or transfer information such as the assembly costs to the ERP system. Standardized connectors, which can be licensed and implemented upon request, are available for the most widely used PLM and ERP systems.

Used in conjunction with PROSTEP's 3D PDF solution for assembly planning, support can also be provided for the actual maintenance process. The solution allows the 3D models of specific assemblies and components to be animated irrespective of the CAD system used to create them, i.e. after they have been imported into the 3D PDF document, thus making certain service operations easier to understand. The basis for this is provided by the 3D PDF Pro plug-in for Adobe® Acrobat® Pro, which now allows more accurate navigation in the structure tree and makes it possible to search for specific component attributes. At the same time, clear-cut 3D visualization reduces the time and effort needed to train service engineers.