Anyone who gets in touch with Emmen-based Manter International Ltd. will immediately notice they are dealing with a vision-driven company. Manter produces weighing- and packaging machines for mostly fresh potatoes, vegetables and fruit. In this market, Manter is clearly top of the league in applying new digital technologies.
The complexity of our products can no longer be described on paper; what is printed today, will be obsolete tomorrow. Additionally, on paper you will never gain all the knowledge needed to configure our products correctly; made without error and optimally fitting the customer’s needs.
For example, Manter has been delivering its machines with Manter Gateway since 2012: software which supplies its machinery with updates and maintenance from a distance, and also reads out its computer, for example to give advice about optimizing its settings.
Manter’s dedication to digital techniques is also utilized to optimize their own organisation. Even though Manter’s product range is quite extensive, and finding adequate solutions is a USP, Manter quickly saw that it is rather easy to standardise custom-made products, and that this is valuable to both Manter itself and its customers alike. To facilitate the standardization in its sales channel, Elfsquad was chosen. This has led to Manter being one of our launching customers, combining forces with us to design the configurator.
We spoke with Tim de Jonge, Construction Engineer and responsible for the design of the configurator, and to Peter Lenferink, CEO.
Manter supplies packaging businesses which in turn supply wholesale businesses and supermarkets. When compared to other suppliers, Manter consciously chooses not to be a price maverick. Peter: “We see a lot more value for our customers by integrating into their business models. Within our business, we value low TCO’s, high capacities, high accuracy, and far-reaching possibilities to customizing our machines. To our customers, this is much more valuable than low pricing.” Orders can consist of separate machines, but also of turn-key total solutions. A typical total solution is, for example, a complete production line with multiple weighing- and packaging machines, able to switch between products and packages that need to be processed, completely automatized and monitored remotely.
The fact that Manter does this extremely successfully, is made clear by the international interests in Manter’s products: no less than 95% from its orders is exported through an in-house sales team and dealers in 72 different countries. Peter: “In cases like this, it is always essential to stay close to your customers, even when dealing with international business. This largely explains our success. We know that the Asian market, for example, works on a much smaller scale; smaller agricultural businesses with smaller amounts of income. This is then translated into our catalog; for example by also supplying weighing machines and packaging machines that work in lower speeds per hour.” As such, Peter views customer relations management as one of the cornerstones of his business.
The other cornerstone is engineering. “R&D is also a defining point for our success: They translate the needs that our salesmen pick up in the market to new products.” Besides R&D’ers Manter also employs a lot of project engineers. “If we truly offer a total solution, we do realize about 60% of the project is Configure-to-Order. Even though we standardize more and more, it does mean there is still an Engineer-to-Order percentage of 40%. In that case a connection between two machines we do not currently have in our product range may have to be realized, for example.
To remain able to feed the continuously growing world population, food processors ask for automatization. In addition, the second- and third world countries are on the rise. In other words: a race is happening to provide the world with weighing- and packaging lines, and Manter means to win this race. Obviously Manter’s product range plays a big role here; Peter: We continue to invest in the best products and the lowest TCO, which we have grown to be quite capable of.” But Manter knows that this alone is not enough: “Provision of information has a big role here, you may have the best product, but if the information on this is not readily available you might still run into problems.” This is also the reason Manter has chosen Elfsquad’s configurator. “We sell complete installations, for which we need salesmen worldwide, and dealers on the road. But the days of a salesman traveling around with a suitcase full of folders and price lists is in the past. Things like this can no longer be put on paper: what is printed today will have changed tomorrow. Additionally, on paper you will not gain the knowledge needed to configure all of our products correctly: created without error, and optimally meeting the customer’s wishes.”
Another of Manter’s objectives is to decrease the amount of Engineer-to-Order. Peter: “We see ourselves as a streamlined, well-structured business. Yet, in our 22 years of history a whole kluw of products has formed, because structures were not streamlined enough.” A situation a lot of manufacturing businesses will recognize, yet not many will remediate it as thoroughly as Manter has. “A small team of engineers is cleaning up our entire product file. All sorts of questions are raised: “What should be done with this material bill?”, “Isn’t this the same material bill as that other one?”. By doing this, we are forcing ourselves to reconstruct our product structures.” Elfsquad works as a catalyst for the project: the configurator must be filled with standardized products, and as such it is up to the engineers to reach a well thought-out Configure-to-Order product package. “In time this will lead to a more attractive product range for our customer.”, Peter says. This may sound counterintuitive, but is actually quite logical: “In the short term standardisation will mean we can lower our delivery times, which is something the market is very much looking for at the moment. In the long term, we expect to be able to produce more efficiently, which will reinforce our competitive position. Additionally, we can add essential knowledge rules about everything Configure-to-Order directly to the configurator, based on guided selling. This way our salesmen and dealers will be able to provide customers with better advice.
In November 2016 Manter received an invitation for a meeting at which Elfsquad also did a pitch. “We are constantly looking for means to optimize our conduct of business, which is why we approached them.” Elfsquad’s presentation turned out highlight exactly what Manter was doing at the time: Manter had been struggling with analog exchange of information to their salesmen and dealers for some time. At the moment, Manter was attempting to add new structure to this matter but could not find what they were looking for. “Suddenly, everything fell into place: There is a limit to how much analog information you can pass on to someone. When you put all this knowledge into an online tool and utilize it through your salesmen, dealers, or even end client, you will be able to be very transparent in the possibilities you offer. As such, your product range will remain manageable.
Salesmen should not be bothered with all sorts of technical restrictions: salesmen should be able to directly inform the customer about the price of their ideal configuration, without hindrance.
The configurator has a dual functionality. The first is all about guiding salesmen. Peter: “To put it simply: Our salesmen should visit the customer with a well-substantiated offer, and this should be provided by the configurator.” The machines are complex, and the possibilities wide, but in the first place salesmen are what they are; salesmen, and not engineers. “Salesmen should not be bothered with all sorts of technical restrictions: salesmen should be able to directly inform the customer about the price of their ideal configuration, without hindrance.”
The second function is all about the transition of Engineer-to-Order to Configure-to-Order. Yet still, Elfsquad’s configurator is the catalyst in this project, because engineers need to fill the configurator with standards. But while the transition is progressing, Elfsquad also takes on the task of automatising for the project engineers. Tim: “Soon, we will reach a point where we are far enough in CTO that a big portion of our orders will be able to be processed solely in the configurator. Once we reach that point, we also want to parameterize models in SolidWorks with the data from our configurator, so that we will be able to make automated blueprints, and more capacity opens up for our engineers to improve R&D.”
Tim: “Setting up software is quite simple and intuitive; being a programmer is not a requirement, as long as you know the connections in your product structure. That is the sole requirement to maintain the configurator.” Earlier Tim had had experience with configuration software which functioned a kind of plugin for SolidWorks. “When using that package, you pretty much have to be half a programmer.”
If making configuration models exclusively consisted of programming, it would have been too much work and not user friendly at all: then you would just choose for the easiest programming option.
In Elfsquad’s configurator the setup of a configuration model is very much visually oriented, and this goes down well with Tim. “Most models can be set up with clicking a couple of buttons and ticking a few boxes. This is a big asset; because it is so simple and you immediately see what you’re doing, you automatically start making more complete models.” Tim explains: “Sometimes you’re asking yourself what the best way is to, say, add a question to your configuration model. You want to find a system which feels logical to the user. In Elfsquad, you simply add the question to your configuration model and directly test the configurator to see if this results in a logical flow to a user. If not, you’re able to immediately edit the configuration model and try again, until you have found the most logical option. If making configuration models consisted of programming alone, it would have been too much work and you would not have the customer in mind, but would have gone for the easiest programming option.