Anyone who knows the Dutch (Emmen-) based Manter International B.V., will state that this is a company with a vision. Manter manufactures weighing and packing equipment for potatoes, vegetables and fruit. Manter has created a leading market position by using new digital technologies. For example; Manter has been supplying its machines with the Manter Gateway since 2012: Software that allows their equipment to be controlled and managed remotely.
Manter’s dedication to digitalization is used to optimize her own organization as well. Although Manters product range has a large variety and tailor-made solutions are a USP, Manter realized that customized solutions can be standardized to create added value for both Manter and Manter’s customers. The choice was made for the Elfskot Product Configurator in order to facilitate the standardization in its sales channels. This made Manter one of our launching customers, with whom we cooperated intensively in the development of our configuration technology.
We spoke to Tim de Jonge, Construction Engineer and responsible for the implementation of the configurator, and met Peter Lenferink, CEO.
Manter supplies packaging companies that -in turn- supply to wholesalers and supermarkets. Compared to competitors, Manter deliberately does not position itself as a prize fighter. Peter: “We see much more value for our customers by integrating into their business models. This is why we have low TCO’s, high capacities, high accuracy and far-reaching possibilities for customizing our machines. Our customers require much more than just low purchase costs. ” Orders can consist of separate machines but also turnkey total solutions. A typical total solution is, for example, a complete production line with several weighing and packaging machines, which can switch in-line between products and packaging to be processed, fully automated and remotely operated.
That Manter is doing very successfully, is evident from the international interest in Manter’s products: No less than 95% of its orders are exported via its own sales team and dealers in 72 countries. Peter: “It is essential to remain close to your customer, even though you deliver worldwide. This largely explains our success. We know that the Asian market, for example, works on a smaller scale; smaller agricultural companies with less yield. We then translate that into our offer; for example, by also delivering weighers and packers at lower speeds per hour.” Peter therefore sees customer relationship management as one of the spearheads of his company.
The other spearhead is engineering. “R&D is very decisive for our success: Engineers translate the needs that our market is looking for in new products.” In addition to R&D, Manter also employs a large staff of project engineers. “If we offer a total solution, we currently realize a ratio of about 60% that consists of Configure To Order. Although we continue to standardize, this means that there is still a 40% Engineer-to-Order element. For example; this Engineering element may consist of a connection between two machines that has yet to be realized.”
In order to continue to feed the ever-growing world population, food processing requires automation. Moreover, the second and third world countries are emerging. In other words: A race is under way to provide the world with weighing and packaging lines as quickly as possible, and Manter plans to win that race. Manter’s product range plays a very important role in this; Peter: “We will continue to focus on the best products and the lowest TCO, we have become very good at that.” But Manter also knows that this is not enough: “Communicating product information plays a big role. Although you may have created the best products; if there is no information available, you will still not be able to sell them.” That is one of the reasons why Manter has opted for the Elfskot Product Configurator. “We sell complete installations, for which we have sales representatives and dealers all over the world. But the time that a salesman travels with a suitcase full of folders and price lists is over. We sell more than 20 types of packaging machines and 24 weighing machines, each with their own specifications and options. You can not put that on paper anymore: what you print today will be outdated tomorrow. In addition, you never get the knowledge on paper that is necessary to properly configure all our products: Seamless configurations and optimally meeting the needs of the customer. ”
Another objective at Manter is to reduce the share of Engineer-to-Order activities. Peter: “We see ourselves as a highly structured company, but in our 22-year history an enormous amount of article numbers has been created because structures were not streamlined enough.” A situation that many manufacturing companies will recognize, yet there will be few who approach the clean-up as thoroughly as Manter. “A group of engineers is cleaning up our entire article database. All relevant questions are handled: “What do I have to do with this bill of materials?”, “Is this not the same bill of materials as the other?” This is how we force ourselves to reconstruct our product structures“. The Elfskot Product Configurator works as a catalyst for the project: The configurator must be filled with standardized articles, so the engineers have to come up with a well-thought-out Configure-to-Order product package. “Ultimately, this will lead to a more interesting product range for our customer.“, says Peter. That may sound counter-intuitive, but it is very logical: “In the short term, standardization will mean that we can shorten our delivery times, that is what the market is now demanding. In the longer term, we expect to be able to produce more efficiently, which strengthens our competitive position. In addition, we can introduce knowledge rules to Configure-to-Order in the configurator on the basis of guided selling. By doing so, our sales staff and dealers are able to provide our customers with better advice. ”
In November 2016 Manter received an invitation for an assembly where Elfskot spoke. “We are constantly looking for ways to optimize our business operations, so that’s where we went.” Elfskot’s presentation turned out to be an exact match with what Manter was working on at the time: Manter has been struggling for some time to transfer knowledge to its sellers and dealers. At that time they tried to implement new structures and systems at Manter, but they did not find what they were looking for. “Suddenly everything fell into place: There is a limit to the amount of analog information that you can provide to someone. If you put all your knowledge in an online tool and you make sure you use that tool with your sales staff, dealers or even end customers, you can be very transparent in the possibilities that you offer. By doing so you keep your product range manageable. ”
The configurator has a dual function. The first has everything to do with guided selling. Peter: “To put it simply: Our sales staff must come to the customer with a well-founded argumentation. The configurator must provide them with that argumentation. ” The machines are complex and the possibilities are enormous, but sellers are first and foremost sellers, and not techies. “Sales people should not be bothered with all sorts of technical restrictions: sellers should simply be able to determine the price of the ideal configuration for the customer directly at the customer’s table.”
The second goal has everything to do with the transition from Engineer-to-Order to Configure-to-Order. For the time being, the Elfskot Product Configurator is the catalyst in this project, because engineers have to fill the configurator with logic and standardized rules. As the transition progresses, the Elfskot Product Configurator enables the automation for the project engineers. Tim: “We will soon reach a point in CTO that we can fully process a large portion of our orders in the configurator. When we are ready, we also want to fill parameterized models in SolidWorks (3D CAD) with the data from the configurator, so that we can make automated CAD models and create more engineering capacity for R&D activities. ”
Tim: “Setting up the software is pretty simple and intuitive; you do not have to be a programmer if you just know the links in your product structure. That’s all you need to know to do the maintenance in the configurator. ” Previously, Tim had experience with configuration software that works as a plug-in on SolidWorks. “With this package, you have to be a programmer, so to speak.” In the Elfskot Product Configurator, the configuration of a configuration model has been made very visually and that is a good thing for Tim. “Most models can be configured with the click of a few buttons and the activation of a few check marks. That is a big plus; Because it is so simple, you immediately see what you are doing. This enables you to automatically create more complete models. ” Tim explains: “For example; you ask yourself what is the best way to add a question to your configuration model. You want to find a way that feels logical to the user. In the Elfskot Configurator you simply add that question to your configuration model and you are able to immediately test the user flow in the configurator. If it is not sufficient, you simply adjust the configuration model and try again, until you have found the most logical way. If configuration modeling had all been programming, it was too much work and you did not start from a user perspective: Then you would have chosen what was the easiest to program.“