One area of focus for printed circuit board assembler ESO Electronic is rapid prototyping. It is the norm for the company to deliver fully assembled PCBs to its more than 200 customers within five days. Requesting each single component manually from different distributors, comparing prices and availability, and placing separate orders is only possible with lots of man power. A buyer might take several minutes on a single article alone to obtain all the required information from multiple distributors' online shops and clarify details by phone or e-mail as necessary. When a hundred components are involved, the research adds up to many hours. "Not only does that take an extremely long time, manual work adds no value at all, and the time could be much better used on strategic tasks", explains Dominik Ottenbreit, managing director of ESO Germany.
Moreover, ESO Electronic has long-standing business relationships with the vast majority of its suppliers. Such a positive attribute also entails disadvantages in relation to conventional methods of procurement, as buyers tend to immediately think of particular distributors to source specific products or product groups. This has in the past meant that other suppliers were not even requested to provide quotes for the components in question, even if they had in fact included them in their portfolio, and perhaps even with more attractive terms.
Self-developed inventory control system
ESO has developed its own inventory control system so as to largely automate its procurement, enabling it to speed up the process substantially and establish transparency in issuing requests for quotes to all relevant distributors every time. The program contains specially written software for each distributor and supplier that links to their various APIs (Application Programming Interfaces). Information can be transferred 1:1 in machinereadable form via this interface. ESO has thus established the basis for sending automated requests to a selected number of distributors. The ESO Electronic system is only half the battle however: the data interchange only works if the distributors also provide the relevant data in a machine-readable format, and have an API. Rutronik24 has been offering an API through the rutronik24.com online shop since 2016. After logging in or registering a new account if they have not yet done so, the only thing that users have to do is download the API manual and request a personalized API key. After entering the key in their browser, they see all the product details displayed in XML or JSON format: the unit and graduated price in various currencies; the daily available stock; the standard delivery time; the minimum order quantity; the packing unit and type (bulk, reel, tube); the housing/construction type; the description text for the product; and the Rutronik match code.
Pioneer in API use
ESO Electronic was one of the first Rutronik24 customers to use the API, and has been actively involved in its ongoing development. "It is very clearly written and kept simple, and the documentation is easy to understand, so we had implemented the connection within just a few days. If we had any technical questions, we always had a contact person available," comments Dominik Ottenbreit. In the beginning, however, the response times of the API were still relatively slow, at up to 30 seconds. Dominik Ottenbreit addressed the issue on a visit to Rutronik24 in Ispringen. Team Leader Field Sales at Rutronik24 Marek Fuchs recalls: "We received some evaluation reports from ESO, which helped us a lot in optimizing the system. So we were able to cut response times pretty quickly." Today they are usually less than a second. Within a few seconds, the purchasing function is provided with a list indicating pricing and availability from each supplier, showing the cheapest price highlighted at the top and the standard market price next to it for comparison purposes. This means that complete bills of materials can be priced very quickly, and the system automatically selects the appropriate suppliers. For project-specific and high-cost articles, however, manual intervention is still required, as prices can only be provided when the manufacturer submits the relevant information to the sales department. ESO Electronic currently issues more than 100,000 API requests on average every three months. And the EMS service provider always automatically gets attractive, individually tailored prices from Rutronik24. "Thanks to the API integration and the outstanding intensive support provided by the field sales and office staff, Rutronik24 has become one of our most important suppliers over the past three years," says Dominik Ottenbreit.
Next step: automatic ordering
Automated request issuing is not the end of the story, however. ESO Electronic already has the next step in its sights. Then the shopping cart generated in the ESO inventory control system will automatically trigger the order to Rutronik24 via the API. Until now, it has had to be entered manually.
Find components at www.rutronik24.com.
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