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On-demand service caters to design engineers

Posted: 19 Aug 2008 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:inventory management on-demand? Web-based service SaaS? engineers design?

Aligni has claimed the industry's first on-demand, Web-based parts, components, and inventory management service created specifically for design engineers. Aimed at small-to-medium-sized companies targeting teams of 1 to 25, the Software as a Service (SaaS) application is designed as a low-cost replacement for spreadsheets, handwritten notes, and client-based software.

"It's an on-demand vendor, parts, inventory management service created specially for design engineering teamssmaller teams where design engineers are at the core and may be slowed down with any issues in communications," said Jake Janovetz, founder and CEO of Aligni.

The tool provides real-time data about parts and components including design notes, CAD drawings, BOMs, inventory levels, information on vendors and manufacturers, RFQs, parts buying, and historical information for product data management (PDM). It also extends parts visibility across the design team including contractors and outsourced manufacturers if desired.

The service is designed to replace Excel spreadsheets that are used to store parts databases or quotes, hard-to-maintain bill-of-materials documents and custom Microsoft Access set-ups, Janovetz said.

"Since it's web-based it enables anytime/anywhere collaboration with folks that might be remotely located including vendors and contractors, and encourages good design practices by keeping engineers aware of the parts that are available to them to use already in the database and commonly used parts," Janovetz said.

It's also easy to manage because the service is externally hosted which translates into no extra IT support, no upgrades it's automatically upgraded, and there are no annual license and maintenance fees. Since it works with a web browser, it's also hardware and operating system agnostic and it's offered as a pay-as-you-go monthly subscription fee.

"We're trying to lower the barrier of entry for small companies and in order to do so we use a subscription model," Janovetz said.

Tailored for engineers
The service plan is priced as a monthly subscription fee based on the number of parts in the database and optional product features. The "Starter" version supports one user and 100 parts and costs $15 per month.

All other versions support an unlimited number of users and range from $39 per month for the "Small" company version supporting 400 parts to $79 per month for the "Medium" version for 1,500 parts, $99 per month for the "Large" version for 3,000 parts, and $199 per month for the "Enterprise" version for 10,000 parts. Web-based APIs are provided at the Medium level and above to allow access to data through custom applications.

Aligni also offers a host of tools to help with initial database creation and daily parts management. This includes a free migration tool for importing customer databases from client-based software or Excel to the Aligni on-demand service, and easy-to-use CSV import and export tools. The CSV Import Utility enables import of CAD BOMs in CSV format, and the CSV Export tool allows export to other applications.

The new software tool is said to improve parts management efficiency, save time, cut costs and leverage the anywhere/anytime collaboration advantages of web-based computing. For example, one beta customer, Jova Solutions estimates that the tool will save the company 360hr or more of engineering time over one year compared to using its previous client-based software and spreadsheets.

The Aligni application includes:

  • Parts and components: The relational database enables users to search, store, find, and manage hundreds to thousands of discrete parts, vendors, and manufacturers including vendor lists, filters, part alternates, detailed part information including compliance status, custom parameters, and notes about parts and assemblies.

  • Projects and assemblies: Enables users to build unlimited hierarchies of assemblies to make projects easier to manage and view. It provides built-in part alternate management, cost sheets to determine costs of assembly, a "Kit List" with complete drill-down on all parts for an assembly, "No-Load" tags to handle assembly variants without hiding information, and "Non-Material Parts" such as assembly costs that have full benefits of other parts but are not inventory based.

  • Vendors, manufacturers, and contacts: Provides the tools to manage manufacturer/vendors lists and parts available from them including a contacts database, Approved Vendors Lists (AVL), and an on-line ActiveQuote tool to manage ordering, vendor part numbers with buy-as quantities; and detailed vendor notes."

  • Inventory Management: Users can track every part, component, and assembly at multiple locations. Aligni tools enable engineers to manage inventory at multiple locations inside and outside the company; create "short lists" to show exactly what is needed to buy-to-build; create inventory "consumption orders" based on an assembly's parts list; store part history that can be reviewed at any time, and manage inventory transfers.

  • Quotes: Allows users to create RFQs and submit and manage vendor quotes within the parts management database. The quote management system includes PartCart to manage quotes and purchase orders, an email system for RFQs to vendors, Vendor Ticket for secure, unique access to RFQ and quote submission, quote correspondence tracking, quote creation and quote comparison.

Other tools include a part list comparison that shows variations between two assemblies, and an automatic site backup to an associated Amazon S3 account.

All Aligni service plans include SSL-enabled browser security. No one can access data without securely logging in. And, with role-based access control, users can see only what they are authorized to see.

Aligni provides a free 30-day trial for any of its service plans. The company also offers a "hassle-free" demo with no forms to fill out, and no email address or personal password required at www.aligni.com/dem.

- Gina Roos
Electronics Supply & Manufacturing





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