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York International  HVAC Manufacturer

York International Leaps Ahead of Competitors with Innovative CAD System for Sales Bids

York International, York Penn., the largest privately held company in the commercial air conditioning industry, has replaced an antiquated, time consuming procedure with computer based systems in local sales offices, to automate the bid preparation process.

Sales people now spend more productive time in front of customers, bid submissions have acquired a more professional look and sales volume has increased partly because of faster bid preparation. Importantly, errors generated by sales people are greatly reduced by using a standardized, automated system.

The Way it Was: Drawing Bottleneck

Commercial air conditioning systems don't come in a box. Every installation is individually designed during a lengthy bidding process that can run months from initial contact to customer acceptance. Preparing bid packages for submission, and adjusting bid packages in response to customer suggestions is often the slowest part of the process.

Engineering drawings detailing the proposed systems are the bottleneck. Customers use these drawings to locate piping, floor bolts and so on, before the equipment arrives, so the drawings have to be understandable and accurate.

Complex bids frequently require that specifications be sent back to the factory for rendering, adding weeks to the bidding cycle. Simpler drawing rendered in local sales office to save time tend to look homegrown, tarnishing the company's professional image.

York realized it needed to streamline bid package preparation in its 50-odd sales offices several years ago. "Our objective was to get sales people out to the customer, rather than doing paperwork in the office to prepare a bid." said Oriville Trembly, York's MIS Director. As a result, York designed a system using parametric software from The SYNTHESIS Company of Bellingham, Wash. SYNTHESIS automatically creates accurate professional engineering drawings directly in the sales offices.

SYNTHESIS is "a key link in the system," according to Trembly. "Because of this software, we have been able to automate the procedure of getting bids, including drawings, back to the customer."

SYNTHESIS creates electronic engineering drawing from sales people's responses to questions about the system open for bid. Drawings are plotted on a laser printer, ready to be submitted to the customer in minutes instead of days. SYNTHESIS is coupled with AutoCAD from Autodesk Inc. Sausalito, Calif. and Aion, an expert systems package from Aion Corp., Palo Alto, Calif. that guides non-technical sales office personnel through the bid specification and prices the proposal. Together, the system has dramatically increased the effectiveness of York's field sales force.

"We now bid many more jobs," Trembly said. "There's no doubt in my mind—this system has given us a competitive edge. Installing it in our sales offices has had a positive impact on sales. Our sales are up. We have eliminated our original problem."

Overcoming Burdensome Process With Technology

Before SYNTHESIS, York bid systems the way its competitors did. After an initial consultation with the customer, a sales person poured over the tables listing air conditioning system components and specifications to design an appropriate solution. "We might have five or six pages of components followed by 30 pages of exceptions to the tables," explained Andrew Hassara, York's Manager of Engineering Computer Support. "With such intense detail, the margin for error was large enough to make it possible to specify a system that could not be built."

The result of this initial flurry of paperwork was a detailed specification of the air conditioning system to be proposed. Still to be created was the engineering drawing that would accompany the proposal.

If time allowed, the entire package was sent back to company headquarters where a team of drafters were on call to draw the planned system. The finished drawing was sent back to the sales office and the sales person delivered the entire package to the customer—sometimes weeks later.

More often, the requirement was so urgent that the drawing had to be prepared at the sales office, by the sales people themselves. "We had books of components, in all the different sizes on stickers," explains Hassara. "We stuck them on a piece of paper in the order they would be installed, then we photocopied the sheet and sent the copy to the customer."

Occasionally, components were proposed in unworkable configurations. York's specification tables listed most of the invalid equipment combinations, but sales people easily miss an exception. A bad proposal that went undiscovered until equipment delivery could be extremely costly.

Building The New System

In 1987, York began designing a better procedure. "We involved our sales people at the very beginning," said Sandra Artman, Manager of Micro-based Systems. "We went out to sales offices for a day or two and talked to sales people. We brought sales people in to company headquarters and interviewed them ."

Results of those interviews were used to build a computer software system that answered the sales people's needs. When Artman's group go far enough along, they took pre-release versions of the system to the sales people and asked them for further comment. Suggestions were used to continue development.

The final step was user training. "We brought sales people from each of our offices in and gave them a two day training session," said Artman. "Many of these people had never seen personal computers before, so we took them from ground zero. We planned to ship new software out every quarter to update our product listings, fix errors in the tables and so on, so these people needed to learn how to install new software on the system, as well as operate it."

The finished package runs on computers installed at each local sales office. Now, bid packages frequently are prepared by sales support staff with little training in York's product lines.

Aion, the front-end software, takes the user along a branching path of questions about the proposal. The answer to each question determines what the next question will be until the air conditioning system is completely described. "It could be as simple as three or four questions, or it could take 20 minutes to complete. It depends entirely on what you are bidding," Artman explained.

Aion has access to all the tables of component prices, combinations and specifications that sales people had used by hand. If an invalid combination of components is specified, Aion tells a sales person about it when the information is first entered and notes why the combination is not allowable.

"Aion configures the unit and prices it, tracking any multipliers or exceptions to the pricing, including tracking special set up charges. Then it sends the exact configuration to SYNTHESIS and SYNTHESIS prepares the drawing using AutoCAD."

For each component in each product line, Hassara's team created a master drawing using AutoCAD. Dimensions that vary depending on customer requirements are assigned a name instead of an actual value. SYNTHESIS retrieves the master drawing for each component in the proposal, stretches its named dimensions to match bid requirements, and combines it with other components and options to create a drawing of the entire proposed system. This drawing is sent to AutoCAD where it is plotter on a laser printer. "It's so transparent that a lot of our people don't even know we're using AutoCAD." Hassara said.

"Basically, our new system works the same as the old sticker books, but electronically," he continued. "SYNTHESIS does all of the linking of components and calculates the overall dimensions and location of pipes. Then we plot that out. We only need one or two drawings of a particular piece of hardware. SYNTHESIS does all the stretching and positioning to connect the components together.

"SYNTHESIS has found a lot errors in our tables that had gone undetected for years. For example, one of our tables listed an overall length for a particular combination of components, but when SYNTHESIS drew the combination the actual length did not match the value in our literature. The tables were wrong."

Since bidding a job often means reacting quickly to changing customer requirements, the bid preparation system maintains records of bid requests by customer. "Some of these bids, including supporting documentation, are hundreds of pages long; sometimes the bidding process takes several months.

We might submit a bid, and the customer comes back with something he wants to change. We save everything we've done, all the revisions, so that we can call up a bid and just change a few options, then get a new print immediately.

"The whole object of this exercise is to quickly generate an accurate, professional looking package to send to the customer. We've received a number of good comments from our customer, and even from our competitors," Hassara boasted.

Looking Ahead

Trembly is quick to point out that the system, good as it is, is not perfect. "Our sales force has already pointed out things they would like to see added. They want the system to cover additional product lines. Our international offices are asking for the system, but that's more complicated to accomplish because they often build products we don't build in North America, " Trembly explained.

"We've even considered bringing portable PCs out to the field offices so we can prepare bids right in a customer's office. Usually a customer wants plots, however. So far it's difficult to carry a laser printer into a customer's office for that purpose," Hassara admits.

So far. But if York and other companies continue to find new ways to push existing technology to its limits, the limits won't last long.


Written by The SYNTHESIS Company

Authorized by York Inc. for publication. Please visit the York website: http://www.york.com