Online databases make the sourcing and supply of materials a less daunting task

As with all industries, digitisation is transforming the materials sector. The ability to identify, specify and source the right material for the right task without having to wade through endless documentation is one way that digitalisation is having an effect.

This is taking different forms, of course. One is that materials suppliers are now able to showcase their products to potential customers more easily than ever before. A particularly striking recent example of this comes from thyssenkrupp Materials Services, which is making rapid advances with its digital transformation.

The group’s materials experts are digitising its entire range and consolidating it in the world’s biggest virtual warehouse. With more than 3.5 million square metres of storage space at 271 operating sites around the world, Materials Services now offers round-the-clock access to more than 150,000 products and services through its new omnichannel structure, enabled by a powerful, self-developed AI (Artificial Intelligence) solution.

“Due to our holistic approach in the digital transformation of our business model, we have consistently and comprehensively created the important prerequisites over the last few years to enable the launch of innovative solutions. By digitally connecting our global inventories of roughly 150,000 products we can offer our customers the widest possible selection of our various materials and services and optimum availability 24/7,” says Hans-Josef Hoss from the board of thyssenkrupp Materials Services.

Whether in plastics, steel products, nonferrous metals, diverse materials and supply chain management services, thyssenkrupp Materials Services believes its customers want customised access to the entire range. Says Hoss: “In surveys and personal discussions we listened closely to what our customers want, and for more and more of them the ability to order our products and services however and above all whenever they need them is of key importance. Our omni-channel solution guarantees direct access to us and our products – anytime and anywhere.”

At thyssenkrupp Materials Services customers can place orders via individual customer portals, EDI interfaces, online shops and in the future also via external platforms. “We digitise all our items and offer information in real time. Whether it’s just-in-time or just-in-sequence, customers will be able to order in line with their needs using the channel that’s most convenient to them. The focus is 100% on our customers and their requirements. That’s the basis for increasingly smart interaction in the future,” says Axel Berger, head of digital transformation at thyssenkrupp Materials Services.

Positive experience with first customers has already been gathered during a practical trial. A new B2B portal as part of the omnichannel approach is already in use. It will go live in summer 2018. “After the official launch we will of course continue to make further optimisations and integrate customer feedback. Work on our highly complex omnichannel structure is an ongoing process as the digital transformation of thyssenkrupp Materials Services also is,” says Berger.

By starting to connect all its machinery last year with, thyssenkrupp Materials Services reached a key milestone in its digital transformation along the entire value chain. “To profit sustainably from the advantages of digitalisation, it’s important to take a holistic approach. In addition to new, smart solutions in procurement – such as our new cloud-based purchasing platform – and sales, which are now served via our omnichannel strategy and the virtual warehouse, the intelligent digitalisation of operating processes is also of key importance,” says Hoss.

A different type of digital offering can be found in Matmatch, a free database that allows users to input key qualities of what they need and then get paired up with a provider.

Based in Munich, Matmatch was founded with one mission in mind – to develop a free-to-use platform for engineers to find the right materials for their projects and connect them with suppliers that carry those materials.

Matmatch has two users in mind – engineers and vendors. For engineers, Matmatch offers an unparalleled database of information on over 70,000 different materials, including over 12,000 varieties of sheet, rod, and cast aluminium, with more materials added to the database regularly. Matmatch partnered with aluminium industry expert Dr Werner Hesse among other data providers to build this one-of-a-kind database. In addition, Matmatch has a team of in-house materials experts working to curate the database on a day-to-day basis, ensuring that the information provided is as accurate as possible.

For vendors, Matmatch provides the ability to put your brand in front of exactly the kind of people who are in the market for what you are selling. Matmatch’s algorithms identify search terms that correlate with your products and, when those algorithms identify a search that meets those criteria, the search engine unobtrusively but prominently features your brand name on the results page.

Matmatch has gone to great lengths to ensure that its one-of-a-kind database serves its customers in as thorough and complete a manner as possible.

The platform is completely free for buyers to use, and offers a user-friendly interface that allows for searches by material name, the properties needed for a material, the application in which the searcher intends to use a material or by supplier name. Additionally, users may utilise the platform’s ‘project’ feature, which allows registered users to save materials he or she found via the search engine and share them both on the platform and off it.

Community is a key aspect of the platform. In addition to sharing projects, users can comment on materials and share their knowledge with other people looking for those materials. For example, if someone knows that a certain type of aluminium is suitable for building satellite components, they can share this with other people looking for the same thing.

Engineering Materials

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