3D Configurator: Worth the Investment or Waste of Resources?

  • A 3D configurator is an interactive digital tool that allows users to customize and visualize products or objects in three-dimensional space. 


    Typically used in automotive, furniture, architecture, and fashion, these configurators enable customers to modify various features, such as colors, materials, textures, and components–and see the results in real-time.

    As products become more complex and configurable, the use of 3D configurators is rapidly spreading across industries that were previously reliant on human sales representatives. 


    But is a 3D configurator a good investment or a waste of resources that could be better spent elsewhere? It’s an ongoing debate we will attempt to resolve in this article. Read on for the benefits, the challenges, and the verdict.


    The Benefits of 3D Configuration

    Here are the benefits 3D configurators offer and why 3D configuration technology is skyrocketing in the manufacturing industry.


    Enhanced Customer Experience

    The customer experience is vital to the success of every business. But in crowded, undifferentiated markets where global and domestic competition is fierce, customer experience is paramount.


    A 3D configurator can elevate customer experiences from slow, boring, and stale to fast, engaging, and immersive. Manufacturers can create interactive experiences where customers can visualize lifelike product models and customize them in real-time.


    An increased level of engagement and transparency improves customer satisfaction and loyalty. Once you’ve got used to using a 3D product configurator, you never want to return to the old ways of endless part numbers and codes, fat paper catalogs, and tedious in-person meetings.


    3D configurators increase clarity as well as engagement. When buying complex configurable products, the ability to visualize choices and make fully informed decisions makes buyers feel confident and empowered, increasing their satisfaction and your conversion rate. 


    Because customers see finished products before they’re shipped, manufacturers experience fewer returns, ultimately bolstering their bottom line. 


    Customization, Configuration, and Personalization Options

    As we move from a world of mass production to one of mass customization, buyers are increasingly demanding personalized products. Manufacturers must adapt to remain competitive. 


    3D configurators unlock an unparalleled level of customization, letting customers interact with products, make changes, and watch their creations come to life on screen. They can choose from hundreds, thousands, or even millions of options and attributes.


    3D configuration increases customer satisfaction–buyers get products that perfectly solve their problems. Manufacturers can capture a larger market share by catering to buyers who wouldn’t be interested in their once-limited selection.


    Real-Time Pricing and Quotes

    Today’s B2B customers have been conditioned to expect Amazon-level customer experiences whenever they buy for business or pleasure. This means the old way of configuring a product with a sales rep and waiting for days or weeks for a final quote is no longer acceptable.


    By implementing a system like Epicor CPQ, manufacturers can seamlessly integrate 3D configurators with real-time pricing and quoting capabilities. This enables customers to visualize the impact of their configuration choices on the final price and conveniently download a quote once they are satisfied with their selections. In turn, this streamlines sales cycles, bolsters decision-making, and ultimately saves both time and money for customers.


    B2B eCommerce and Self Serve

    By integrating 3D configurators across various sales channels, manufacturers can expand their reach and enhance customer engagement. In-person meetings between sales representatives and potential clients can be enriched through the collaborative use of 3D configurators. Additionally, distributors and retailers gain the ability to utilize these configurators when assisting end customers, further streamlining the sales process.


    Crucially, manufacturers can also embed configurators directly into their websites, empowering buyers to conveniently explore and customize products from any location. With the growing trend towards eCommerce, incorporating such interactive tools has become a critical component for success in numerous industries.


    Boosting Communication and Collaboration

    Sales, engineering, and manufacturing teams often operate in silos, each employing distinct technical languages and systems, hindering effective communication. Seamless interaction between these departments is crucial for a streamlined engineer-to-order process and reduced lead times.


    3D configurators bridge the communication gap by providing a shared visual platform, unifying divergent departments, and minimizing miscommunications and misunderstandings. 


    Incorporating product constraints into the configurator validates configurations at the front end, ensuring that only flawless designs reach the engineering and manufacturing stages. This approach reduces the need for additional checks and human intervention, ultimately boosting efficiency and productivity.


    Lower Costs

    3D configurators enhance sales by streamlining and simplifying the steps in selling customizable products. This automation significantly reduces the need for human interaction and, in the case of self-serve options, can potentially eliminate it altogether. As a result, manufacturers can lower their labor costs.


    Moreover, virtual assessment of customization options eliminates the need for expensive physical prototypes or samples. This allows design issues to be identified and resolved early in the engineer-to-order process, preventing costly downstream repercussions and reducing the likelihood of dissatisfied customers returning products. 


    The Challenges and Drawbacks of 3D Configuration

    3D configurators aid personalization, engagement, transparency, and conversion rates, but what about the downsides?


    High Initial Investment

    In the past, on-premises 3D configurators were a costly investment, with expenses such as software licenses, development, and ongoing management and maintenance making them accessible only to larger enterprises.

    However, the landscape has shifted with the advent of cloud computing and the SaaS (software as a service) business model, which have democratized access to 3D configurators for businesses of all sizes. 


    Rather than building an in-house solution, manufacturers can now effectively "lease" a 3D configurator and access it remotely via their web browser. Vendors handle maintenance while offering a pay-as-you-go subscription model, making it a more manageable and less risky option for small businesses.


    Adoption and Return on Investment

    Promoting the adoption of innovative software in the manufacturing sector can present numerous hurdles. Given that the workforce within this industry is generally older and accustomed to well-established routines for product configuration and sales, employees may display a specific resistance to change. 


    Existing employees’ apprehension could stem from concerns about potential disruptions or a lack of necessary technical skills to harness cutting-edge technologies. Although upskilling employees is an option, it can be a costly and time-consuming endeavor with no guarantee that they will ultimately embrace the new solution once they acquire the necessary skills.


    Software Compatibility and Integration Problems

    Manufacturing businesses typically use multiple back-office and shop-floor legacy systems that can make integrating 3D configurators software complicated. Integration with outdated on-premises solutions can still be tricky. But at least you know that integrating with existing and future SaaS software will be straightforward. The key here is to use cloud-based 3D configuration software that integrates seamlessly via APIs.


    Over-Reliance on Technology

    Manufacturing sales have traditionally relied on high-touch interactions, with knowledgeable and trusted sales representatives building long-term client relationships over decades. 


    However, the increasing use of 3D configurators, particularly when integrated into websites and offering self-serve options, poses a risk of automating the human aspect out of the business, which could lead to losing touch with customers' genuine wants and needs. 


    Constant customer interaction provides manufacturers with valuable insights into market sentiment, customer preferences, and competitor behavior that are difficult to obtain through a web interface alone.


    Navigating this conundrum is challenging as the B2B landscape undergoes significant digitization. Digital-native millennials are assuming decision-making roles in purchasing within major organizations. They prefer researching the market and placing orders independently rather than interacting with sales representatives. This trend will only increase as Gen Z enter the frame.


    To maintain a strong connection with the industry, manufacturers must continue to engage with their customers proactively. This engagement doesn't necessarily have to be a sales call. It can be a gesture demonstrating care and commitment to customer relationships and a means of ensuring manufacturers stay in tune with the evolving market landscape.


    Verdict: Is 3D CPQ Software a Worthwhile Investment?


    In short, yes. 


    The effectiveness of 3D configurators becomes evident when examining the tangible outcomes achieved by manufacturers who utilize them. Take, for instance, companies using Epicor CPQ's 3D configurators, which achieve an average increase in conversion rates of 40%.


    The widespread availability and affordability of SaaS solutions have made the initial investment in 3D configurators highly justifiable for most businesses, considering the substantial returns they can garner.