At MakeTime we frequently run into issues around communication. Keeping our suppliers engaged and designing interfaces to make communication quick and easy is a challenge. Purchasers who use our platform want to see inspection photos, and updates as their order progresses. They had questions that we couldn't answer fast enough.
Has my order been matched with a supplier yet?
Has the supplier started production yet?
How did the first article inspection† go?
When will the parts be picked up from the supplier?
When will I receive them?
† first article inspection — An in-depth inspection of the first manufactured part, to ensure that the processes chosen actually result in a part that matches the intended design before the manufacturer expends the time, material, and effort to fabricate the remainder of the order.
In order to answer these questions, we added the check-ins feature to our website. You can view that project here. The feature worked, and actually allowed us to ask useful questions and provide data in return for both our Suppliers and Purchasers. It worked, but not nearly as well for Suppliers. Before we implemented this feature, we reached out for updates by phone. Asking a Supplier about a specific production milestone before they had reached that milestone obviously became a nuisance to the suppliers, and a waste of time for our customer-facing team members. In-interface updates should have solved this, but the updates weren't coming in any faster. Some suppliers ignored them altogether, and still required the phone call.
We weren't sure what the problem was. We had designed a system that worked well for Purchasers, who were happy to give us feedback on the parts they received, and appreciated getting shipping notifications — these didn't require the Suppliers to give us updates, as the logistics partner that handled shipping provided the data for these. But it was a bust for our Suppliers.
Then we thought about their environment. Machine Shops are noisy, a little frantic, and perhaps the most difficult place to concentrate. They're rarely equipped with good Wi-Fi coverage, which makes using a laptop outside of one's office difficult. Cellular reception was the obvious alternative, and if we were going to leverage smartphones, it seemed obvious to leverage their features that don't just work in a browser — the camera, for example.
Confirming that a project's first completed part has been inspected is great, but getting a photo of the part with the inspection report is even better. Phones make this easy.
Another time-sensitive part of MakeTime's process is matching jobs to suppliers. When a Supplier is offered a job, the faster they can review the offer and either accept or reject it, the better. With a mobile app, Suppliers wouldn't need to be at their desktop PCs to make this decision, and when an offer requires multiple sign-off's we can let them share a link to the other decision-makers, or they can just walk over to them and review the offer's details on a single mobile device. It's even possible to view the 3D Cad models on your device without leaving the app.
It's much harder to carry a full-sized PC.
I suppose that depends on how enthusiastic you are though. While our platform is great, it doesn't inspire that sort of enthusiasm most days.
Once our chosen Supplier has accepted the job offer, and provided a signature to seal the deal, they can order whatever materials they need for the job right from the app.
We'll track shipping, and cover the cost of their chosen materials. We've even leveraged our intelligent part analysis to predict the size, shape, and amount of material you probably want to complete this job. In most cases, Suppliers shouldn't need to customize their order. It's as simple as a quick once-over of our predicted material order, and tapping "Confirm Order."
Unfortunately, this design was never developed into a mobile application due to resource constraints and a significant shift in the organization's focus.