Prescription Lenses – A Customer Case Combining ERP and Configurator

Prescription Lenses – A Customer Case Combining ERP and Configurator

If you make 25,000 standard products and a few million customer-specific products, how long will it take to enter an order? “Thirty seconds,” says Bart van der Linden, Head of Research & Development at NKL Contactlenzen in Emmen, The Netherlands. “It’s that quick, despite all the choices! That’s how good the e-Con product configurator is.”Lens manufacturing is a unique world, bringing together people and technology to create something that might seem small, but something millions of people rely on without a second thought. Van der Linden was fascinated by this world when he studied biomedical engineering at the university. His thesis was about modeling muscles. Now he is under the spell of the lens and head of research and development At NKL Contactlenzen. Full of enthusiasm, he elaborates on the small plastic discs we know as lenses. “We make ‘prescription” lenses,” he says, “We have a receipt for success, because we are the market leader in the Netherlands. We produce rigid lenses, also known as hard lenses.  Our lenses are comfortable and healthy, because they allow oxygen to flow freely across the eye. That’s important, because the eye is tissue that lives and breathes.”

Growth through collaboration

NKL Contactlenzen brings its products to market through opticians, optometrists and contact lens specialists. Until recently, the company focused, so to speak, on the Netherlands as a primary market. NKL Contactlenzen has a strategic partnership with a Japanese company that has had similar success in its home market with soft lenses, which align well with the range of offerings from NKL Contactlenzen. Thanks to this collaboration, lenses can be marketed from Emmen to countries like Germany and France.  “We’ve grown, thanks to a high quality product that is completely tailored to the individual eye, says Van der Linden, adding that drawings for a new set of office and product buildings are almost complete.

That challenge: a few million articles

See, that’s good news for eye specialists and consumers. On the production and logistics side, NKL Contactlenzen has been challenged by customization issues—because almost no lens is the same. Van der Linden offers a brief sketch of the possibilities.

“We make rigid lenses with a strength of -25 to +25, with intermediate steps of 0.25. Each lens has a curvature on the inside. That ranges from about 7 to 8.5 millimeters, with intermediate steps of a five hundredth of a millimeter. Then the diameter again, which also varies but on average is about 9.6 millimeters. The most common combinations of parameters we call standard lenses—that’s 25,000 articles. All other possible combinations of parameters provide an additional several million articles.

Strategic choice

NKL Contactlenzen still gets a lot of orders by telephone or fax. In theory, they should all be entered correctly by the order administration. But how do you make that easy and clear with so many different standard lenses and many different parameters? NKL Contactlenzen did so with an important strategic choice. “We could generate items for all possible combinations of parameters. But then you’re spending more time searching for products than entering orders. Moreover, we make only a few dozen copies a year for most of the lenses we produce. We decided to make each lens a separate, new article.”

From order intake to delivery note

That decision came along with the selection of a new ERP package. NKL Contactlenzen did not want to depend on a solution that required so much customization. And as a growing company, he wanted to follow the path of large producers. Microsoft offered them a platform for growth and an ERP system that could meet their needs–Microsoft Dynamics NAV. The Microsoft choice offered another benefit that put them ahead of the competition; the e-Con sales and product configurator as an integrated add-on. e-Con was an ideal product configurator for a company that configures hundreds of new lenses every day.

“Our requirement is that an order should be entered within 30 seconds—and that’s happened!” says van der Linden. He sketches out the process. “We select a customer and start e-Con. Customer data is automatically linked to the order. There will be a question and answer-game (e-Con’s Guided Selling) for configuring the left lens and the right lens. e-Con know which combinations of parameters are possible and presents all the options that fit the chosen specifications.” At the same time, the configurator offers checks and balances that ensure lens fit within product capabilities—the compounds can be complicated, and there’s no room for error with such small series.  “We have a forest of ‘price-fixing, “ says van der Linden, “e-Con automatically links the right price discount to the order. 

While the order is still being entered, production can get started, “says van der Linden. “ CAD / CAM drawings of the lens are automatically generated, as are a packing slip and printed labels. And all that in thirty seconds. ”

 

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