Alexander Dennis Limited (ADL) is the world’s leading manufacturer of double-deck buses as well as low-floor, easy access, midi and single-deck vehicles. It also produces coach and fire engine chassis. Alexander Dennis buses carry almost 10 million passengers per day in London and Hong Kong alone. The business was established following the acquisition of various manufacturing, marketing and after-market operations, formerly owned by TransBus International. The new business brought together two powerful brands that between them have nearly 200 years of engineering and bus building experience.
Mike Kerslake, Engineering Manager at Alexander Dennis, explains why the XpertRule eSales Configurator was chosen to build a configure-to-order sales system for bus chassis.
The ADL Guildford (UK) plant designs and produces chassis for our bus, coach and fire engine products. There are some eight basic vehicle types but each type is available in a wide range of variants, including lengths, engine and transmission options, left or right hand drive, etc. On top of these ‘basic’ variants there is a catalogue of detailed options – some like air-conditioning would be familiar to car buyers, but many are specialist features unique to our market segments. The result is a highly complex product range that lends itself to a knowledge-based Configurator for processing sales orders. A typical example of product complexity is fuel systems. Most UK bus operators like the fuel filler on the right hand side of the bus, which is our standard for most models. But a Left-hand fuel fill is available on some models (and in some cases there are other fill position options). Furthermore, some Bus Operators use specialised high-pressure fuelling equipment that requires special equipment on the vehicle, they may specify auxiliary heaters that require a diesel fuel supply, and some prefer stainless steel tanks to the standard mild steel type. Thus one bus model could require any one of perhaps 16-48 fuel system permutations. Some of these will be fully engineered, others available in theory but not actually developed by engineering, and others may not be technically possible. A final twist is that some fuel system variants may not be signed off for legal compliance in some export markets.
For many years ADL had been using a Configurator software tool for the sale of configure-to-order Chassis. However, this system suffered from a number of deficiencies which made it difficult to use and maintain and not suitable for our future needs. The system was effectively a stand-alone package with no integration with any of our other systems, so for example the printed output had to be manually transcribed onto downstream systems. The problem was compounded by a non-intuitive user interface, which was difficult to follow by our sales people. Another major problem with the old system was that it was very difficult to review the rules that had previously been captured from the engineers, due to the way data and rules had to be coded. Also, as the data and rules could be coded in different ways by different developers, the structure of the application became complicated and inconsistent. The system worked, but making changes to update it was very difficult! ADL researched the market for a replacement Configurator tool that would address those deficiencies as well as our future needs.
ADL selected the XpertRule eSales Configurator because of its ability to satisfy all of our requirements for a configure-to-order sales system. Its intuitive graphical knowledge representation enabled our engineers to capture complex product configuration data and rules rapidly and with relative ease, whilst maintaining a very high level of transparency, which enabled them to review the rules during validation and maintenance. The resulting Configurator application provides a modern specialist GUI interface that helped us to readily identify preferred configurations with ‘greyed out’ options for unavailable feature combinations, as the users makes their selections. It can also display helpful text for guidance and, in the event that a user selects an unlikely (but permissible) vehicle configuration, a dialog box can pop up that explains the technical implications and makes the user confirm with an ”OK” button if they wish to proceed anyway.
The ease in which the new eSales Configurator application could integrate with our various other systems was another key factor for us. The fact that the eSales Configurator could easily integrate with MS Word for the order paperwork to be automatically generated as an electronic document, rather than on paper, means it can be circulated by email. We’ve also linked the Configurator application to our Unix-based MRP system to extract cost information automatically – as soon as an order has been configured the latest cost data is visible for that exact configuration. In future, we plan to automatically upload data from the Configurator onto our MRP system and we’re exploring reading engineering data out of databases such as part numbers and systems registers.