January 4, 2017, 4:18 PM

Why a century-old manufacturer is forging into e-commerce

KUKA is firing up an e-commerce strategy to expand beyond its forte in providing factory automation systems to the automotive industry.

Lead Photo

KUKA AG, with corporate roots going back to 1898, has been helping to modernize factories for nearly that long. It introduced “gas fusion” welding technology in 1905 and industrial robots in the early ‘70s, becoming a major provider of automated robotics systems to the automotive manufacturing industry.

Now the Germany-based company, with more than $3 billion in annual revenue and more than 13,000 employees worldwide, wants to expand into new manufacturing markets like medical devices and electronics as it continues to develop new industrial automation technology and systems incorporating the latest in cloud-based software and digital applications.

And to reach more customers and build sales, it’s relying more on electronic commerce, says Andy Chang, director of product marketing for the Americas.

KUKA—a German acronym based on the names of company founders Johann Josef Keller and Jakob Knappich—is working with Apttus Corp., a provider of cloud-based e-commerce and contract management software to deploy its first e-commerce site early this year, That will be followed by a complementary online application designed to help customers as well as KUKA sales reps to configure complex robotics hardware and software systems before placing an online order.

The first product KUKA will make available through its new e-commerce site will be KUKA Connect, new cloud-based software designed to let client manufacturers manage their robotics systems from any desktop or mobile computing device. The company calls KUKA Connect an Internet of Robotics system that blends I.T. and O.T. (information technology and operational technology) to access and analyze multiple information sources to manage the operations of complex robotic hardware and software systems. For example, a KUKA Connect user can view on a tablet screen such information as the energy consumption and scheduled maintenance for each of dozens of manufacturing robots across one or more factory floors.

Among additional products offered through KUKA’s e-commerce site will be the online learning management systems designed to teach new users how to operate the company’s robotics systems.

Chang says the new e-commerce site, along with new digital marketing campaigns targeting manufacturing industries, will help KUKA expand its customer base. “Through e-commerce, we’ll be able to reach a broader set of customers,” he says.

KUKA also plans to soon deploy as part of the e-commerce site an Apttus configure-price-quote, or CPQ, system, which is designed to help customers choose among a large number of hardware and software options to configure a robotics system tailored to their needs. As customers configure systems with what can be many complex components, the CPQ system provides updated pricing figures and allows the customer to also request a new price quote. “A big milestone for us will be offering a full-featured CPQ tool,” Chang says. “To help customers configure hardware and software—that’s our bread and butter.”

Cloud-based data analytics that the new system applies to sales and how customers are configuring products, Chang adds, will help KUKA’s sales reps recommend products. “We can make sure we’re not missing an opportunity to provide all the information we can to our customers,” he says. “For example, if a car manufacturer is using particular robotic systems configured for welding and gluing in a German factory, that can be a good starting point for recommending best systems for factories in other countries.”

KUKA says it expects the new e-commerce set-up will also “significantly reduce the internal processing costs, delays and errors stemming from complex phone orders.”

As customers configure and order products, the information will update records in KUKA’s CRM software from Salesforce.com Inc., which is integrated with the Apttus software suite.

Apttus declines to comment on the cost of deploying its technology applications. Its “quote-to-cash” software suite also includes applications for managing customer contracts, providing an overall system for recording and managing the process from initially providing customers with a product offer to completing a sale and recording the revenue.

“We’re excited about what this new e-commerce platform can do for us,” Chang says. “We’ve been dominant in the automotive industry, but now want get into other industries we’re not involved with yet. This is just the beginning.”

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