Celebrating Three Decades of Best-In-Class 3D Product Data

Written by William Young

Digital content provider TraceParts specializes in providing three-dimensional (3D) product data for the manufacturing industry. The brand was founded in the late 1990s in Europe—now with an American office operating out of Cincinnati—as an effort to help computer-aided design (CAD) engineers and designers of industrial products and equipment save time and boost productivity while designing products and industrial equipment. This eliminated the need to draw and re-draw two-dimensional (2D) and 3D parts of components like nuts, bolts, bearings, and cylinders by hand using 3D modeling.

The first web version of TraceParts’ CAD catalog line was launched in July 2001. Since then, the company has accrued almost five million registered users worldwide, all of whom benefit from a data pool containing over 1,500 catalogs of industrial components. The business also features catalogs in over sixty native and digital formats in over twenty languages. Managing Director Gabriel Guigue describes the digital formats as part of the company’s digital continuity, in that each part in the database contains product metadata which can be used to extract and order parts.

The TraceParts platform provides a solution referred to internally as “completing the digital thread,” which ensures that a visitor to the website can access a company name, part number, and build material in each CAD file, to enable designers and engineers to download and locate parts globally and incorporate these parts into designs.

TraceParts pays close attention to two target customer groups in its day-to-day operations, according to company President Rob Zesch. The first group uses its product catalog services. Generally, these clients are industrial manufacturers that make mechanical and electromechanical products specified in the context of other components. The company’s catalog services provide world-leading solutions to allow these manufacturers to include 3D product catalogs on their own websites and on TraceParts.com and the TraceParts publishing network of over forty websites.

These solutions in turn provide sales leads for manufacturers that result in increased sales, as well as savings of time and money as automating the access to information eliminates the need for research and delivery through multiple channels.

The second customer group referred to by Zesch has five distinct categories: parts manufacturers, 3D printing / rapid prototyping / 3D scanning, computer hardware vendors, parts distributors, and design software vendors. To these groups, TraceParts provides digital marketing services by allowing them to advertise directly to website subscribers through banner advertising, email campaigns, newsletters, and more. This helps these customers reach their customers in a targeted manner, thereby increasing sales and company and brand awareness.

Guigue is quick to extol the advantages of digital marketing and explain why a company like TraceParts has embraced it to the degree that it has. Firstly, digital marketing simplifies the process of reaching potential customers, as it is generally more efficient and cost-effective to reach customers more precisely, whereas digital marketing can.

TraceParts has developed an interactive segmentation engine that allows digital marketing experts to work in collaboration with clients, to use the registration profiles and behavioral activity of active users to target customer groups by geography, type of industry of the client, or departments. This represents a unique solution to precisely target clients across all industries.

Guigue mentions that, with digital campaigns, one can measure and track a return on investment in real time, allowing experimentation with different messages and target groups without the need for high-cost campaigns.

The advantages of digital marketing have served the company well for the past two decades, with July 2021 representing the twentieth anniversary of the TraceParts web application. Across twenty years, the website has seen 63 million page views annually, consisting of 9.7 million visits with 3.7 million unique visitors to the site and nearly five million registered designers and engineers.

Guigue touts the company’s impressive international customer growth as well, with 45 percent of the business being done outside of the European Union domestic market. In North America, business growth has been significant over the past couple of years especially, with over one hundred catalog customers doing business across the continent. The company expects this number to double within the next two years.

Guigue explains that the DNA of the business lies in the openness of its data, in both input and output. The TraceParts smart publishing platform can connect to product information management and enterprise resource planning systems to update and maintain catalogs without human interaction.

Through the platform, customers control what, when, and how they publish on the TraceParts platform, along with a fully documented interface to index and syndicate catalog data without redirection to the TraceParts website. Essentially, users can create their own experience through mobile and web applications while using the information in the TraceParts data vault.

The company’s successes have meant that it continues to deal with rapid growth and massive customer demand. Zesch admits that it is a lot of work; in the past three years, the company has added over one hundred catalogs in the U.S. alone, with teams working every day to build content. Over thirty new team members have been brought on for this task since 2018.

A combination of data supply and demand has made big data expertise and artificial intelligence a challenge. These days, the market is even more dynamic than it was pre-pandemic, which is due, in part, to trade fairs being cancelled since 2020. “The demand for TraceParts has never been so strong,” Guigue adds. In the future, changes to the processes will be necessary to keep up.

The company will be accelerating its investment in research and development to keep up with the demands of its customers and will be boosting its sales and marketing investment considerably. TraceParts will be looking to apply marketing to parts manufacturers and to any advertisers that want to reach its substantial vertical audience.

The company requires an experienced sales team who are comfortable with building relationships and engagement more closely than possible through a simple call center. Guigue cites current market research which details that fewer than twenty percent of worldwide parts vendors already offer self-service mechanisms for sharing CAD models.

TraceParts’ digital marketing solutions, including its catalog and lead generation solutions, are targeting the remaining eighty percent of that market, and with a strong track record of over twenty-five years of expertise in that business, Guigue, Zesch, and the TraceParts team feel that the company’s place in the market is secure.



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