Helping Manufacturers Find ‘Mr. Right’

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Much like a map app for smart phones, users can search for nearby suppliers. Much like a map app for smart phones, users can search for nearby suppliers.

Matchmaking websites have changed how people search for a new love interest; the same basic concept is helping Indiana manufacturers spark new business relationships. Nearly 7,000 companies in the state are registered in a new online “matchmaking” database that helps buyers find Indiana-based suppliers—launching business opportunities. Replacing romantic candlelight with contracts and wine with widgets, the database aims to be a modern method to eliminate the cumbersome procurement process and help manufacturers make meaningful matches.

The Conexus ICON supplier database replaces Indiana Supplier INsight, a tool launched six years ago. While it grew 500 percent through 2015, the industry was clamoring for a better system. Conexus ICON—which is free to use—allows anyone throughout the world to search for an Indiana supplier according to keyword, location or industry cluster, such as automotive or aerospace.

Maintained by the state’s advanced manufacturing and logistics initiative Conexus Indiana, the online database was created by Bloomington-based 39 Degrees North LLC. It’s the result of a $2.7 million grant awarded to the Indiana Office of Defense Development (IODD) to help counteract spending cuts within the federal defense budget.

“One of the things we’ve noticed talking to [companies] in the defense industry is, there’s no good way to get a hold of [prime contractors],” says IODD Director of Operations Brandi Hughes. “Primes have to find suppliers to work on their contracts for whatever they’re needing—like a stainless steel gadget that a mom-and-pop shop might produce. This database allows for very specific searches, which is amazing.”

Hughes says, traditionally, it’s difficult for major defense contractors such as Rolls-Royce, Raytheon or AM General to find smaller suppliers. The tool allows firms to search for companies according to certain certifications or diversity classifications; government or defense contracts often require a certain amount of investment with small firms or minority, women or veteran-owned businesses.

“[The database] is another avenue to showcase the defense industry in Indiana,” says Hughes. “We have a lot of third- and fourth-tier companies in the supply chain for the defense industry—the ones who make the parts. We want to get them recognized and seen.”

Major manufacturers in the state believe the new resource will help find suppliers closer to home. Allison Transmission Purchasing Executive Director Pat Morello says the database’s GIS (geographic information system) mapping tool is especially valuable, because using local sources “makes good business sense.”

“If you’ve ever been travelling and you open up your map app on your smartphone and type Dunkin Donuts, for example, because you love their coffee—you’ll get these icons that pop up to tell you where they are,” says Morello. “It’s the first time I’ve seen this feature on this type of a database; you put in, ‘I’m looking for a supplier to make a certain tool for me,’ and all these bubbles show up on this map.”

Companies can also post procurement opportunities and businesses that match the requirements will receive notifications. Morello says Allison is constantly working to tweak its supply chain, and shipping parts is a significant cost.

“You know, every mile, how much it costs you to ship a component, such as a pound of aluminum or steel,” says Morello. “Using local suppliers helps reduce your cost; the closer they are, the less lead time that supplier is going to need. By having shorter lead times, you’re able to reduce your working capital, which reduces inventory we’d have here at Allison.”

The database’s creators are hopeful it will also help manufacturers around the globe find Indiana suppliers. Conexus and the IODD are planning a series of road shows to help promote use of the website and encourage all Indiana manufacturers to register on the database.

Much like finding Mr. or Miss Right, connecting with the right prime contractor or finding a supplier that meets a long list of requirements is no small task. Morello is hopeful the database can eliminate the drudgery—streamlining a previously painful process and sparking relationships that benefit Hoosier manufacturers.

Morello says the database will help develop long-term business partnerships with Indiana suppliers.
Morello says the database can help large manufacturers meet “diversity spend” requirements with small or minority-owned businesses; the goals are often associated with government or defense contracts.
Hughes says prime contractors having success with the database will help market the new online tool, even to manufacturers around the globe.
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