Geo Week News

March 5, 2012

Manufacturer: Compatriot or Competitor?

03.06.12.tractor

There is a fair amount of interoperability when it comes to the various laser scanning systems. Most software can process data from multiple manufacturers’ hardware and while the ASTM E57 standard is far from “standard” at this point it appears as though it will be. Until then, ASCII files, PTX and PTS files will get data in and out of most software packages. However, if you really go after scanning in a big “soup to nuts” sort of way, you end up aligning, more or less, with one manufacturer. There are lots of considerations to make when determining the right manufacturer for you. Most have to do with hardware capability and the particular industry sector in which you anticipate working. 

 
Which is easier to ship: this tractor or a laser scanner?

But there is one other area that a lot of people do not seem to be considering. Is the manufacturer also a competitor?

I’ll be the first to admit that this question did not even cross my mind when I first got into scanning. Then about two years after I bought a scanner, a startup approached me about testing some of the hardware and software. After some long discussions, it became obvious that they were paying for development by providing services and their business plan included them continuing this practice for the foreseeable future. I remember asking, “How am I supposed to ever win a bid when I’m up against the manufacturer? You got your equipment at cost while taking a profit on what you want me to buy and most people will assume that the manufacturer knows more than an end user!” They didn’t have a good answer and I didn’t buy their gear. However, I owe them a debt of gratitude because they helped me realize that the lines between Manufacturer, Re-seller, Service Provider, and Asset Owner can get very blurry.

For the record, I do not think that any manufacturer is more or less guilty than any other. More than a few service providers were originally manufacturer employees and, like most of the rest of us, it’s hard to turn down a paying job. I would however, like to see some sort of ethical guidelines put in place. I’ll start by suggesting two.

  1. Don’t undercut your existing customers. Buying a full setup usually requires a lot of conversations between the salesman and the potential buyer. Many of these conversations include discussions about potential clients and uses for the equipment. I think that selling someone $100,000 to $250,000 worth of equipment and then taking information gained in those conversations to pick your next market target is underhanded.  
  2. Marketing should not take paying work from the general public. A lot of work is done by manufacturers under the guise of marketing. While I certainly understand the need I wish the manufacturers would aim a bit higher. Do something I cannot do because I do not have your resources. Think of other industries. I have IBM hardware, but IBM is not competing with me using their hardware, they are building artificial intelligence masterpieces like Watson. This easily gets them more press than taking a job from me by writing a better macro and it pushes the boundaries of what is possible for us all. 

The latest news on this front appears to be in the arena of hardware and software rentals. Both Leica and Z+F have announced rental programs. I do not rent my equipment out very often, but I can’t imagine that this will not have an impact on this portion of our business. We’ve always sold ourselves on service and expertise; hopefully that added value will continue to bring rental customers my way. I was reminded last week that most construction equipment manufacturers rent their equipment, but that has not stopped the rise of an entire industry dedicated to local equipment rentals. I hope this is true, but I have my doubts. It is a lot easier to ship a laser scanner to someone than for Caterpillar to ship a bulldozer!

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