Engineered commodities

1 min read

​What is a commodity? It is something that is so standard, reliable and trusted that it is purchased without much, if any, consideration of any of its many technical or other attributes. And they are typically immediately available, too, via global online platforms.

Mostly this applies to consumer goods: CDs, DVDs, mobile phones, computers, electrical goods and so on. But even cars are commodities. Okay, they may not be immediately available, but all that technology under the bonnet is taken as a given. Can the car read out your mobile-received texts? That’s the important technical question today.

This is creeping further into the industrial field. Of course, companies such as Cromwell Tools, MSC and Buck & Hickman have been supplying industrial commodities for years, and online purchase of cutting tools and next-day delivery is no new phenomenon. What you can say is that both the quality and consistency of all such supplied goods have risen and are hardly in question.

Today, you would also be hard pushed to buy a bad machine tool. Inappropriate for its use, yes, but bad, as in quality and performance that are so variable that a purchase is a gamble, I don’t believe so. So, in the sense that they are ‘standard, reliable and trusted’, and many available on short delivery, some categories of machine tool could be considered commodities. And why wouldn’t they be? Most of them use the same globally-trusted components in their construction. (Knowing how to put them together is the art, I understand, while applications engineering, service and support are also important components of the supplier-buyer dynamic.)

So, we come to our cover story. Purchasing subcontract manufactured metal and plastic components via an online platform is not new. But what is new is instant guaranteed price and delivery information, plus delivery almost worldwide in days, particularly for metal parts*. It is push-button subcontracting. You must have trust, of course. But three-year-old Weerg boasts positive, independently-verified customer feedback displayed at its website.

The machine tools, cutting tools, workholding and even automation that sit behind this service are standard industrial goods at their core – Hermle machining centres and HP 3D printers, for example. It is the software underpinning the instant quote capability that is key here; that is the non-standard differentiator. So, Weerg’s service rests on the consistency, reliability and performance of complex industrial technical goods that are becoming, if not already become, commodities. And with this last key step, Weerg is making the service of making things itself a commodity.

*As we went to press, UK firm Malcolm Nicholls announced an instant online quote service for 3D-printed plastic parts

First published in Machinery magazine, January 2019