Wesbeam’s new e-portal for Design Centre briefs is carefully planned to be fabricator friendly – improving accuracy while saving time and reworking.

Wesbeam’s Design Centre has long provided a free service to engineers, builders and timber merchants, calculating the most cost-effective, accurate designs for their customers and delivering full working drawings, plus material and cost breakdowns in five days. It’s a popular option, allowing fabricators and builders to pass on a cost and receive a guaranteed accurate result. But it has had its difficulties.

“Fabricators are busy people,” says Denis Cullity, marketing director at Wesbeam. “But designs can only be as good as their brief. When a brief is rushed, important information can be missed. We found the biggest problem with the service, both for our team and our customers, was the amount of rework. And we knew how to solve that.”

The concept of an e-portal was born. First came a reworking of Wesbeam’s website, which is now even easier to navigate and an absolute one-stop-shop for everything you could ever need to know about LVL. Then Cullity worked with the Design Centre teams to create the most straightforward, helpful and foolproof set of questions to build a brief.

How does it work?

Wesbeam previously sent drop-down Excel spreadsheets out to clients in a bid to help them write briefs. Modified over years of feedback, these formed the basis of the e-portal, but now the process is even simpler and more intuitive.

“Say Smithee Frame and Truss is a new customer,” says Cullity. “They register and then go to the website and log into their e-portal account. The portal will ask them to enter the site address and wind load on the first page, then on the second there are a set of drop-down menus, which are very fast to fill. We’ve given them an orderly way to think through what it is they want to tell us.”

One of the advantages of taking the process online is that when the first drop-down selection is made, all the others limit themselves to options that will fit with the previous selections. So if you choose an I-joist for a floor joist, only I-joist sizes are offered in the next field. If you select e-beam LVL, then the range of sizes that are offered in that drop-down box are only e-beam sizes.

“Because we’re doing it online, we’re able to get more sophisticated in the consequences of selecting any particular box,” says Cullity.

The final step is to upload the plan, and to choose the level of optimisation Wesbeam’s engineers provide. Customers can choose to keep the design exactly as specified or to have Wesbeam come up with the most efficient configuration possible using the e-house software, which conducts a full dynamic and static load trace from roof to foundations through every structural element and every connection. They can even opt for a middle approach where suggestions may be adopted or shelved after discussion.

The true beauty of the e-portal is apparent on subsequent uses. “We know that many of our customers work with the same builders again and again,” says Cullity. “Each builder has their own way of doing things, and briefs can be repeated. So we allow them to save templates in the e-portal, which they can just select next time, updating details only as necessary.”

Smithee Frame and Truss can then log in, enter the address and wind load, and simply select their Builder C template to populate all the fields in the brief. If Builder C changes their way of doing things, it’s an easy job to update the selections and save a new template. “We’ve found a way to help our customers give us a really detailed brief with a minimal amount of their time,” says Cullity.

Customer-centric thinking

Stephen Dayus, product development engineer at Wesbeam, worked closely with Cullity from the perspective of the user. “Our starting point for this project was to put ourselves in the shoes of our customers,” he says.

“Our fabricator and merchant customers put a lot of faith in Wesbeam as business partners to ensure a fast and accurate turnaround of the floor system to incorporate into their total job supply. They trust us to uphold the design rules and specification that they choose for their business. This is a trust we take seriously.”

Dayus points out that the ease of the e-portal, combined with the Design Centre service, gives Wesbeam customers a market advantage, which is increasingly important in the current competitive climate.

Although the e-portal has been live since early April, the first month was used as a live testing period with three Wesbeam customers, who worked with the engineers to prepopulate the design briefs for their major builders. Any refinements discovered during the testing are in place for the wider market launch this month.

“The e-portal resolves the briefing issue for both client and engineers,” says Cullity. “And does it in an elegant, curated graphic environment. It’s unlike anything else currently on the market.”

Other new additions to the Wesbeam website include podcasts, case studies and a full technical library, which are now joined by online video tutorials for the e-portal. And favourite services remain as they were: expert technical advice is still available over the hotline and Wesbeam still delivers materials in efficient flatpacks, with fixings and plans.

For more, visit www.wesbeam.com or call 1300 356 460.