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The Catalog is Dead; Long Live the Catalog

MISUMI's online part catalog comes with a configurator for buyers to preview the part and download a CAD model.

MISUMI's online part configurator lets you view part specs as 2D drawings.

One-inch-thick printed part catalogs from trusted suppliers were once purchasing managers’ encyclopedias. Now that many of us have migrated to search engines and websites to find what we once painstakingly perused through mounds of paperwork to locate, these paper catalogs face the same dreaded fate of phone books — becoming makeshift doorstops.

However, some part catalogs seem to be enjoying a resurgence online. Having received a web 2.0 facelift, they also get slimmer. Suppliers like MISUMI caught on early. In 2004, in partnership with PARTsolutions, MISUMI USA converted its product lines — actuators, shafts, aluminum extrusions, linear guides, XY stages, and other components — to downloadable 3D models, delivered as an online catalog. The success of the project paved the way for parent company MISUMI Corp. (Japan) to engage PARTsolutions to produce its worldwide e-catalogs.

According to MISUMI, “The current MISUMI Metric catalog contains over 3,450 product pages, offering trillions of configurable parts” — a volume that’s impractical to print on paper. For customers in need of a specific part, MISUMI’s online catalog makes the search pain-free with an automatic configurator, allowing them to choose available options from dropdown menus and preview the parts in 3D before completing the order.

“We surveyed our customers, and the #1 reason they buy from MISUMI is online CAD configuration provided by PARTsolutions,” said Patrick Esposito, marketing manager of MISUMI USA. “MISUMI’s Factory Automation configured product downloads are growing at year over year rate of 33% per month, and file downloads are growing at 49%.”

In PARTsolutions’ estimate, to date, it has delivered “more than 24 million digital product files to MISUMI customers.” According to PARTsolutions, file downloads are increasing at 56% year-to-year on average over the past 12 months. PARTsolutions, which specializes in 3D part catalog production and delivery, offers a mix of software and services to help part suppliers create interactive online catalogs with downloadable 3D models.

In PARTsolutions’ own survey, the company discovered that “80% of downloaded parts are purchased for prototypes and for multiple units in production,” and “Design engineers save an average 4.4 hours per part/assembly by not redrawing manufacturers’ products.”

PARTsolutions distinguishes itself by making it possible for customers like MISUMI to offer downloadable parts in buyer’s preferred native CAD formats. In its own survey, it discovered that “85% of design engineers prefer part downloads in their native CAD format.”

MUSIMI is also testing out an assembly configurator, which will allow buyers to specify, preview, and order assembly components that are frequently purchased together. Taking note of the rise of mobile devices, PARTsolutions is exploring options to support mobile devices through its technology.

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About Kenneth

Kenneth Wong has been a regular contributor to the CAD industry press since 2000, first an an editor, later as a columnist and freelance writer for various publications. During his nine-year tenure, he has closely followed the migration from 2D to 3D, the growth of PLM (product lifecycle management), and the impact of globalization on manufacturing. His writings have appeared in Cadalyst, Computer Graphics World, and Manufacturing Business Technology, among others.


  1. Internet catalogs are transitory and the layout keeps changing. McMaster-Carr’s search engine is one of the best for easy stuff but you have to know the name of what you are looking for. Sometimes, like Misumi, you have to pick up the catalog.

    Also – the online catalogs assume high speed internet access which is fine as long as fellow employees aren’t using it for streaming audio and video.

    I’ll keep a representative selection of paper catalogs – they’re instant on and quicker to search for some items. The old catalogs may also contain design information left out of the online version.

  2. Most online catalogues are crap. And how does one highlite or write notes in them ?

    McMaster does have the best I have seen.

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