As evidenced by the recent support for ETIM North America from both manufacturers and distributors, the electrical industry sees the value in finally having a standardized, codified set of product descriptors that can be used by all trading partners—from manufacturers to distributors to contractors and engineers with the electronic tools that they are using, across any exchange platform.
ETIM International is the non-profit organization responsible for the development and maintenance of a standardized set of product descriptors for the global wholesale industry. ETIM North America is responsible for promoting the ETIM Technical Information Model to the North American wholesale industry, and more importantly, adapting it to accommodate/reflect the products in North America, which can be different than those sold in other parts of the world.
The ETIM Technical Information Model is the international standard for formatting product information in the electrical, HVAC/plumbing, construction, and hardware sectors. By having a standardized set of descriptors, distributors should no longer need to normalize data coming from their assorted suppliers before loading it into their product information management (PIM) system and/or webstore.
“If ETIM didn’t exist, manufacturers would continue to send their own interpretation of their product information and distributors and end users would continue to need to modify and normalize each of their supplier’s data before they could use it,” said Mary Shaw, executive director, ETIM North America.
“From manufacturers’ internal environments to distributor ERPs and webstores to the many software applications for architectural and systems design, streamlining the exchange of information helps optimize processes, supports profitability and enables the correct products to be specified and installed,” continued Shaw.
The ETIM model consists of product classes, or families, with each class having a predetermined set of features/values or attributes/values. These classes/features/values are identified and determined by industry product experts who know the products, what they are, how they are used and how people search for them.
A key benefit of ETIM standardization is that it removes ambiguity within technical product data by ensuring the same terminology is being used industry-wide, and globally, to describe the same product attributes.
For example, in the model is a Class called “socket outlet,” with terminology that would not match what the searcher in North America could be looking for. In this example you can see how a “socket outlet” in the U.K. is a “receptacle outlet” in the United States but has different terminology.
Modifying and maintaining a data model is an ongoing process, and the responsibility of the ETIM North American chapter.
As new products come into the market, or modifications are made to existing products and/or new regulations come into play, the model is refined, ensuring that it is a “living model,” always adapting to the marketplace.
Similar to the way the National Electrical Manufacturers Association’s product manufacturer standards change, so must the data standards to accommodate those changes.
Whereas the model is free to use, a company doing business in North America must be a member of ETIM North America to influence it (terminology, translations, modifications) and participate in the Product Expert groups. Membership is open to manufacturers, distributors, contractors, associations and service providers. The cost of membership is a nominal annual fee based on a company’s gross annual sales.
Product Expert groups consist of ETIM North America manufacturers and distributors. Today, ETIM North America has Product Expert groups covering Power Distribution/Industrial Automation, Wiring Devices/Lighting Controls, Wire/Cable and Conduit/Conduit Fittings. Next year, ETIM North America expects to launch additional groups to cover Cable Management and Fuses. Product Expert groups are launched based upon membership demand.
“As a member of ETIM North America, companies can submit requests to have items added to the model,” said Shaw. “For example, a manufacturer member requested the addition of an ETIM Class, and all of its features/values, for ‘low-voltage dry type transformer.’ This is a product made for the North American market, by multiple manufacturers here, but it’s not yet sold in Europe.”
The ETIM model can be used, for the most part, in North America as is today, but it may not cover all of the North America specific products and/or features, and some of the terminology can be confusing, hence the need to refine the model.
“The North American product experts are currently reviewing the model for their specific product area, and as changes are made, or existing terminology is acceptable, it is being made available for use,” said Shaw. “However, until membership expands to cover the entire model—2,700 classes for electrical, and more product experts join and participate in the review, the work will be done in segments.” Today, more than 140 classes have already been refined.
In addition to the ability to influence the model, members get access to tools that ETIM has developed to help with the adoption and use of the model including version mapping, making it easier to upgrade to the newest version, file validation review, etc.
“The ETIM format is currently being mandated in Europe by several global distributors, as they are centralizing their PIM and ERP systems,” said Shaw. “It won’t be long until that mandate is issued in North America. Manufacturers should want to be ahead of the mandate and prepared. But more importantly, companies should want to make it easier for their customers to use their product data, and to make it easier for the end customer to be able to find the right product, the first time.”
For those who want to be involved, membership is open to all members of the North American industry, with direct membership (voting and change request privileges) limited to manufacturers and distributors. Membership covers all divisions of a company in any/all three countries (United States, Canada, Mexico), with an unlimited number of participants, based on their product expertise, but limited to one vote per company.
“Product Experts should be people that know the product, how it’s used, how it’s described and how it’s searched for,” said Shaw. “This usually means product managers, sales/marketing, distributor inside salespeople or purchasing, etc. This is not an IT role, but a Product Expert role.”
ETIM North America launched in February 2020 and in less than two years already has more than 30 members. IMARK Group is an association level member. Several IMARK Electrical manufacturers are members as are some IMARK Electrical distributors.
For more information, visit etim-na.org.