Scanning Your Perspective

By Jack Smith, Senior Editor November 1, 2000

Have you ever wondered how some plant engineers have time to surf the web when you barely have time for lunch? This situation brings to mind even more questions: How much time do plant engineers spend using the internet? Where do they go to look for information? For what types of information do they search? Do they make internet purchases and, if so, how do they feel about them? What changes in e-business internet usage do they expect?

These questions can be combined into one basic question: “How can you make the best use of the time you spend on the internet?” All good questions. These questions, as well as others, are addressed in an exclusive Plant Engineering magazine survey. This article summarizes the survey results.

Time you spend on the internet

Plant Engineering magazine asked: “How much time do you spend using web-based tools in a typical work day?” The chart in Fig. 1 indicates that the majority of respondents spend from 15 min to 2 hr daily using internet tools. Most of the respondents-34%-typically spend from 16-30 min daily using web-based tools.

Another 30% spend even more time-31-60 min of a typical workday-representing the second-largest category of internet time usage. About 15% use the internet from 1-2 hr, while 4% use the internet from 2-4 hr daily.

The survey indicates a significant internet usage among plant engineers. However, how do they use the internet as a tool? Plant Engineering asked how they use the internet to search for engineering and technical information.

More than half-52%-search for technical information on products, representing by far the largest category of respondents. The second largest category-14%-was those who search for literature, articles, and published information. There was another significant jump to the next two response categories: 7% seek regulatory data; another 7% look for software information.

The remaining respondents are distributed among product pricing and availability, 5%; educational and training information, 4%; safety and crisis management information, 4%; material safety data sheets (MSDS), 3%; and databases of tabulated information, 1%.

Which search engines you use

Plant engineers spend a significant amount of time searching for technical information, then applying it in many ways. But where do you look for this information?

Plant Engineering asked which of the well-known industrial search engines you use. The chart in Fig. 2 indicates that the majority of respondents-78%-use Grainger, followed by 73% using Thomas Register. Plant Engineering ranked within the top three with Plant Engineering’s Product Supplier Guide being used by 33%.

Manufacturing Marketplace Yellow Pages drew 18%, MRO Sources drew 13%, and IndustryNet drew 10% of the respondents. Only 3% said they use search engines not listed in this survey.

How and why you purchase over the internet

Despite the nay-sayers, companies are making internet purchases. Only 25% of survey respondents indicate their company has no current internet purchasing policy. Figure 3 indicates that 33% of respondents must request orders through the purchasing department in order to make web-based purchases. About 17% have policies not allowing purchases over the internet.

Those who are allowed to make web-based purchases to a specific dollar limit account for 13% of respondents. About 6% are allowed to purchase from preapproved internet sources only, while 5% must obtain approval of internet use before making purchases.

Plant Engineering asked: “Have you purchased anything for your plant over the web in the past 6 mo?” and “If yes, what is the total value of those purchases?” Although most of the respondents have not, nearly a third have. As illustrated in Fig. 4, 41% have made purchases totaling in the $1001-$10,000 range. Those spending from $501-$1000 were 23%, while those spending from $101-$500 were 22%. Only 9% spent more than $10,000, and only 5% spent less than $100. The mean purchase was $3780, while the median was $994.

When Plant Engineering asked why you bought over the internet instead of through other channels, 53% said convenience motivated their decisions. As shown in Fig. 5, speed, price, and the inability to find product through other channels accounted for 17%, 13%, and 13% of respondents, respectively. Only 1% indicated the decision to use the internet was because of a buying agreement. However, 2% said that all these factors influenced their decision.

What the future holds

Where will e-commerce go? How much will purchasing over the web impact your daily job? How much information will you seek on the internet? To gauge the expectation of change in e-business usage, Plant Engineering asked: “How do you expect your plant’s use of e-commerce to change in the next year? Figure 6 indicates that 48% believe their e-business activity will increase somewhat. Nearly a third-31%-expect it to increase significantly. Only 21% of respondents expect e-commerce to remain the same. Significantly, no one expects its plant’s use of e-commerce to decrease.

These data indicate that the internet is here to stay and that it can be, and is, used as a tool to help plant engineers do their jobs more efficiently. Plant Engineering magazine will report as these trends develop.

Internet issues and concerns

Many feel the internet is becoming a valuable tool used frequently during the workday. However, the web is not a panacea. Plant Engineering asked “What are your current concerns/ needs when searching for engineering/technical/information on the web?” Table I categorizes the responses.

Table I. Problems with searching for information on the web

Information inadequate55%
Information found is not complete 42%
Information found is not current 33%
Information found is not accurate 14%
Can’t find what I need 50%
Inadequate search tools/capabilities 42%
Search tools 30%
Search tools too slow 19%
Search tools too complex 16%
Data transfer too slow 24%
Inadequate data filtering tools 24%
Searches providing too much data 23%
Concerned about security 21%
Unable to access what I need 18%
Cost of information too high 9%
Other 1%
No issues 1%

Actions after searches

Plant engineers have valid concerns regarding how well they are able to use the internet as a tool to find valuable information. However, they are using the internet as a tool to make their workday more efficient. This efficiency is realized when they apply what they find on the web. Plant Engineering asked: “If you search for engineering/technical information on the web, what do you do with it once you obtain it?” Table II categorizes the responses.

Table II. Uses of information obtained from the internet

Use immediately in my work68%
Save for future reference 65%
Incorporate into a project 64%
Use to purchase products/services 56%
Read and distribute to staff/subordinates 45%
Use to find additional information 40%
Incorporate into presentation/proposal 31%
Integrate into a report 27%
Determine regulatory compliance 27%
Use as a training tool 26%
Incorporate into in-house database 14%