Innovators in Industrial Ecommerce



If you haven’t noticed, in the past 20 years, industrial e-commerce has been growing exponentially.

For one, you have the growth of the e-commerce industry, which is backed by industrial facilities such as warehouses and fulfillment centers. The Urban Land Institute projects that 30 percent of all retail shopping will happen online by 2025, which has contributed to a boom in warehouse construction across the United States.

Second, more and more industrial suppliers are starting to launch their own e-commerce sites, making online ordering more and more prevalent, particularly for the MRO market. In fact, Modern Distribution Management reports that 70 percent of industrial distributors are in the process of developing e-commerce solutions.

For these companies, it’s not just a matter of taking catalogs and ordering systems online. They need to do it well. Not only to beat the competition, but to meet established expectations about e-commerce ease and functionality, which have been drilled into nearly everyone on the Internet by their experiences with consumer e-commerce sites such as Amazon (which posted $88.9 billion in revenue in 2014 and recently joined the industrial e-commerce race with AmazonSupply).

What, then, are the criteria for doing industrial e-commerce well? And who is paving the way for best practices?

If you’d like to read up on what we consider the seven critical areas that all e-commerce sites need to attend to — data, search, pricing, photography, filters, content, and remarketing — please download our eBook, “Update Your Online Catalog Already!”

But for a fair assessment of who’s doing industrial e-commerce well and who you should be watching, read on. Below we take a closer look at three leaders in the space that every industrial e-commerce business needs to keep an eye on: AmazonSupply, Fastenal, and Grainger.


The genesis of AmazonSupply can be traced back to 2005 when Amazon acquired, a self-described “hardware store for research and development.” AmazonSupply officially launched in April 2012 and is still in Beta. During that time, it has gone from an initial catalog of 500,000 items to 2.2 million, offering everything from power tools to industrial cleaning supplies.

The ramifications of AmazonSupply are immense. For one, there is the instant Amazon brand recognition. Too, AmazonSupply integrates with other Amazon programs such as Amazon Prime and Amazon Vendor Central, and rather seamlessly adapts the familiar Amazon shopping experience to the online industrial marketplace.

Something new, though, for Amazon is encouraging users to order by phone. Right there, at the top of the site, is a 1-800 number that it will be difficult for anyone to miss. It seems that Amazon research confirms what many already know: A lot of industrial business still happens on the phone.

Still in Beta, AmazonSupply continues to work out its kinks. For example, you’ll find the occasional versioned, duplicate listing (e.g., the DeWALT D28114 angle grinder). But the smooth e-commerce experience you’ve come to expect from Amazon is there. And the site makes a point of actively soliciting customer feedback. Links asking for suggestions on how to improve images, product specifications, and product descriptions abound.

Amazon dives into industrial e-commerce


SVMicrowave now ships custom cable assemblies. These cables are built to order and ship within 10 days. Orders must be placed on their website using their new interactive application. Credit cards and purchase orders (for existing customers) will be accepted.

SV is has designed a state of the art the new interactive Rapid Response Cable Assembly application which will be accessible from the Product tab on their website. The new program allows you to build a custom RF cable assembly from a variety of standard connector series and three cable types. After specifying the connectors, cable type and length, you will receive the part number, data drawing, technical specifications (including impedance, VSWR and frequency) and pricing. Delay matching is also available.


Like Fastenal, Grainger integrates physical storefronts with online sales. It’s been in business since 1927 and has over 700 regional stores in the United States.

In 2013, Grainger posted $9.4 billion in revenues with $3 billion in e-commerce sales — an area the company has been aggressively growing since it launched in 1995. While Grainger undoubtedly has the most developed e-commerce platform of any traditional industrial distributor, its massive inventory (1.2 million items) has already been dwarfed by AmazonSupply (2.2 million items).

When it comes to the e-commerce experience, Grainger does two things really well. For one, it’s simplified its site’s user experience, making everything much more intuitive than say, Fastenal. The same basic features are there (e.g., store locator, search, value-added services) but they are easier to find and interact with.

Second, Grainger is really good at marketing itself and its products. When you visit, you don’t just see products — you are presented with Grainger-specific discounts and seasonal promotions. Moreover, if you leave the site without converting, you’ll likely be followed by a series of Grainger remarketing ads. (Side note: Read about the success of Grainger’s Google remarketing program here.)

An industrial e-commerce banner ad from promoting a sale on the site.

The Future of Industrial E-Commerce

Despite the massive growth in industrial e-commerce, Internet Retailer estimates that there is still a $1 trillion B2B e-commerce market that remains untapped. That means that there is a staggering level of opportunity in this field, even with giants like AmazonSupply, Fastenal, and Grainger gobbling up market share.

If you have a business that’s already at the industrial e-commerce table or is poised to take a bite out of this enormous pie, we suggest you keep your eye on the three giants mentioned above as they battle over the bulk of online industrial orders, establish industrial e-commerce trends, and help set industrial customer expectations.

But if you’re looking for more specific advice and a few easy tips that can make an immediate impact on your e-commerce bottom line, we encourage you to download our eBook, “Update Your Online Catalog Already!” It outlines the “seven deadly catalog sins” of industrial e-commerce and offers solutions for how to avoid them.


CAMbot a low cost CNC router kit

I am currently involved in running a Kickstarter campaign offering low cost and easy to assemble CNC router kits. You can find the project at In this article I hope to give you more insight into our story, why we decided to even do the project and about the campaign itself.

It was during my engineering degree that I got my first exposure to the world of CNC. At my university they had some really powerful and expensive CNC machines like the kind used in heavy industry – I was instantly hooked!

My partner and I were interested in designing and making products that we could sell online and at local markets, such as customised phone cases etc. We considered 3D printing but at the personal desktop level you are pretty restricted to what materials that you can use. This is what initially made us go down the CNC router path.

After research we found that all the kits and machines available were just too expensive for us. Also they seemed to be aimed at people with a garage etc. We were just two students staying in a small cramped apartment. CAMbot is specifically focused on being low cost and very easy to construct. From first hand experience we know how frustrating it is when you need special tools, extra bits of equipment on top of what you get in the kit or a dedicated space to work. Seen as we found it tough to get going we have decided to offer kits for people facing similar challenges.

From a design point of view, CAMbot is completely made from pre-cut sizes of wood. By using these standard lengths we reduce the amount of cutting. What cutting and drilling there is can be done on our CNC router. The remaining parts are all standard components that we can buy in bulk; this is how we can offer the kits at such a competitive price.

A lot of work has gone into simplifying the design as much as possible. This means that it is really intuitive to assemble CAMbot, you just have to screw a few things together. You still get the satisfaction of assembling something, however it is fun and not stressful – we have done the stressing for you. The electronics comes in a state where you can just plug and play. Literally anyone can assemble CAMbot.

This is our first crowdfunding campaign and it is proving to be an excellent learning experience. In hindsight it would have been wiser to establish a following beforehand. We chose Kickstarter just because it is a more recognizable name, the major drawback being that we don’t get anything if we don’t reach our target. Our marketing strategy has been to employ social media, contact relevant blogs and websites and also to release interesting content on our YouTube channel. We are giving it our best shot. We strongly feel that we are offering something of excellent value so we remain confident that our efforts will pay off eventually.

Any support you could offer would be a big help.

Kind regards

Karl Blacker

Will the Real Arduino Please Stand Up?

The original founders of Arduino—the popular programmable DIY electronics kit—appear to have had a falling out. And that might bring about what could be the world’s first open-source hardware fork, a sort of developer schismthat’s much more common in the software world.

At the moment, two different websites display the Arduino logo and branding. There’s, Arduino’s original site. Now there’s also, which prominently displays the text “the adventure continues,” as if it has been passed the torch. is already selling the latest Arduino board model, Zero Pro. Meanwhile, displays the Zero as “coming soon.” It’s evident that the two websites are operating separately under different guidance.

I’ve attempted to get comment from Arduino for the past week, to no avail. All I got back was a request not to publish an article until Arduino founder, inventor, and CEO Massimo Banzi delivers a statement. Banzi has spoken to the Italian press to refute rumors that he was no longer in charge of the project, but has kept quiet since.

Fork That Hardware

Arduino, of course, isn’t just software code—it’s also a physical microcontroller that runs that code. In order to fork that, both parties would need to have some control over the manufacture of the boards.

Unsurprisingly, in this case they do. Arduino co-founder Gianluca Martino set up a company that has been the main supplier of Arduino products for years. Martino’s company has now changed its name from Smart Projects to Arduino, and launched the site to go with it.

Needless to say, this decision hasn’t gone over well with some of the other founders. Two legal proceedingsa trademark case in the U.S. and a lawsuit in Italy—are currently underway to determine who gets to use the Arduino trademark. In the U.S. case, filed in January 2015 and publicly available on the website of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, both companies claim to have been using the Arduino trademark before that other.

As the process continues, makers will still be able to get their hands on Arduino boards, as neither side has ceased production. While Martino is in talks with Panasonic and Bosch to expand Arduino board manufacturing, Banzi is speaking with Intel and has made public his designs to expand Arduino manufacturing even to China.

This possible fork indicates an increasing amount of money to be made in the hardware hacking Internet of Things sector, a potential fortune big enough to drive founders apart. A hardware fork can’t be good for the Arduino brand, but it’s clear from all the lawyering that the schism runs deep.

Looking for a New DIY 3D Printer to Build? Check Out the iTopie’s New Design

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3dp_itopie_repraplogoWhile more and more people explore and adopt 3D printers and 3D printing technology, they tend to buy popular, pre-manufactured machines like MakerBots and Printrbots.

But the roots of the 3D printing industry have always been in the maker community, going back as far as 2005 when the RepRap Project was founded by Adrian Bowyer. The goal was to develop an open source design for an inexpensive and self-replicating FDM 3D printer, and over the years it has produced hundreds of variant designs, upgrades and evolutions including the original Darwin design, as well as the popular Mendel and Prusa Mendel variants.3dp_itopie_main

When Swiss maker Sébastien Mischler decided to create a RepRap 3D printer workshop at his local maker community, he naturally looked to a pre-existing RepRap design. He started with the Prusa i3, which is a very affordable and widely adopted design, making it relatively easy to source parts and assemble. But he quickly noticed what he considered drawbacks to the design, notably an unstable Z axis. He tried to stabilize the axis with some simple threaded rods, but he found the need to constantly adjust, and readjust them frustrating and ultimately a waste of time. So he decided that since the i3 design required CNC milled parts anyway, he may as well take full advantage and machine as many of his own parts as he could.3dp_itopie_threadedrods

Having already built several variations of RepRap designs Mischler set out to create his own 3D printer that would solve all of the problems that he found troublesome. He started by seeking out videos, images and build logs of all types of 3D printers. He decided that he wanted to keep the design simple, focus on rigidity and avoid any 3D printed parts that could be fully integrated into the design of the printer’s frame. Once he had all of his ideas and research material organised, he did a hand drawn sketch of the design for his iTopie 3D printer and then ultimately turned to SketchUp. He designed the CNC components and generated the G-Code using CamBam.

“If you have access to a CNC, [the iTopie costs] approximately $400. But it can be less or more, depending on the desired final quality. Today there are a lot of providers, take your time to choose yours, looking for information on [the RepRap forums] and ask if you can not find, and eventually share your sources if you find better,” Mischler explained.

3dp_itopie_bedThe iTopie RepRap 3D printer has a generous envelope of 390 x 440 x 440 mm with a respectable print volume of 200 x 200 x 230 mm. Mischler said that he generally prints at a printing speed between 60mm/s and 80mm/s for any high-quality parts, and while it can reach higher speeds the extruder tends to not be able to keep up on anything over 100mm/s. He said that the iTopie is capable of easily printing layers with a resolution of 0.2mm down to 0.1mm. He is certain that it could handle even higher resolutions, but it would slow down the print considerably so he’s found himself too impatient to test it. However, Mischler believes that printing speeds and resolutions are a lot more difficult to determine than most printer manufacturers lead you to believe.

3dp_itopie_side“Resolution, speed, etc., too often I read nonsense about it. I must be honest and say that it depends on too many factors. The quality of materials is essential and all I can tell you for sure is that you have nothing good with low-end hardware. This does not mean it does not work! it just mean you would not have the same results,” Mischler said.

Overall Mischler said that he is quite happy with how his iTopie 3D printer came out. He says that its strengths lay in a simplified assembly design that automatically aligns, requires fewer 3D printed pieces resulting in more stability, and a construction time that can be counted in hours rather than days.

We first heard about the iTopie back in December, and since then Mischler has decided to “increase the visibility” of the printer by posting its files on Thingiverse, which he accepted as having been “inevitable” for the design. The machine looks sturdier now with its machined housing, as well.

You can read more about his 3D printer design and find all the downloadable files over on Thingiverse and then head over to our iTopie RepRap 3D Printer forum thread at to let us know your thoughts.

DIY Surgery: The Future Of Medicine?


In 2015, if you need an operation, you go to a hospital. The Open Surgery Machine imagines a future in which getting an appendectomy is as DIY as downloading a template from Thingsverse and firing up your MakerBot: an open-source robot surgeon in a box that is capable of performing simple, low-cost operations safely and with little doctor intervention.

Frank Kolkman is a Dutch-born interaction designer who recently graduated from London’s Royal College of Art. He tells me that the inspiration for the Open Surgery Machine wasn’t sci-fi, but YouTube. “America has the most advanced health care industry in the world, but there is this growing group of middle-class U.S. citizens who have no access to it, and YouTube is currently filling this gap,” he says. “Mainly uninsured Americans are sharing videos on how to perform hacks on yourself as an alternative to professional care.” (You can see some of these videos here, although you’ll want a strong stomach to click that link.)

Conceptually, Kolkman’s Surgery Robot explores the idea of combining DIY medical pragmatism with the more capable innovations found in medical industries. It’s designed to perform simple surgeries like laparoscopic surgery, in which three or more small keyhole incisions are made to allow a surgeon to operate inside a part of a patient’s body after inflating it with CO2, reducing the risk of infection. That would allow the DIY Surgery Robot to perform (again, theoretically—the concept is non-functional) appendectomies, prostate operations, hysterectomies, and also colon and general inspections. These procedures are already often performed with the assistance of robotic surgery systems; the DIY Surgery Robot would just take those doctors out of the equation.

Ultimately, the Surgery Robot is only intended as the focus point of a thought experiment: What if there was just as robust an online community of hobbyists, engineers, and designers for alternative health care products as there are for 3-D printer and CNC milling machines? “I hope that by challenging the socioeconomic frameworks the current health care systems operate within, where health care is valued in terms of money and labor, my project raises questions about the social value of health care by showing an alternative approach,” Kolkman says.

But the designer is also frank about the fact that he thinks it’s unlikely that something like the DIY Surgical Robot could get off the ground. Even taking the legal and liability aspects of the project out of the equation, patents would likely kill it as a commercial product in the incubation stage: most of the base technologies relied upon for robot surgery are thoroughly patented and rigorously guarded.

You can read more about Kolkman’s Open Surgery project here

Alan Turing 6 Instructions

As MIT professor John Guttag explains, Interesting he originally studied english in undergrad.

Original 6 instructions created by the conflicted and emotional Alan Turing. Most of which are the basis for our text editors today. Instructions can be thought of as functions or methods, and most text editors operate very much the same

Right: Move the Machine’s head to the right of the current square
Left: Move the Machine’s head to the left of the current square
Print: Print a symbol on the current square
Scan: Identify any symbols on the current square
Erase: Erase any symbols presented o the current square
Nothing: Do nothing

A 3D CAD Solution for the Rest of Us

CNC is not a cheap proposition.  The mills are expensive.  The materials can be expensive.  And good software can be expensive.  So while we can’t do much about the first two, I’ve been thinking about how to attack that third one – the software.

I’ve looked at the alternatives and there are many.

I started with the premise that 2D AutoCAD is not sufficient anymore.  Not, that there’s anything wrong with AutoCAD – I’ve used it for years and I’m pretty proficient.  But the advantages of 3D are pretty significant and if it can be had for a reasonable price, then it would be a big improvement for me.

There are plenty of free or inexpensive 3D CAD systems (see Peter Eland’s site for a list:, but I’ve always been a bit leery of shareware.  The documentation is lousy.  The support is non-existent.

A few weeks ago, I came across another alternative.  Autodesk now has a product called the AutoCAD Inventor LT Suite which includes both an up to date copy of AutoCAD LT (mine is really old) and a copy of Inventor LT.  The latter is a light version of Autodesk Inventor – the $5,000 CAD system that I would buy if money grew on trees.

Autodesk Inventor LT Suite includes both Inventor LT and AutoCAD LT

As far as I can tell, the only things that make Inventor LT different from the $5000 seat of Inventor are that (1) it only handles single parts, and (2) there are no partner applications that integrate with it (no API).  But I don’t need any of those things for my projects.  I just need a good 3D part modeler that can output model data into a format that I can convert into g-code.  Inventor LT can do what I need for around $1,000 which is within my budget.

Here’s a good 3D modeling example video that I found on YouTube.

There are also a good number of instructional videos on YouTube if you search for Autodesk Inventor.