Background knowledge

Which types of product configurators are there?

Not all configurators are the same. There are now many different software products that belong under the term product configurator. On closer inspection, it is clear that product configurators can be divided into different types. Depending on the goal and the "solution space", there are specific features that define what the interface to the user must look like. The classification already helps in the conception phase to better estimate the required resources and scope. The company needs to gather the product knowledge in ad-vance that would normally be available to physical sales staff, and the rules and dependencies also need to be defined. Configuration rules are the logic in the background that determines, for example, whether the selected rim width can be combined with the selected tire width. Below you will find a list of the most common types of product configurators. We clarify the terms ETO, CTO & Co.


STO Configurator: Select-to-order

Customers select all independent components of a product, no components are interdependent and the selection of one component does not affect the availability of the other components.


PTO Configurator: Pick-to-order

In the PTO configurator, users select all product components, but they have to consider dependencies of the components without the help of the configurator. It is a very simple form and is used in many online stores.


CTO Configurator: Configure-to-order

The configure-to-order configurator supports customers in selecting the matching components according to a modular system. CTO is a classic contract manufacturing system. An example of this is ordering a note-book. During the ordering process, the customer selects the hard disk, the required software, etc.


ATO Configurator: Assemble-to-order

This type of configuration is a mixture of make-to-stock and contract manufacturing. Individual components are pre-produced in the ATO configuration on the basis of presumed demand. Final production takes place after receipt of order according to individual customer requirements and taking into account component dependencies.


MTO Configurator: Make-to-order

With the "make to order" configurator, production takes place after an order has been placed and can be described as classic contract manufacturing. The individual product components are already stored in advance at MTO, but further processing only takes place after receipt of the order. Configurators of this type are primarily used for Industry 4.0, as well as for application cases with fully or partially automated production.


ETO Configurator: Engineer-to-order

With ETO, there is a very high level of configuration freedom. New components and new rules may be required to meet customer requirements. This is because the individual parts of each order have to be manufactured specifically. Even if the final product partly contains standard components, a separate pro-duction process including a bill of materials is necessary. This type of configuration is found in plant engi-neering. ETO configurators are also used as innovation configurators. They consist of extensive solution spaces, unlimited trial-and-error cycles and highly complex modularity. Engineer-to-order configurators require a very high willingness of users to engage with the configuration process. You can learn more about this topic in the chapter "Core capabilities of sustainable mass customization", co-authored by our co-founder Paul Blazek together with mass customization expert and leading academic Frank Piller. The chapter is in the book “Knowledge-based Configuration” published by Alexander Felfernig et al. In the blog article "How do product configurators differ from each other?" we have explained another subdivision of configurators. 


How complex are the different types?

Looking at the individual configuration types based on their complexity, the following classification can be made:

Complexity is low

  • STO Configurator (Select-to-order)
  • PTO Configurator (Pick-to-order)
  • CTO Configurator (Configure-to-order]

Complexity is medial

  • ATO Configurator (Assemble-to-order)

Complexity is high

  • MTO Configurator (Make-to-order)
  • ETO Configurator (Engineer-to-order)
Which types of product configurators are there?

Which type of configuration is suitable for my product?

Don't worry the above mentioned terms like ETO, CTO, ATO,... are very confusing at first sight and for a non-expert it is not possible to recognize at first sight which configuration type is the most suitable. Howev-er, all configurators have one thing in common: they give every company an immense competitive ad-vantage and a proven increase in revenue. Are you ready? Let's talk about your product and your require-ments. We will be happy to advise you.


This might also interest you: