FCH Scrubber Technology

A brief history of how the FCH Scrubber was born, and how it is used thousands of times each day to solve problems relating to identifying fasteners.

Editor's note: FCH Scrubber Technology is software that performs a variety of fastener inventory data functions, such as cleansing, commodity identification and part number matching. A version of the software is also used by the FCH Search Engine. Businesses in need of data formatting and cleansing for ERP setup or shopping cart system implementation should contact FCH to discuss how The Scrubber can simplify and shorten project duration while greatly reducing overall expense.

The Scrubber is nearly as old as FCH itself. Of all the work we did in 2006 preparing to launch FastenersClearingHouse.com as an on-line fastener sourcing network, we never thought we would need anything like The Scrubber. In hindsight, it should have been very obvious that we would need a tool to help distributors add their listings to our database. But coming from the world of technology in those days, with data entry people keying data into computers all day long, it just seemed natural to us that fastener distributors would enthusiastically key in their fasteners, one by one. And we put some effort into making a very nice entry screen for keying in fasteners.

Example spreadsheet

The first problem came about a week after our site went live. We received a spreadsheet from one of our new trial members. This spreadsheet contained thousands of lines of things that were apparently very abbreviated fastener descriptions. When we asked the prospective member to send us a spreadsheet with descriptions in some form of meaningful English that we could understand, the response was quick and jolting. These were apparently common fastener abbreviations, and if we didn't understand them, he informed us, then maybe we were in the wrong business.

Side note: This trial member became one of our founding Charter Members, and is still an FCH member and friend today.

Well, we knew we were in the right business, just maybe at the wrong time. So we set about applying our IT knowledge to solve the problem by writing a program to recognize these abbreviations and clean up all this terrible data we were receiving. AI? No, smart programming and extensive pattern-matching were the basis of The Scrubber, along with the application of very Human Intelligence into the feedback loop.

An HCS is a Hex Cap Screw, right? That seems pretty easy. But so is an HHCS, and an Hex C/S, and an Hx C/S, and a HEX CAP, and a Hex Cap/S, and on and on. Since there is no consistency within the fastener industry, the problem is complicated.

The only useful standard naming convention we could find at the time was The Fastener Reference Guide, so we decided that would become the basis for the primary fastener Categories and Sub Categories on our Search page.

Since then, The Scrubber has been used to cleanse and translate literally tens of millions of fastener listings and searches, and has been subject to a process of continuous improvement. Many fastener distributors also supply industrial hardware and other items that are not really fasteners, so we have updated its libraries to recognize these as well. Pipe Fittings, Cable & Wire Rope Fittings, Raw Materials, the list goes on. And as we find different abbreviations, or different fasteners, we continuously update The Scrubber.

Of late, use of The Scrubber has been extended into much more demanding projects. Examples include identifying all the characteristics of a fastener and matching it against the inventory of a master distributor to get the matching part number. This process requires great care because in addition to standard part identification, common mistakes need to be corrected: a Grade 2 Hex Bolt is most likely not a Hex Machine Bolt, but a Grade 2 Hex Cap Screw. Or possibly a Grade A Hex Machine Bolt. We worked with a master distributor for many weeks to identify and correct the scrubbing and matching process. This process now works automatically, with regular reviews to ensure its continued accuracy.

A similar deployment of the tool is being used to speed the task of identifying the items on an RFQ and matching the lines against the FCH member's part number.

The tool is also used as middleware by INxSQL Software within its Direct Connect system, where it does on-the-fly part identification and part number cross-referencing. It's become quite slick. For this implementation, we transformed The Scrubber into what is known in tech-weenie circles as a "web service".

Another recent use of The Scrubber has been to identify even more extensive characteristics (or parameters) of a fastener so that an FCH member can prepare their inventory for listing on the Web, and save themselves weeks of manual work.

The uses are endless, as is the improvement process behind this invaluable tool.