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Amazon launches Part Finder, using technology acquired from Partpic in 2016 (techcrunch.com)
81 points by sp332 10 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 52 comments





I remember when Amazon bought CDNow ages ago. CDNow let me easily find specific CDs by artist and title AND they even had a great recommendation algorithm. I discovered some great new music that way.

In 2002 Amazon shut down CDNow with the idea that you'd just use Amazon.com. Unfortunately, search has been one of Amazon's weakest features. Sixteen years later and I still miss CDNow. Amazon rarely shows exactly what I've searched for and the filtering is almost entirely useless. I want to sort by price or filter by vendor without having to guess which one of the twenty different categories an item is in (often times it's in multiple categories). I want the price of the item to mach what you've shown in the search results (or an explanation why there's a significant difference). If you can't ship something to California or the USA I want know BEFORE I try to check out. It should go without saying I don't want ads in the search results either.

To me this "fancy" search by picture is not helpful (instead it's entirely useless). If I want a fastener, I want to be able search by its attributes (something Amazon is terrible about in general). Let's say I want a pretty common metric bolt (M8) in a standard thread pitch (1.25mm). I'll go search or "M8x1.25 bolt". I get a bunch of useless filters, including:

Fastener Material: Stainless Steel, Stainless Steel 304, Steel. Right. What sort of stainless steel is the first option?

System Of (sic) Measurement: Metric. Nice that this is unchecked and the only option.

Fastener Thread Size - Mating (eh?): No Thread Size Selected, M8-1.25. This one is a combo box with a "Go" button for some reason. I literally just entered the thread size and pitch I wanted in the search query. They can parse a picture but they can't figure out I've entered this information in already? Ugh.

Fastener Grade & Class: Class 10.9. Aside from the lack of selection, this is where the stainless classification SHOULD go.

Categories... well, you've got bolts, hex bolts, eyebolts... Powersports Wheel Spacers? AmazonFresh? WTF?

Meanwhile rather important filters are missing like: finish and length.

Edit: Contrast this with Grainger (whose site is good, but not great) or McMaster-Carr (the gold standard).


Every web designer should be required to study McMaster-Carr's interface. It's so much better than any other e-commerce site, it feels like alien technology from the future.

Of course, the irony is that it could be replicated with 1998-era web technology. The difference is all in human effort and choosing the correct priorities.


Every designer period should also study it's hard catalog and mobile app, they are equally impressive too

Ironically, the founder of partpic, the acqui-hire on which this technology is based used to work for Mcmaster-Carr and started partpic as a result of customers' frustrations with McMaster's search functions. Perhaps they're aiming this product at more casual, less exacting retail customers who'll settle for only an approximate match in exchange for the convenience of snapping a quick pic. It's a shame though if they can cater to all types of customers by improving their search function.

I've had two frustrations with the McMaster-Carr site:

1.) It's slow

2.) It's hard to generate a permalink

So far Amazon hasn't even come close and this wanky bit of tech doesn't change that.


In a counter example it is great that IMDB continues working after Amazon acquisition. I think this acquisition was neutral, they removed the discussion forums and the site pretends to be "Web 2.0" but the data can be downloaded from: https://www.imdb.com/interfaces/ . The license is not permissive but the data remains there.

Sure, they didn't shut IMDB down however. Amazon pulled the plug on CDNow after purchasing them.

I used to work for Music Trader, which was a local San Diego used media chain that was purchased by CDNow. It's been forever since I've seen that name! Crazy to think they ended up being bought by Amazon. I was only there for like 8 months of their ownership, but it always felt like they were on the edge of going under. I recall the FoxPro based computer system they brought in was life changing for us.

FoxPro. Now that’s something I haven’t heard in at least a decade.

What you're describing is called "faceted search". For that to work properly, two things are needed: The product data needs to be structured properly, so that you can actually find the attributes on each product variant. This has to be consistent for every vendor, of which Amazon has many, of course. So they would have to define a common data format for every vendor selling M8 bolts, or convert their formats into a common standard, making sure all the attributes are there and can be located in the imports.

And second, someone needs to sit down and define which product attributes should be represented as facets for the search and displayed accordingly in the UI, and what input elements should be used to select the range of parameters (checkboxes, sliders, text box etc). This is not easily solved by algorithms which have no knowledge of the semantics of the attributes..

I suppose that a general-purpose, consumer-oriented site like Amazon doesn't put enough priority on something like M8 steel bolts. The facets for, say, computer monitors are much better, for example.


> I suppose that a general-purpose, consumer-oriented site like Amazon doesn't put enough priority on something like M8 steel bolts. The facets for, say, computer monitors are much better, for example.

It goes beyond that. I was searching for a water pump this evening and hit Amazon out of instinct. Despite only returning 18 results across god-knows-how-many categories, there was no option to filter by manufacturer. Amazon simply doesn't get search.


For, say, computer monitors Amazon has a size, resolution, 'tecnology' (LED, OLED or LCD) and the 'brand' parameters for filtering. That's it.

Stainless I would argue belongs in material not in grade and class as these are different attributes. You can get grade 10.9 bolts in stainless, black, zinc plated and possibly in other materials and finishes. If it doesn't specify the type of stainless steel the safest thing to assume it's a low quality material which doesn't conform to any specific specification or at least lacks the appropriate accompanying paperwork.

I.e. I'll select a grade/class based on the mechanical properties I require, and the material will be selected taking into mind the environment the fastener is going into, any possible material incompatibilities there might be, i.e. don't want to accidentally build a battery, or select materials which gall together.

Honestly I think search in this area is actually extremely difficult due to all the inconsistent standards, specifications as well as random proprietary fasteners that exist.

I find that websites that sort by category to be better in this space, but that also assumes that you know what you want.


> Stainless I would argue belongs in material not in grade and class as these are different attributes. You can get grade 10.9 bolts in stainless, black, zinc plated and possibly in other materials and finishes. If it doesn't specify the type of stainless steel the safest thing to assume it's a low quality material which doesn't conform to any specific specification or at least lacks the appropriate accompanying paperwork.

I'd disagree there as stainless (at least in metric land) is categorized, in part, by strength e.g. A4-80 vs A4-70.

https://www.hi-tensilebolt.com.au/bolt-strength-grades-and-h...

http://home.jtan.com/~joe/KIAT/kiat_2.htm

> Honestly I think search in this area is actually extremely difficult due to all the inconsistent standards, specifications as well as random proprietary fasteners that exist.

It is difficult, yes, but not impossible. This is why some of the folks have commenting have held up McMaster-Carr's site as an example.


We don't have the luxury of McMaster Carr here, but a quick search suggests that they have history and expertise in supplying engineering equipment which explains why they are so much better than Amazon.

It does seem like large tech companies tend to take less than stellar attempts into these sort of areas because they don't hire people with the appropriate expertise.

That said I appreciate the fact they don't for a number of reasons as it's definitely something I wouldn't want Amazon to step into and stomp the competitors in the field.


The app may not have it, but Amazon's retail site has these kinds of filters for bolts:

https://smile.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=node%3D1729002...


I was actually looking at their desktop site. The filters you listed are still mediocre at best. Amazon simply doesn't get search.

Example:

Materials: Alloy Steel, Brass, Carbon Steel, Galvanized Steel, Nylon, Plastic, Stainless Steel, Stainless Steel 18-8 (AZ), Stainless Steel 304, Stainless Steel 316 (A4), Steel, Zinc.

Now, I'm pretty sure you're not going to find fasteners made of pure zinc (typically that's an anti-corrosion coating on a steel fastener). You've also got needlessly vague terms like "alloy steel" and "stainless steel" in that list.

System of (hey they lowercase the of this time) Measurement: Inch, Metric, Number Gauge (wtf?), Wire Gauge. Wire Gauge. On a bolt? Ehhhh.

Do you want the square head bolt category? Square head style filter? External square drive style filter? What if I'm looking for fasteners for a non industrial or scientific use?


Fastener classification does tend to be a bit vague at best. Generally I find generic terms are used for low grade products, and often for products which you may struggle to find proper material certs for. Fine for general use home use, but no good in industrial engineering applications.

Id imagine that the problem is that software engineers don't understand hardware engineering, and it's actually not a space where a lot of good resources exist. I.e. without a little bit of familiarity with material science and industry, it's not just something you can easily google. You need an engineer familiar with the fastener industry if you want a chance for getting a decent system of classifications.

Also from a metric country, things like number and wire gauges are odd to me as well as I only occasionally have to deal with them.

If you are looking for fasteners for specific industrial use then I'd assume you would have the expertise to select the appropriate fastener or some internal engineering specification to follow. You don't just buy something from the scientific bolt category on Amazon. You may also require material certificates etc, which I don't believe is something these online options typically offer, though I may be wrong.


> Also from a metric country, things like number and wire gauges are odd to me as well as I only occasionally have to deal with them.

Well wire gauge is typically not how one would identify a bolt. Number wire gauge would typically be referred to by the units (either AWG or mm^2).

> If you are looking for fasteners for specific industrial use then I'd assume you would have the expertise to select the appropriate fastener or some internal engineering specification to follow.

Typically, yes although a friend was lamenting in the difficulty in finding a castle nut for an automotive application on the McMaster site.

> You don't just buy something from the scientific bolt category on Amazon. You may also require material certificates etc, which I don't believe is something these online options typically offer, though I may be wrong.

Well, McMaster offers will call (at one location) and offers phone support. The other folks Amazon is trying to compete with (Fastenal, Grainger, MSC) have a variety of B&M locations. I can't speak to material certification but I've purchased a certified caliper from Grainger no problem. Meanwhile Amazon still has the counterfeit issue to grapple with.


Yeah wire gauge fasteners is definitely weird, not something I've used, but from a quick look they exist, although I'm not sure if they get much use.

Castle nuts are a bit of an oddity too. Id assume your friend is possibly using them for trailer bearing retainers or possibly some really old suspension items. Not even sure there is really even a specification the ones available here seem to adhere to.

They are something I've generally gone out of my way to engineer out of a lot of applications as there is better options available.


LOL Galvanised Steel and Zinc separately? I wonder what they believe the difference is.

The difference between zinc plated fasteners and hot dip galvanised fasteners is actually quite significant. Zinc is usually around the 20micron thickness possibly less, whilst galvanised is usually >60micron usually quite a bit more.

The process for applying the coatings as well as the end use of fasteners with the two coatings is also quite different.


> The difference between zinc plated fasteners and hot dip galvanised fasteners is actually quite significant

Yeah, but those aren't listed under coatings. They're listed under materials. And they certainly don't list the same variety of zinc coatings you could find at McMaster-Carr.


Oh man don't even get me started on trying to find SAE sizes of things on Amazon. Searching for something like a #8x1/4 inch screw is a total crap shoot. Even eBay does a better job by far.

Imo most of amazon's search is slopily done. I find it mostly frustrating to use to be honest. It only works good if you know exactly what you want otherwise you just get results of products that are of questionable quality.

> It only works good if you know exactly what you want

It's worse than that, though. I already know exactly what I want (as did the parent commenter, I'm sure).

For their search to work well, you also have to know exactly how the seller happens to have described it.

Except, it's even worse than that, because, even for slightly different versions of the same thing, the description can differ significantly enough to confuse Amazon's search. This is particularly true if there's more than one seller, but I've seen it happen even with the same seller.

Usually, I find their search works, in that, with enough attempts and brute-force, manual perusal of the results, I can find what I wanted to buy (assuming it's there to be found), but I would not characterize it as working well, not for the use case of parts (or even computer/electronic components).


While I don't want to be too presumptuous and say this is going to fail, it is definitely not going to defeat Fastenal or McMaster-Carr. Really, it comes down whether it's a generic part, or specifically engineered for a larger assembly. If it's the former, it's going to be significantly easier to use a website like McMaster-Carr where every item is completely organized into a hierarchy. You can quickly drill down and find the exact part you need. Amazon's Industrial & Scientific is a joke in comparison. A iPhone picture is going to have a lot of error in regards to material, coating, grade, threadpitch, etc.

And if it's a bespoke part, you are much better getting the part number from an exploded diagram. Again, this is super fast and accurate (assuming you actually have the diagrams, and that parts are still available). Engineers put a huge amount of work into designing fasteners, and modern vehicles will have thousands of different kinds. For example, Toyota transfer case has two different bolts holding the housing together, one is 27 mm long, the other is 29 mm. A single picture is definitely not going to tell the length.

Maybe someday every single part will have an rfid tag on it. Don't bother putting a barcode on each part, years of grease, corrosion, and wear (the very things that cause you do need a new part) will obliterate it.


There are two questions: one whether taking a picture and getting a part to buy would be a desirable workflow for customers - and jeesh, it should be obvious that it would be. The other question is whether the process would work. That's a matter of tech, resolution of cameras and the design of the interface. It's easy to imagine the system displaying multiple options for things like the two nearly identical bolts. As this evolves, the system could even offer the means to distinguish the various options ("count the threads", "take a close-up" etc). And point is something like this could keep improving, both in accuracy and the range of items involved where a hierarchical organization is inherently static.

I'm less worried about the accuracy of the prediction of their algorithm, than I am about their recommendations that involve vendors that make the thing as inaccurately as possible to skimp on cost. Maybe I've just been burned too many times ordering electrical components on amazon.

> one whether taking a picture and getting a part to buy would be a desirable workflow for customers - and jeesh, it should be obvious that it would be.

It's useful for people buying one or two parts. Why chase that market when most of these parts are sold by the thousand?


Indeed, that's what a typical part supplier thinks.

But typical individual naturally thinks the opposite. There are probably a billion or so owners of at least one mechanism that require replacement parts at some point. Neither the manufacturer nor the suppliers wish to help them but they have to be a pretty big market altogether so it seems likely someone could profit from this if it was done in an automated fashion.


In theory if you've got distance information and can keep the phone at a known angle in relation to the item differentiating between 27 and 29 mm shouldn't be an issue.

What the photo bits will not be able to do without significant user interaction is determine other key properties of the fastener including material strength and likely finish. It's a cute gimmick though.


> determine other key properties of the fastener including material strength

Given a random screw, can anyone determine material strength using household items? If so, I would definitely like to apply this to some personal projects I am working on!


> Given a random screw, can anyone determine material strength using household items? If so, I would definitely like to apply this to some personal projects I am working on!

Yes. Fasteners are typically marked on the head/face.


Amazon launches part print in 2019. Take a picture or use the amazon ODB connect app and have your new parts printed locally and delivered within hours. Optionally have it professionally installed and recycled to make future parts cheaper. /daydream

So many need this. The cost of parts is outrageous. I remember reading some settlements where international part manufacturers were caught price fixing, but have not seen any relief in costs.

If it's emissions related they know you'll pay or many places won't let you register your car.

The cost of repairs has made it so I will never purchase an Infinity vehicle again. The cost of parts has me asking how many O2 sensors a car has in it before I consider it for buying. (that this is an expensive issue is imho dumb)

Local repair shop owner on radio show says they need to markup parts by 30% in order to pay for rent and insurance on the shops, and they need to markup the labor 30% to stay in business. So the only way for those repair shops to stay in business is to charge people more than their vehicle is worth to fix them, and depends on cities forcing emissions tests to make it impossible to drive without replacing expensive parts.

This isn't working well, though I suppose it is helping to sell new cars at the expense of the environment and those who are fine with upcycling older vehicles.

There has got to be a way to bring down the cost of replacement parts.

Are there any initiatives to have standard fit parts they fit multiple vehicles like generic drugs? I'd weigh that in the decision to buy a new car and it would affect the used car market well too.

Catalytic converter for one of my vehicles is $1800 they say, and it should be assumed that although check engine light is warning about one being bad, the second in the car is bound to need replacing very soon as well. Those two parts cost more then the vehicle is worth kelly blue book and such.

Also, is anyone doing a user part runner / grabber service? I contacted several scrap places requesting they pull and send parts from cars they had listed, none replied. Is it only an option to go there and get the part off the other vehicle in person? This process could be better, I'd pay a runner to grab some parts from a few cars.

Oh I hope Amazon continues to disrupt in this space.


For new parts, get used to RockAuto.com. Most things I buy there arrive by ground the next day (to MA from a local warehouse) or 2 days. 5% discount codes available just for the 3 minutes of googling. They have "cheap crap" parts as well as quality parts, so be thoughtful about your choice. The good parts are good (OEM is often available) and very competitively priced, with excellent search, and good logistics.

For used parts, there are a couple of online junkyards, but I've found the best plan is to find your local pick-a-parts and figure out which ones will pull parts for you. Most will in my experience, though if you go pick it yourself, you're likely to get it for far cheaper. The one in the town I grew up in had a Friday promotion where anything you could carry 50 feet was $25 (in the late 80s, probably $50 now). You could pull a transmission and get it for $50. You could pull a car hood and pile a bunch of small parts onto it and take that all for one price. The pick-a-part in the NH town I moved to after college had a basic computer system and a network of other yards they worked with. Ebay is another good outlet for some of these yards (with the associated markup). I've replaced a few parts on my wife's CR-V with Ebay junkyard parts with good results.

Even though it's annoying to pay a $1500 repair bill on an old car, if that buys you another year of service for the car, it's still a great financial trade. I do almost all my own work (no bodywork, paint, or tires and limited exhaust work) and find the price of parts quite reasonable.


It didn’t work for me. It’s one of those things that would be awesome if it worked with a human or better level accuracy, but they never do. Now I’ve wasted a few minutes looking for a penny and good lighting to take a picture - I could have just used the calipers to measure the bolt in the first place.

From what I understand they are now competing with Granger in the Industrial market.

https://www.bloomberg.com/view/articles/2018-09-11/amazon-am...

And now they are getting into Fastenals market it seems, which is a billion dollar industry.

https://www.fastenal.com/

I was just recently trying to figure out where to get that little square clip that slides onto the gas cylinder on my Aeron chair to keep the rod from coming out.


Grainger has many things in their favor, here's hoping they can fend off Amazon.

* Better search and organization of inventory

* Mail order discount arm (Zoro)

* Brick and mortar presence as well as the logistics to handle this.

* Clear labeling of certifications and country of origin compared to Amazon's persistent problems with counterfeits and that whole mess with third party sellers.

About the only place I'd expect Amazon to be able to compete is on logistics.


About the only place I'd expect Amazon to be able to compete is on logistics.

Well, there's price too. Every time I look at Grainger I'm reminded how desperately their items must be needed right NOW in order for a customer to justify the price.

McMaster is worth it because the prices aren't quite as high and the site is so delightful to use.


> Well, there's price too. Every time I look at Grainger I'm reminded how desperately their items must be needed right NOW in order for a customer to justify the price.

Their discount subsidiary, Zoro, offers prices that are quite competitive. Likewise Grainger offers hefty discounts to their volume (a.k.a. business) customers. Amazon is really not all that cheap.


Fastenal is terrible, I hope amazon beats them

I don’t buy enough hardware to have an account and rep at fastenal, so it’s a crap shoot what anything will cost. Sometimes it’s full retail, sometimes it’s been 60% off. Depends on the manager in duty’s mood. So now I just order from McMaster, sometimes they cost a little more but usually it’s much cheaper, and I know what to expect before I get to the register.


I haven't used it, but hopefully it works. I work a ton on my car and many times, I used to run to a specialty sears hardware store which had four long isles full of screws, nuts and bolts. I have spent literally hours browing for screws and nut/bolts. Unfortunately the store closed last year and I have nowhere else to go.

Is there really much profit from selling a $.10 screw that the average person might need once or twice a year when they buy some unassembled product that is missing parts? I assume people who would buy bulk don't need an app to tell them what to buy. Or do they charge an insane markup for these one-offs?

Personally, I love an excuse to go to an old fashioned Ace Hardware store and ask a real person for help.


Yeah. You're definitely not the audience for this vertical. Just because this doesn't seem profitable in your niche/individual usage doesn't mean that there are individuals and orgs buying these things in bulk.

Well done TechCrunch, another US website that has a bullshit policy where you can't opt out of all their third party tracking and data sharing with "Foundation Partners", just piss off.

Guess there's no more TechCrunch for me. Mind you, no great loss.


Partpic was founded by two non tech founders and Amanzon aqui hired them. Not sure what technology they are brining to the table there.....and of course the buyout was for a non disclosed amount... Typical Atlanta.

Dismissing others' success, minimizing the importance of non-technical founders (vision/recruiting/deal-closing), downplaying well-executed technology (computer vision work by https://twitter.com/nashlie_s), and a dismissive arrogant tone... Typical HN commenter.

Well said! Total respect for her accomplishment.

"he boomed me" - lgleason

I met one of PartPic’s founders at a mutual friend’s wedding last year. Sure, maybe he wasn’t a coder, but darn was he was smart. Before I founded my latest startup I built a “skunkworks” style startup in a larger public company after being acquihired. Have to be honest, the hardest part was navigating the parent org, not building the product. PartPic’s founder and I had a super interesting conversation about getting bigger companies to actually care about your internal project. The fact they even got this to a launch is impressive.

Built by 'non tech' founders?

So was Airbnb, Product Hunt (acq by Angel List) and a little dating app you may have heard of called Tinder...

I actually know the founders of this company. Super smart, tons of hustle and product focused.

What does 'typical Atlanta' mean, btw?




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