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An Engineer’s Review of the ThomasNet Site and Sourcing App

Tamara Wilhite is a technical writer, industrial engineer, mother of two, and published sci-fi and horror author.


The Thomas Register of American Manufacturers was one of the first resources I learned to use straight out of college. The ThomasNet.com website was even better – you could search by various criteria without flipping through catalogs that rivaled an encyclopedia for the products you needed.

ThomasNet.com has revamped its free platform for supplier discovery and product sourcing with six new applications. Here are a few of the innovative features and how they help you.

Improved Supplier Discovery Application

ThomasNet long ago replaced the Thomas Register of American Manufacturers (the industrial “Yellow Pages”) with its free online platform to better enable engineers and supply chain professionals to find trusted suppliers that meet a dizzyingly complex array of requirements.

The ThomasNet platform was updated in mid-2014 with six applications—Supplier Discovery, Product Sourcing, Diversity & Quality, Custom Quotes, CAD Models, and Industry News.

Search results will be much more relevant to an engineer than a general Google search – you know that the companies within ThomasNet.com sell the products you want, and the results are filterable by criteria directly relevant to your supply chain.

You can even narrow down your searches to suppliers who meet your criteria within a short distance of your business. This often overlooked quality matters if you’d like to minimize the distance a product is shipped, and be able to drive over to a supplier to handle supply chain issues in short order or have a JIT supply chain not disrupted when a storm hits either coast.

Product Sourcing Application

ThomasNet.com’s Product Sourcing Application uses a proprietary search algorithms in addition to product taxonomies to find an exact product from over hundred million listings. In addition, the application features forty product selectors. Searching through the application isn’t difficult, considering ThomasNet offers straightforward smart forms to aid in the search process.

If ThomasNet doesn't have it, they can start the request for quote process with machine shops that can make it for you.

If ThomasNet doesn't have it, they can start the request for quote process with machine shops that can make it for you.

Certification Application

Do you have ISO certification? Do your suppliers? It is easier to retain that certification if you can search for suppliers from the get-go who already have ISO 9000 or ISO 14000 certifications. ThomasNet.com lets you identify suppliers that hold quality and other certifications such as ISO, Nadcap, ITAR, FDA and C-TPAT among eighty types of certification. Equally vital certifications like the AS9100 aerospace quality standard are also available as search filters.

Diversity Application

Regardless of your opinion on diversity mandates, many government contracts either require diversity quotas in sourcing or give preference to the firms that meet various diversity quotas. Diversity in sourcing can take many forms – buying from women owned firms, veteran owned businesses, minority owned firms or small disadvantaged businesses.

The ThomasNet diversity application makes downloadable certificates available and provides links to other proof of ownership, if required. It is far easier to click a check box for a diversity category and narrow down your initial search results to a company that meets all of your criteria plus this one than it is to winnow down the supplier list before asking each one, “Are you a veteran owned firm?” or “I know you are a small business, but are you federally classified as small and disadvantaged?”

Custom Quotes

I’ve worked in manufacturing as well as IT. One of the challenges I faced was getting custom quotes from machine shops. One of the first tasks as an engineering intern was pulling out a phone book and calling each machine shop and tool and die shop, asking if they did custom machining on a single or double lot basis.

I winnowed down the hundreds of machine shops down to a few dozen that would consider doing work like this. ThomasNet.com’s Custom Quotes application would have saved days of my life.

When I worked for a plastics manufacturer, I worked with a group of engineers to design higher volume production lines by installing new die heads on existing extruder lines. In other cases, we had to order new pipes and metal connections to extruder heads so that an existing die head could be mated to a different extruder. The result was a constant stream of unique orders for metal casings, die and machining. Some machine shops didn’t want to take unique orders. Others had the time for one job but not ten different ones. Then there is the process of asking, “Do you do finishing?” or “Can you weld these parts together?”

ThomasNet Homepage

CAD Models Application

I worked as a drafter to help pay my way through college. Early in my engineering career, one of the headaches I regularly encountered was the need to create 2D and 3D drawings of the supplier’s part to verify that it would fit with any other pipes, extrusion dies and manufacturing equipment we might connect it with.

ThomasNet.com’s CAD Models application would have saved me a massive amount of time and effort. For example, you can find a fan that fits your existing equipment or vents before you make your product selection. Better yet, you’ll avoid the hassle of jerry rigging your new equipment into the existing infrastructure because you won’t accidentally buy something that doesn’t mate with the existing equipment or doesn’t quite fit in one crucial dimension.

The CAD Models Application enables engineers to download millions of 2D and 3D CAD Models from leading OEMs. They can then insert the models into their computer-aided designs to ensure an exact fit. It is the suppliers’ decision to make their CAD files available. I can say that the ability to double-check dimensions and interfaces would increase my odds of buying a component, if the choice were between one whose CAD model I could verify and one I couldn’t.


ThomasNet.com’s revamped site is a significant improvement over its already strong supplier database. ThomasNet.com has added search criteria and filters of increasing importance in today’s market.

While I wish the CAD database for their products was even larger than the millions of models already available, I can’t give ThomasNet.com a lower rating because of supplier decisions in that regard. I give ThomasNet.com’s site five stars for depth, ease of use and general usefulness.

© 2014 Tamara Wilhite

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