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Imagine, if you could lower costs, reduce time-to-market and secure product quality which all ends up in increasing business profit, and just by taking a closer look and care on how data is handled in the company... Obviously, these are some very good criteria to become a company's superhero.  

But what about becoming such a superhero? It all begins with some knowledge behind the data and process scenes … let’s go!

In one of my previous blog-posts I wrote about "Connecting Engineering to the Enterprise", and which approaches we have, to connect product engineers directly by Engineering Control Center (ECTR) or by a dedicated PDM/PLM platform (such as Siemens Teamcenter) to our SAP ERP backbone.

Therefore, as you already know, we have various options to connect tools and systems technologically. But what about the business processes and needs of corresponding dataflows? And what about this crucial moment when product development is sending their data, structures, and documents to manufacturing?

Product Development to Manufacturing Handover in a simplified E2E Business Process

Still today, in many companies, this exclusive process step is a very loose interaction between different colleagues and departments, a fragmented data-exchange and handover process which has more similarity to a “hot potato” then a runners’ baton or even a “handshake”.

Handover Product data to Manufacturing - A crucial part of the Digital Thread

Let us consider examples to examine the importance of connecting engineering to the enterprise. Whereas the product development to manufacturing step is of course not the only aspect but of very dedicated importance. I have selected three business principles as representatives and examples.

Exemplary Data-Flows of Selected Business Models

  1. Engineer To Order (ETO)

It is usual for companies that follow ETO business model to manage themselves in a customer project-oriented way with multiple years of project lead-times. Also, the product dimensions and bill-of-materials can be enormously large and complex, such as in plant- and shipbuilding. Although the bidding-, planning- and engineering-phases consume already a lot of time, costly problems often happen on the construction site because of, e.g.

  • late engineering changes were not propagated in-time

  • long lead items were purchased too late

  • logistics delivers wrong parts, or to wrong location, or from wrong supplier

Operators on site may somehow be able to fix the issues, or in the worst case, a hard stop on the construction side occurs and causes delays until new parts/assemblies are delivered. Both cases cost time and money, may end up in severe project-delays, penalties, and unsatisfied customers.

  1. Configure To Order (CTO)

Companies following CTO such as machine builders or in automotive industries are experts in taking care about defining product standards with variants and options and deliver configured products just as customers do need. Considering the data in the background, they face challenges such as

  • Inefficiently managed and distributed configuration data, leads to limitations and delays, e.g. on data packages for production or 3D supported structures for ordering or service needs

  • Error-prone handover from product engineering during New Product Development Introduction (NPDI) leads to extra efforts and failures in manufacturing and logistics

  • Need of high degree of flexible automation in production

To generate, manage and provide 150% of product (and manufacturing) data as well as being capable to use 100% extracts of a customer’s orders in all needed process steps as fast and consistent as possible is key to success, however decoupled databases and inconsistencies are happening and are the bitter truth.

  1. Make To Stock (MTS)

The MTS principle is very common in consumer product industries (e.g. mobile phones, furniture) or suppliers of parts, assemblies, devices for e.g. automotive or machinery Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs). The business is driven by speed, time to manufacturing and market, examples they struggle with are

  • Long lasting NPDIs equals to loss of market shares

  • Losing time and money because scaling up production to full volume is too slowly

Smooth, fast and consistent data transfers from product development to manufacturing is key. The smoother and tighter the exchanges are, the sooner the company will produce and earn money with the product on the market. No surprise they need to get faster and more resilient in the handover process, with or without knowing it yet.

What All Want to Have and Go for

Nevertheless, many individual challenges do exist per business principles and industries, but there are more common objectives they are craving to become part of the ‘champions league’, than most would think of. Here are only three selected examples:

Typical Holy Grail(s) of Data and Business Processes Superheroes are Flying for

The efficiency and quality of data-driven and system-based change management is a very good indicator of how well objects, structures, documents, personas, etc. are linked to each other in a smart (or not so smart) way. How does information of needed changes flow between product development, manufacturing, logistics, and procurement? What if purchasing department needs to replace a supplier because of an unexpected event like supply chain disruptions and the sourced parts will be of different material and quality? Is this information arriving in product development at all, and if yes, how fast? And if the adaption is acceptable, is the information and request also properly forwarded to manufacturing to check feasibilities there?

This leads us to desire number two, synchronous engineering. At best, manufacturing engineering can start at the same time, as product engineering starts the product development process. Both engineering processes have to be tightly linked to each other and flow literally in parallel. In case of any changes both sides can immediately consider dependencies and feasibilities, and adapt and progress at maximum speed. Ideally, when product development is ready, also manufacturing engineering is ready and execution can proceed. Production receives all necessary data packages immediately (e.g. material lists, work instructions, quality inspections, NC and robot programs, etc.) to start the execution at zero delay. Just a dream or potential future ‘new normal’?Being consistently linked also opens efficient ways to stay digital together even the other way around, e.g. from service or manufacturing engineering to product development for continuous improvement. Imagine, operators can give feedback any time at almost no effort in the right context of parts or assemblies of a specific order, reaching out digitally backwards to the responsible colleagues, e.g. to product engineers for valid improvements. Not only in the next product’s generation but already with the next related lot maybe? Assuming synchronous engineering is also already working properly, not a vision but a logical mission. Maybe also to give a recognition to the operator via human resources and finance and put some extra money on the next month’s salary payout, to motivate more for a pro-active continuous improvement culture. Again, if data and information is properly connected, this turns easily into reality.

What Now?

Without a doubt, bringing product development and manufacturing closer to each other, also from a data perspective, is still considered more often a lack or issue than a potential. But why not consider it as a potential? A potential and essential piece to make the digital thread coming real.

Conclusively, the objective must be to move from a hot potato principle to clear and save handovers and further move on to a handshaking, bi-directional co-work of product development and manufacturing (and service):

Rethink the Process Step, Enable Interoperability and meet the Digital Thread

Technologies are ready to rock, especially considering Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) and SAP. Now you may wonder, which ways and flavors of hand(shak)ing do technically exist? What are the ingredients to get flavor X, Y or Z? What solution approaches do we as SAP provide and which one suit best to meet the company’s need? And last but not least to end up then with a recipe to become a company’s superhero - stay tuned to follow my next blog-posts!