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The typical as-is suffering of today’s unconnected engineering

Imagine, you are responsible for a very important engineering process within a company that is famous for their technology leading product and sells it all over the world. Nevertheless, technology-lead is key to the product and therefore also to the company itself, as an internal you know, the company is far away of use and integrate their own solutions properly. Actually, you are wondering how the company is still successful and competitive, despite the remarkable insufficiency of internal process handlings and the related costs, that have to be put on top of the product’s pricing at the end.

You as an engineer are doing great on your tasks, and for sure you have also best-in-class authoring tools available, for instance to evaluate early stage concepts and create the 3D designs of the product’s next generation. But to exchange information between you and your colleagues in the latest version and proper contexts is, let’s say, challenging. If you do exchanges with other internal departments like manufacturing engineering or supply chain engineers, it starts to get difficult. But receiving requirements or exchange with external partners or suppliers in an efficient digital and at least semi-automated way, seems to be a kind of ‘mission impossible’. So still, tons of e-mails, phone-calls and local data checks are dominating your daily business. Studies say that companies still lose 20 to 30 percent in revenue every year due to inefficiencies.

However, it still works today, and this may be the reason why nothing changes. But frankly speaking, you know, it is just a matter of time till the company will fall over its own legs and could end up in severe existential issues.

No, this was not a fictitious story from the 90ies. Welcome to the year 2021+, the painful As-Is situation for many companies. But you know the positive aspect about it? There is a lot of potential for improvement.

Figure 1: The daily business devil

The decade of platforms – PLM and the Digital Thread

In case information and processes get more complex and insufficient, it often leads consequently to a try to simplify and consolidate. That were also drivers in the last decade for several companies to put efforts on consolidating different IT-solutions. Reduce the total number and connect them via a limited number of platforms (IT-homogenization). This tendency can be especially observed, where historically grown and heterogenous IT-landscapes are present. And it is an ongoing need. A representative survey by McKinsey in mid of 2020 showed that still 85% of respondents struggle with inefficient digital technologies in their supply chains. Hence, a lot of companies are still suffering also from inefficiencies such as broken links between users, departments, supply-chain partners and customers, locally and globally.

So, what is this idea on platforms about? A platform focuses on a dedicated area of disciplines and links all relevant stakeholders with different needs together. Besides connecting users, applications and data, the platform also focuses on how to connect to other existing platforms. Well-known examples are MES (Manufacturing Executions Systems) for shopfloor, ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) for numerous business disciplines and PLM (Product Lifecycle Management). PLM platforms originate from the need to support engineers of different disciplines, such as mechanical or electrical design and simulations, and link them within an own collaboration environment. Some of these domains may have already experienced a consolidation process within their own discipline for their specific needs, but now they also become a part of a bigger community via a platform. For instance, product simulation engineers with several users now become an integrated part and role in an overall engineering process via a PLM platform. See more details on PLM fundamentals on SAP Insights.

Figure 2: IT-Bundling of single disciplines, later consolidates in platform approach

Therefore, one major question at the beginning of an IT-consolidation process is: Which platforms and consequently how many does our company need?

This question may be answered very individual, based on different aspects. It even needs clarifications upfront, if a separate engineering (PLM) platform is needed at all? How much and Which engineering contribution is needed to maximize the overall business success accordingly, today, tomorrow and in 5-10 years? A famous visionary and practitioner of Supply Chain Management, Dr. Martin Christopher, once concluded: “The whole can be greater than the sum of its parts”. Which means, the overall company’s success needs to stay always in the focus, instead of creating very optimized single departments/platform-silos that isolate from each other.

Hence, it is promising to have a solid ground for engineering needs, but at the same time it is crucial to stay integrated (not loosely linked) with the entire enterprise process. To generate the ‘greater whole” by combining strengths of e.g. sales, engineering, logistics, finance, production and services. Have puzzle pieces then, that smoothly link to each other within a company’s supply-chain, a so called optimized ‘Digital Thread’.

Value and ways of connecting Engineering to the Enterprise

However, decision makers are still struggling when trying to compare the value of integrative aspects with single point solution’s function and features. That may be also because of harder return on investment considerations in respect of overall business success, instead of simply running through a function and feature checklist. Nevertheless, at the end the right balance is key.

The variety of aspects makes it very complex and a tough job to identify the best approach for a company’s most efficient Digital Thread. That is where companies benefit from external advices and support, which is also an incremental daily business of SAP. Having different options/scalabilities, the profound experience and being also capable to implement what has been promised, makes SAP and dedicated partners unique on the market. That also includes to support companies on their PLM strategy definition and realization to secure the business success best in the overall Digital Thread.

This brings us back to our charmed engineer. He loves his job and enjoys working with best-in-class tools, but before he can start his actual and enriching tasks, it takes him a load of time and effort to get all needed information, likewise sharing his results afterwards with others. Therefore, doing proper Product Data Management and Integration is key not only to him but moreover to company’s overall efficiency and success.

Let us now have a closer look on how to Connect Engineers to the Enterprise. In the mid of the year 2020, the announced partnership with Siemens put SAP to a unique position and responsibility on the market. SAP has today different options in bridging engineering and enterprise’ needs most efficiently. Different solution approaches and appropriate scalabilities, enable SAP to perform as the before-mentioned trusted advisor with objective considerations of a customer’s As-Is situation and specific needs. In general, it can be classified in three scenarios:

Figure 3: SAP’s different supported approaches on PLM and Integrations to the ERP-backbone

Scenario A focuses on a direct CAD integration of any established CAD authoring tool into SAP’s ERP backbone that also allows easy contextualization to any ERP data. The lightweight solution Engineering Control Center (ECTR) offers engineers a compact and easy-to-use interface to manage their data (MCAD ECAD, any documents, etc.), use e.g. MS-Office integrations and collaborate accordingly.

Scenario B highlights the integration into Teamcenter, the PLM platform from Siemens, to address intense and specific engineering needs in a dedicated database system, separately from the ERP platform. This high-end engineering platform enables engineers to address all PLM fundamentals and go some steps beyond. Like integrating product and production simulation and offline programming (CAE, CFD, CAM,…). The partnership between SAP and Siemens also initiated the common development of a next-generation integration solution between the separate engineering platform Teamcenter and the SAP ERP backbone. Read more details on the integration in this blog, or get technical details on the development process via SAP’s Roadmap Explorer.

Scenario C describes SAP’s capability to integrate into the other well-known dedicated PLM-systems 3DEXPERIENCE from Dassault Systemes and Windchill from PTC. SAP provides, together with specialized partners, own best-in-class integration solutions, so called Product Data Management Integrations (PDMI). The integrations take care to connect engineers and its data from the 3DExperience and/or Windchill to the SAP backbone, most efficiently.

Now, it may be the right moment to elaborate on what needs to be done on which platform and how to connect in more detail (e.g on business scenario and structure-level). But this is indeed another story, or even are different stories. As an example, read in other blog-posts more specific facts and needs on asset intense industries (by Lars Fossum) or soon about trending needs to be connected also in private or public cloud approaches (by Stefan Ziegler), stay tuned!

Why SAP is the right partner to realize the best PLM approach

In all, increasing efficiency means being faster, saving costs, earning more money, and reducing employee’s frustrations significantly. Frustrated employees tend to leave the company. A replacement means high effort to find a new qualified colleague, and it also ends up in a costly ramp-up phase. Having a person not fully capable yet doing his/her job, and at least one person that is blocked in his/her daily business because of helping the newcomer getting started. Again, inefficiency multiplies, and the vicious circle keeps on spinning.

If Engineers get the chance to stay properly connected to the enterprise, it is just the beginning of a load of further possible improvements for the overall business success. A research by IDC indicates an example by so called Closed-Loop NPDI (New Product Development & Introduction). Results show that if the speed of time to operation is further reduced by 10% in an engineering-oriented value chain (e.g. machinery industry), company’s revenue increases additionally by +1%. A technology-oriented value chain (e.g. electronics & semiconductor industry) that reduces its time-to-volume by 10% can uplift revenue/product by even +5%. But again, the basis to lift this add-on potentials is a homogenized and enterprise business oriented Digital Thread.

Let us sum up with five facts as a take-away:

You still remember our promising engineer from the beginning? He likes to consider himself as being a part of the company and its success. He is not only doing his job and waits for the company’s big fail. He sees today’s in- and external challenges on Connecting Engineering to the Enterprise’ SAP backbone and starts to talk encouraged to his management about it. Doing so, he contributes to the company’s future and success - Do you?

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