Small Editions, Great Effects

It’s a long road from raw materials, such as paper, cardboard, or synthetics, to a carefully edited professional journal or attractive packaging. And what customers want from the printing and packaging industry becomes more specific every year. The need to master ever-smaller editions, split editions for regional distribution, personalized printing products, shorter throughput times, and interactive media challenges organizations and corporate policies and demands increased communications. Companies must monitor numerous factors, such as resources, warehouses, logistic, organization, order management, and customer management.
Companies can gain a decisive competitive advantage in two ways. First, they can link materials management and production planning to their customers, manufacturers, and vendors. Second, they can integrate their technical and business functions. The current topics in the industry therefore include workflow, e-commerce, customer relationship management (CRM), linking the machinery control room to the business system, and supply chain management (SCM).

The Problem: Customer Order Production

The central issue in the graphics industry is the creation of calculations, which demands consideration of a large number of factors. In general, production planning distinguishes between the production of customer orders and series, although mixed forms certainly appear in actual practice. The printing and packaging industry deals primarily with the production of customer orders: mass production of customer-specific products. Because each product is different, each production run must be planned, monitored, and processed individually.
Companies must recalculate manufacturing costs in the quotation and order for each printing and packaging product. Given the numerous characteristics of each print run, this approach makes it almost impossible to create a unique item number – with a work plan and bill of material (BOM) – for each product. In the quotation phase, companies must also be able to make calculations based upon several editions and technical variants. At the same time, companies must differentiate the prices offered to each customer, which demands a flexible price structure in both quotations and orders.

Planning with the Variant Configurator

To handle these tasks, SAP R/3 offers the ability to map complex product structures with its variant configurator. The variant configurator is an integrated tool of SAP R/3; it allows the production of complex products according to the special wishes of customers. For example, say that a customer specifies the characteristics of a newspaper, such as length and breadth, color, finish, or supplements. The variant configurator can be used to ensure that the publication can be produced according to the customer’s desires. The only limits are set by technical and distribution considerations. A configurable material maps all the variants of a product. Accordingly, a material must be created for each product variant. For each configurable material, the director of production creates a maximum BOM and a maximum work plan that contain all the components and procedures required for the variant desired.
However, fixing standard work plans and BOMs with the variant configurator demands a great deal of effort because of the number of size factors (such as paper, ink, or scope) and production methods (printer, type of binding, and binding machine). Accordingly, the printing and packaging industry can use the application only under certain conditions. If a production method changes because a company acquires a new machine or a work process changes, even more effort is needed to rework the maximum BOM and the maximum work plan. In addition, the complex syntax used to structure relationships in the variant configurator requires programming knowledge.

The Industry Solution Respects Functional Requirements

This situation was the impetus for Steeb to develop its own industry solution, Steeb as//packaging, which SAP qualified in 2001. The industry solution offers a tool that is both fully integrated into the SAP R/3 environment and respects the functional requirements of the printing and packaging industry. The application software of SAP R/3 and the industry software of Steeb enable mapping of all business processes throughout a company and across various plants – all in one, integrated system. Because the solution integrated all printing and packing-specific functions, all the additional functions of SAP R/3 components are also available. The logistics components of SAP R/3 map processes for distribution, procurement, and production.

Order Processing with the Product Configurator

The core of the industry solution is the product configurator for print and packaging products. Based upon a technical description (or configuration) of a print or packaging product, it enables the definition of production methods with work steps and materials. These definitions build the basis for calculating the production costs and provide the essential master data for integrated materials management and production control. Customizing realizes the technical description. Simple syntax means that almost all characteristics of a print or packaging product can be mapped with knowledge of their relationships.
The product configurator is an essential component of order processing for a product. It is used during the quotation phase to precalculate a product’s costs. Once an order has been placed, it is used to calculate the costs of the order. The product costs themselves form the basis for price determination in the quotation or order document in SAP Sales & Distribution. Creation of a production order occurs based upon the print configuration. The production order provides the master data for materials requirements planning, work preparation, and the creation of work papers.

Various Products, Various Characteristics

Labels, collapsible boxes, and brochures each have different technical characteristics and therefore require different configurations. The features also vary depending upon the production methodology (printing sheets or rolls) or the production area (composition, preprint, print, or binding). Configuration also includes the selection of paper or carton. Material characteristics (weight, volume, or format) form the basis for the selection of raw materials from the material master. In addition to a technical description, configuration also selects the production method. Finally, the production method and comprehensive knowledge of the relationships involved enables structuring the work steps, materials, and external services needed for production. The process determines all the quantities and times required for each step along with material requirements (such as assemblies, plates, setups, color changes, plate changes, serial printing, allowances, and paper quantities.

Alexander Redinger
Alexander Redinger