Carl Cloos Schweisstechnik GmbH specializes in made-to-measure welding robots. These compact robot welding cells and complex production lines automate production processes for customers around the world. The family-owned company develops and produces all of the components for its robot systems, which can consist of up to 6,000 parts, in house. These range from control systems, workpiece positioners and sensor systems to power generators and welding torches. The machines and methods are as varied as customers’ requirements. However, thanks to a state-of-the-art modular system, there is no need for the product development department at Cloos to reinvent the wheel each time. Each robot system is assembled in a separate project in the factory halls at the Cloos headquarters in Haiger. The medium-sized company manages around 200 of these automation projects simultaneously.
This approach requires extensive and above all long-term project control all the way from initial customer contact to maintenance. The robot systems and welding machines are in operation for many decades, so the relevant data for each individual project, such as the bill of material (BOM), must be available throughout its entire service life. To meet these key requirements, Cloos has been using a comprehensive Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) concept for many years. This gives the company complete project control throughout the entire lifecycle of a robot system. Since the end of 2006 Cloos is using SAP Product Lifecycle Management (SAP PLM) for this. When costing quotations, it is only necessary to perform customer-specific calculations for the special components. The majority of the items in a robot system are standard and are specified automatically by the system. This simplifies the costing process. What’s more, the relevant project plan quotation is created directly from the costing without any need to change media and already takes into account the prospective throughput times.
As soon as the customer has given the go-ahead, the project plan quotation can be seamlessly integrated into an order, even before job preparation formally approves the project. A major component of the PLM solution at Cloos is the “order network”, which combines orders into manageable bundles. These provide a horizontal view of orders to augment the vertical view of individual projects. “This has enabled us to massively improve the transparency of production,” reports Ralf Pfeifer, head of IT and Organization at Cloos. In this way, all ongoing projects can be scheduled and monitored from end to end. “We therefore have a permanent overview of costs and deadlines,” emphasizes Pfeifer.
As soon as a machine has been delivered, the solution automatically creates a service structure directly from the project. This contains all the items in the sales order BOM that might be relevant during the maintenance phase. The service structure provides the manufacturer with a central information base for all warranty cases and maintenance and repair work.
SAP partner solution paves the way . . .
Cloos paved the way for this integrated process chain in 2001 by introducing the SAP All-in-One partner solution All for Machine. This industry application from All for One replaced the company’s outdated, heterogeneous IT landscape that was based on Comet software from Siemens Nixdorf. Cloos chose All for Machine ahead of offers from Infor, PSI Penta, Brain and ProAlpha. “A major selling point was the solution’s project system. No other software was able to map our processes from end to end in this way,” recalls Pfeifer. External audits carried out at Cloos by customers, including leading automotive manufacturers, prove that this choice was the correct one. The end-to-end integration of key processes at Cloos is regularly praised.
The company also benefits immediately from the wide-ranging industry-typical default settings configured by All for Machine, which enable improved planning and scheduling or more precise fine-tuning of orders. Around 180 users currently work with the solution. Technical operation of the application is based on a two-level system landscape consisting of a live system, a development system and a test system. SAP ERP Central Component 6.0 (SAP ECC) now forms the core of the industry solution following a release change from SAP R/3 4.6C to SAP ERP at the end of 2006. The Microsoft SQL server is used as a database. Ralf Pfeifer and his six-strong team are managing the entire IT landscape, which includes the Dell server and some 400 workstation PCs.
. . . for the international roll-out
The international roll-out of this corporate solution began in 2006 under the motto “cross company”. First of all, the IT team introduced the software to the sales companies in the Netherlands and Spain. Cloos produces its robots at its headquarters and delivers them from there to customers all over the world. The country branches then take over sales, service and maintain a spare parts store. Prior to the roll-out of the SAP application as a “cross-company platform”, the company’s own sales branches abroad were treated as external customers. This required countless manual postings in order to map the complete flow of goods and assets between the sales company, the end customer abroad and production in Germany, as well as to meet the consolidation requirements in accounting.
Following completion of the first roll-out phase, the companies in the Netherlands and Spain now use the same SAP application as Cloos in Germany for all processes. This not only enables them to use the wide range of user-friendly functions, for example for customer-specific quotation costing or for creating project plan quotations, but also integrates them in the complete process chain. Projects that are negotiated and commissioned abroad are immediately sent straight to production in Germany without the need to change media. The system makes creditor postings automatically in background processing. Time-consuming, error-prone duplicate entries are therefore a thing of the past. The next step of the international roll-out is the go-live of the SAP industry solution at Cloos in Belgium. This will be followed by the company’s sites in the United Kingdom, the Czech Republic, Switzerland, the U.S., Mexico and China.
Reacting more flexibly to customer requirements
As far as further upgrades to the SAP PLM solution are concerned, a seamless integration solution for the CAD software Solid Works used by the company’s designers is high on the agenda. The technological basis for this is provided by the service-oriented architecture (Enterprise SOA), which was introduced at Cloos at the end of 2006 when the company changed over to SAP ERP. This integrates separate applications and systems seamlessly. Moreover, the uniform data model makes it easier to use the product information, master data or BOMs required in design, sales or service.
The company also plans to introduce SAP Records Management in order to implement a system of document management in the form of an electronic process file and electronic handling of incoming invoices. A portal solution for sales and service and an automatic small parts store are also set to be introduced to further extend the PLM solution. “These kind of process requirements crow up over time. Our SAP solution gives us the flexibility to realize our full potential and also to map radically altered processes. In future, we want to move over increasingly to a highly flexible production system. Version configuration will then be mapped more completely in work plans and BOMs and will be transferred to production on a one-to-one basis. This type of customer- and order-specific production and its many versions enables our integrated PLM solution to bring its strengths to the fore,” says Pfeifer. “It lets us react more flexibly to customer requirements.”