Globalization in the Midmarket

The midsized family-run automotive components manufacturer Bühler Motoren GmbH is realizing its global aspirations by moving into new territory. Supporting its efforts is SAP industry solution it.automotive supplier, with processes running exclusively on SAP.

Gerhard Denk does not like making decisions from the confines of his desk. Whatever country the CIO of Bühler Motoren GmbH happens to be working in, he takes time to step out onto the factory floor and talk to employees. “If you know where the crux of a problem lies, then you can sort it out in good time,” says the experienced manager. “And it is not just about IT. Most of all, it’s about leadership. You need to motivate and get employees on board with this kind of project – taking the time to listen really pays off.”

Presumably, it is precisely this successful combination of expertise, humanity and persuasiveness that allows Denk to easily inspire people. It is thanks to his and his team’s success that the SAP solution was rolled out uniformly at Bühler worldwide. And as a result, each of the 1,600 employees at Bühler’s global sites can now follow the same process in the same software.

Bühler manufactures parts for Chrysler, General Motors, and VW. (Foto: Bühler GmbH)
Bühler manufactures parts for Ford, Chrysler, General Motors, and VW. (Photo: Bühler GmbH)
SAP software supports the entire logistics chain. (Photo: Bühler GmbH)
SAP software ensures the supply chain. (Photo: Bühler GmbH)

As part of the project, the implementation got underway simultaneously in October 2008 at Bühler’s plants Monheim and Nuremberg in Germany and in the Czech Republic. The Czech Republic was involved because this plant operates as an internal supplier, with around 40 percent of its production going to the Bühler Monheim site. The aim was a simultaneous go-live. And to meet that aim, management initially set out the strategic goals for the Bühler Group: which business model should be set up globally? What results should be achieved in financial controlling, how should the companies be globally integrated, and what should global reporting look like?

Key users provided input

Together with a consultant, the Bühler IT team held a workshop with 36 key users from Germany and the Czech Republic to devise and hone the factor analysis, the process-requirements analysis and the process coordination for the process model. It quickly became clear that everyone wanted to stick to the SAP standard. In light of its product portfolio, which includes motors, gear motors and water pumps, Bühler opted for the industry solution it.automotive supplier. An SAP partner, itelligence, developed this solution for the automotive supplier industry on the basis of SAP Business All-in-One. The it.automotive supplier solution allows customers to plan, control and monitor logistical business processes end-to-end. It supports the entire logistics chain – from pre-production orders and sales orders dispatched by EDI through to production planning and control.

“Sticking close to the standard brings lots of advantages,” Denk stresses, “particularly if you have a global structure.” Thus, the family-run business with 150 years of tradition can offer its customers outstanding service while ensuring it remains competitive. An important consideration, given the bulk of revenue is generated in the EU, particularly in Germany. However, General Motors, Ford and Chrysler in the USA also use Bühler parts. Bühler also supplies directly to VW.

“We can import new releases with minimal time and effort,” explains Denk. He is particularly pleased with the cost savings associated with change management. Fewer interfaces not only lower costs, but they also provide a simpler, faster overview – thus creating greater transparency.

Bühler plant in the Czech Republic. (Photo: Bühler GmbH)
Bühler plant in the Czech Republic. (Photo: Bühler GmbH)

The SAP standard solution also offers Bühler integrated processes across departments – another useful feature, especially when the CIO considers the heterogeneous IT landscape they once had. It is now possible to follow the history of part numbers from CAD, the product data management system across the SAP system globally.

“This has only been possible because all the setups, all the processes, all the cost-center plans, all the cost-accounting plans, the entire accounting function have been defined globally on a uniform basis, all before the first SAP project got underway in Germany and the Czech Republic,”, says Denk.

One critical issue – it tends to be the rule rather than the exception particularly in multinational enterprises – is that there are separate and different processes locally. Apart from the legally required country specifics, no independent processes were permitted in other plants. Once the decision had been taken, everyone got fully behind it, emphasizes the CIO.

The budget was also tightly managed. Denk and his colleagues placed a great deal of responsibility on the team members’ shoulders, asking them to provide reports every two weeks on timetables and the financial situation. In contrast, this fixed structure provided plenty of leeway as far as implementation went. Executive management and other management colleagues supported the independent approach through their CIO.

One go-live after the other

That trust paid off. From management through to the warehouse worker, everyone is really impressed with the SAP solution. Executive management can, for instance, consult their daily sales or results on a global level. Paperless processing is the key benefit for storage, procurement and production: from purchase requisition through approval process to procurement, the processes are all electronic. Since being rolled out across all the sites in January 2011, employees in sales, materials management, quality management, product data management, HR, workflows, financial management, controlling and accounting use the SAP solution.

Bühler is also currently adding the Maintenance module in Germany, with go-live slated for the end of 2011. After it launches in the EU, the solution will also be rolled out globally to employees in China (Beijing, Hong Kong and Zhuhai) as well as the Chihuahua manufacturing site in Mexico, Employees in the U.S. office in North Carolina will be also able to access the SAP solution. The U.S. office and Mexico effectively form a single unit.

The Bühler plant in China (Photo: Bühler GmbH)
The Bühler plant in China (Photo: Bühler GmbH)
There is also a Bühler plant in Mexico. (Photo: Bühler GmbH)
There is also a Bühler plant in Mexico. (Photo: Bühler GmbH)

Keeping a cool head in hot Mexico

Mexico is also the place where the IT boss currently spends most of his time. In Chihuahua, Bühler runs a manufacturing plant which now employs 400 staff, with the headcount growing all the time. “The challenge at this site has to do with the rapid growth of the workforce,” explains Denk. His regular visits have also earned him respect among the local workforce.

One thing, however, unites the company: from Central America through Asia, employees are really enthusiastic about the software. Nobody wants to go back to the old system, regardless of whether they are colleagues from logistics, procurement or finance. Hardly surprising since they all share the same view. “If a problem arises, the reason can quickly be pinpointed: I can click through the various options to locate the root cause,” Denk adds enthusiastically.

The CIO’s drawer already contains plans for what the Bühler’s future SAP solution will look like – essentially an SAP portal solution and enhanced supplier integration thanks to SAP CRM and SAP SRM. It will allow the information required prior to the project to be collated and updated; the performance of suppliers can therefore be compared before making relevant decisions. Although Denk is involved with other projects at the moment, when he decides to make a start on this project, he confidently says “it’ll also be implemented in twelve months.” And that is something employees can look forward to.