A study of trends carried out by the consultants PricewaterhouseCoopers predicts “unprecedented competition” in the high-tech sector over the coming years due, among other reasons, to the increasing focus by customers on price/performance. Small and midsize high-tech and electronics companies “face even greater pressure than ever to achieve extremely short production lifecycles”, says Dr. Andreas Pauls, Sales Manager at itelligence. “The cycle of development, production and delivery time has accelerated dramatically in recent years. “An industry solution for the high-tech sector must thus map all processes as fully as possible and satisfy all the requirements of future-oriented Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP)”, continues Pauls. Moreover, teams of developers or production departments based at different sites must have continuous access to up-to-date development and product data. With the qualified mySAP All-in-One solution it.hightronics, the SAP Business Partner itelligence has developed an industry solution that satisfies these requirements.
Lifecycles under control
One of the key pillars of successful companies in the technology sector is fast and economic implementation of good ideas and their rapid market launch. To do this, it is necessary to be able to map all information relevant to the product end-to-end. This ranges from drafting and detailed planning to stocking of replacement parts by service departments. “Products in the high-tech industry are often reliant on the interplay between mechanical components, electronic components and control software”, explains Pauls. For example, the development of a ticketing solution for buses and trains includes ticket machines and ticket printers for buses and trains, mobile ticket sales units for any application and check-in terminals for air travel. Other potential applications are passenger information screens and customized sales solutions with customer-specific software development. The challenge is to control this complex development process efficiently and ensure reliable logistics workflows in production.
To achieve this, it.hightronics offers comprehensive functionality for Product Lifecycle Management (PLM). The solution can either be linked up to a mechanical CAD (Computer Aided Design) system such as SolidWorks or Inventor from AutoDesk or to an electronic design system such as EPLAN. The SAP document management system then records the relevant development status of a software package and the individual software statuses. This enables the development and/or production departments to track individual process steps at all times. All product documents and new versions of a product also pass through an approval process. it.hightronics monitors and controls the entire logistics chain from planning, sales and procurement to production, resulting in a long-term improvement in the quality of products.
Access to all data
To ensure maximum transparency, development engineers also have access at all times to relevant accounting data (e.g. order price development) and logistical information such as stock levels and availability of materials. “Costs are continually analyzed and calculated during the development phase. This prevents estimated target costs for a product being exceeded and ensures reliability when planning”, states Pauls.
If several companies are working together as development partners on a product, it.hightronics can be expanded with the ‘Collaborative Engineering’ function which simplifies electronic cooperation between development partners. Development statuses are exported from the SAP-R/3 system into ‘cFolders’, edited by the partners there and then reimported. Even within the company, development documents such as product concepts, CAD models and electronic projects are available to all authorized SAP users immediately after being created. The information is then displayed in an integrated viewer to support job preparation in the subsequent final assembly of a product or create a maintenance manual alongside the development phase.
All versions at a glance
it.hightronics also opens up new possibilities for version configuration. This controls the combination of the components required for a product and “prevents, for example, the incorrect release of a control software package being loaded onto a device at final assembly”, explains Pauls. “Of course, the version configuration in it.hightronics also takes into account the options desired by the customer and converts them into work instructions for final assembly”, continues Pauls.
When a device has been fully assembled, marked with a serial number and leaves the plant, the solution records its status when it leaves the plant. The serial numbers of key components are also recorded, a feature which is vital for expensive LCD screens and critical storage units. Moreover, the ‘Ibase’ (Installed Base) of it.hightronics stores information on the software release and the document statuses of the manuals with which a device was shipped. The Ibase is continually updated when a device is modified or a new version of a software package is launched. This means that service engineers can access up-to-date information at any time when they are carrying out servicing jobs or there has been a malfunction.
Ease of use for operators
According to Pauls, the entire solution can be introduced within a period of three to nine months. It is platform-independent and runs on various hardware systems with the operating systems Windows 2000 Server, UNIX derivatives, Linux or OS/400. The database system used is Max DB (previously called SAP-DB), SQL-Server, DB/2 or Informix. itelligence will be delighted to provide prices for it.hightronics to interested companies on request.
With its preconfigured, industry-specific business processes, pre-produced sets of forms, role-based menus and a clearly structured interface, “it.hightronics is very easy for operators to use”, says Pauls. The Bielefeld-based SAP Business Partner intends to continue to expand the qualified mySAP All-in-One solution and, in the future, integrate quality management directly into procurement and manufacturing processes. There are also plans afoot for functions such as Customer Relationship Management (CRM) and Supply Chain Management (SCM) and largely automated planning, testing and control, thereby avoiding additional manual steps. “Our solution represent an ideal basis for boosting the competitiveness of small and midsize high-tech companies”, concludes Pauls.