From Five to Two

Feature Article | March 21, 2007 by admin

A vitamin before sports? A pill that wards off headaches when the weather changes? Anyone who grabs a package of medication often holds a product from Friedrich Sanner GmbH & Co. KG in Bensheim, Germany. Sanner is well-known in the medical industry as a plastics manufacturer. Its manufacturing efforts in Germany focus on tubes, closures, and packaging for dry goods. But the plastics company also operates in Brazil, China, Hungary, and the United States and collaborates with its customers to develop system solutions that provide end consumers with diagnostic products and other products that promote health – securely and safely.

Problem area: further processing of data

Sanner had been handling its processes with a total of five different software solutions: SAP R/3 3.1i as the ERP back end, Guard II for quality assurance, and additional products for capturing operating data, production planning, and end designation of finished products. “Although we were able to collect a great deal of data with these insular solutions that were connected by rudimentary interfaces,” says Holger Frank, the director in charge of administration and finances at Sanner, “they were hardly usable, because we did not have a clearly structured process for further data processing.” A significant number of personnel was required to keep the software landscape running.
That’s why the management of the midsize company wanted to eliminate insular solutions and paper documentation. Sanner also wanted to reorganize its master data so that it could trace and analyze it better. “Our question was, ’how can we use lean IT with a minimum of effort to generate the maximum benefit for the firm?’” says Frank.

Farewell to paper lists

The management and scheduling of tools is a central function of the plastics industry. Sanner had used various information systems and lists for that purpose: allocation reports on paper, refitting lists from the data captured on machines, rebuilding and maintenance lists, serviceable forms, and warehouse lists from Excel. Batch tracing was yet another task that created pressure at the firm.
For the planned reorganization of its IT, Sanner received quotations from several consulting companies that took a traditional approach to consulting on projects involving SAP software. “But the costs involved meant that we could not even discuss the quotations,” says Frank. “That’s how CUBIS Solutions GmbH and its industry solution, All for Plastics, convinced us.”
For example, the CUBIS solution manages tools in the production process as equipment in plant maintenance. The number of items that Sanner manufactures with the tool is transferred to the equipment by the confirmation of the production order. This approach to tool management enables the automatic scheduling of tools and the tracing of costs. Once a production order has been created, it’s easy to tell immediately if the required tool is available or undergoing maintenance.
The qualified SAP-All-in-One partner solution follows tool setup from quotation to order confirmation. With a click of the mouse, All for Plastics gives employees exact information on the costs of similar projects executed in the past, including a complete breakdown of production hours, material costs, special consideration in construction, and external costs for partners and vendors. It can produce reports that show the historical level of adherence to the schedule, and why adherence was or was not possible. Integration of accounting and controlling, materials management, and sales and distribution functionality enables reliable budget planning.

Tailoring workflows to the software

A great deal of manual work can now be avoided in quality control. The computer now tells employees on the production machines when they should check the quality characteristics of individual products. They enter the measurement data directly into the solution. “Today, we have all quality data in electronic form,” says Frank, “instead of on paper and in Excel workbooks.” All for Plastics has replaced manual assignment of batches of raw materials with automatic batch assignment.
The company’s management has met its goal of tightening internal flows by implementing the preconfigured processes of the software directly and recommends this approach to other midsize companies. “For a midsize company, it’s more efficient to tailor the company to the software rather than the other way around,” says Frank. “Of course, many companies believe that their processes are extremely individual, but a more thorough examination would show that at least 80% of the processes are a recurring standard,” Frank concludes.

Investment well worth it

“As early as 2003, we began to formulate an IT strategy that clearly defined what we wanted in an IT solution, and we used a careful process to cut the wish-list of our users at least in half,” says Frank. At the start of the actual project in March 2005, detailed planning was already available. “Yet despite the strict selection process, our list of targets was a good two-and-a-half meters long when we began,“ says Frank with amusement.
Integration of the Guardus quality management system was one of the company’s milestones. By the middle of 2005, the qualified SAP All-in-One partner solution, All for Plastics, had been completely implemented. The total restructuring of its IT systems enabled Sanner to start with the then-current release, SAP R/3 4.7, but that meant transferring a great deal of master and transaction data.
Sanner went into production with the overall solution on January 2, 2006, and the solution has been stable since then. “Ultimately, the total project, including the connection of machines, cabling, hardware, and the integration of Guardus MES, cost less than €1 million,” says Frank. He calculates that the investment in the new software solution will pay for itself within two years. “We’re saving personnel costs, administrative effort, and maintenance costs. Many processes that we used to handle manually now run automatically, and other processes have at least become more efficient,“ says Frank. The noticeable result? Today, Sanner can manufacture in Germany and compete internationally. That not only secures existing jobs, but also creates room for growth.
Sanner is now thinking about connecting its locations in Brazil, China, Hungary, and the United States with the software and, in the future, wants to exchange data with its customers electronically. “Supply chain management and customer relationship management would have advantages for both sides,” says Frank. Sanner has laid the foundation for electronic data exchange with the new solution – most of its customers also use SAP software.

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