Both manufacturing companies and software providers increasing take a process-oriented view of product and information development. One reason for this development is the problems that arise when communicating changes in product development. Legal requirements and a focus on customers also require as-built documentation (borrowing from the production structure) or as-maintained documentation (borrowing from the maintenance structure). Service-oriented architecture (SOA) enables companies to link technical documentation with development processes.
Strategic information management
Customers expect products and services that are precisely tailored to their requirements and needs. Companies increasingly respond to these expectations with industry- and customer-specific developments. This type of mass customization affects technical documentation that must be aligned with each product. The documentation thus increasingly becomes a part of product development.
The SAP Product Lifecycle Management (SAP PLM) application supports the entire product life cycle: from idea to construction and maintenance. It supports the maintenance of master data like material masters and bills of materials (BOMs) that drive downstream logistical processes. As part of product development, technical editors create descriptive documentation – such as technical values – that a product under development should have, or they even create technical drawings.
To manage these files, SAP offers comprehensive document management as an integral component of the SAP ERP application. That means that documents can be directly linked with customer-specific enterprise resource planning (ERP) objects like sales orders, projects, or BOMs, and they can be maintained without redundancy in SAP software.
Integration of editing processes in SAP ERP creates advantages in terms of cost. It eliminates license costs for document management software, the costs of user management and backup, and the costs of interfaces for the ERP solution. An integrated approach also allows all those involved in the process to access up-to-date and consistent data. It means that subprocesses like design, construction, and technical documentation can be performed in parallel and that the overall throughput time can be reduced. The status of development can be traced at any time.
An efficient change service within SAP ERP controls changes throughout the entire process of creating a product. In this manner, SAP PLM ensures the consistency of product data. Internal conditions determine whether integration is mapped completely or partially in the SAP software. Various levels of mapping can exist, depending on the use of a content management system and the use of SAP PLM for CAD data management.
Data and process integration
Companies can take different approaches to the integration of technical documentation in the development process. In one approach, data-oriented transfer mechanisms move static BOMs from CAD systems or an ERP solution to the editorial system. Editors then analyze the information in the BOMs manually or automatically when they create documentation on the related components.
In another approach, home-grown, process-oriented applications integrate the work of editors and the creation of documentation directly with the ERP solution. Existing applications usually deal with integration with SAP PLM or document management in SAP ERP. The goal here is to use the current BOMs in the editorial process so that changes made during the product development process can be traced in near real time. At the same time, the documentation must be created as automatically as possible, based on the BOMs.
SAP also offers the Knowledge Management component of the SAP NetWeaver technology platform. As the editorial system that SAP uses for its own documentation, it already possesses the essential functionalities needed to manage content. Because SAP developed it for software documentation, it must be modified to meet the special requirements of a documentation process that follows development and focuses on BOMs.
Providers of content management systems (CMS) have also developed solutions that support a process-oriented and technical coupling of editing with product development. Differences appear in the basic approach that focuses on ERP or product data management (PDM) integration. The differences affect the concrete support offered by the system and the logic of coupling processes to the native bills of materials from the construction-oriented production view and the CAD-oriented functional view of a product.
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