Made-to-Order Vehicles from ERP and CAD

Feature Article | February 27, 2008 by Dr. Andreas Schaffry

Krone semitrailers and trailers are well-known throughout Europe. The company manufactures vehicles to order. Even simple specifications, which vary by customer, involve a multiplicity of variations and options for configuration.

This situation means that some components, such as fire extinguishers, tool boxes, spare tires, and pallet containers, must be placed in different locations even when creating the CAD models. That’s the only way that a vendor can deliver a made-to-order chassis that Krone can add the right parts to at the right time during assembly. The company needs well-coordinated and yet flexible processes, especially in the assembly area.

Securing growth with new IT

Krone has been quite successful in the market and has shown rapid growth in the past few years. In fiscal year 2006 to 2007, sales at the Krone Group rose 23% over the previous year. But Krone’s legacy enterprise resource planning (ERP) solution, which it had developed itself, could no longer adequately support the growth that the company was experiencing. The software had reached its limits, and its technology was obsolete.

That’s just where Krone wanted change. “To secure our long-term growth, we had to design more efficient processes and individual work steps with the support of a future-proof and expandable IT solution,” says Dr. Goy-Hinrich Korn, the IT director of the Krone Group. Creation of comprehensive order processing from sale to product delivery had important strategic significance. After an intense search process, Krone engaged an SAP partner, itelligence AG, to implement the SAP ERP application.

Some order-processing functions already ran automatically for the most part. The processes had proven themselves and were to be retained almost without change with the implementation of SAP ERP. For example, when visiting customers, the sales staff still uses a configurator to create a custom vehicle. The data from the configurator is then replicated and transferred to SAP ERP instead of to the legacy ERP system.

Automating manual work

But other areas still used mostly manual processes. Before implementing SAP ERP, the company had been unable to derive bills of materials (BOMs) or CAD models directly from a sales configuration. That created a lot of work, especially for employees in the construction department. Employees used the Pro/Engineer CAD system to create the CAD models they needed from the description and then used the model to generate the logistics material numbers and BOMs.

To reduce the time needed for construction, the company wanted to generate 3-D CAD models, blueprints, technical data sheets, and production information during configuration. It also wanted to manage supplies, production structures, configuration characteristics, and rules with as little redundancy as possible and to do so when the order was placed.

Integrating CAD and ERP

With the variant configurator functionality of the SAP software, the company can now configure BOMs for a sales order.

However, it was impossible to control the CAD system automatically using only variant configuration in SAP ERP. Krone bridged this gap with a supplemental solution, it.cadpilot, that is fully integrated with SAP ERP and is a joint product of itelligence and ACATEC GmbH. With it.cadpilot, the company was finally able to generate CAD documents automatically from the product structure and the assignment of characteristic values in variant configuration. The construction configurator consists of add-ons for variant configuration within SAP software from itelligence and of components from ACATEC for remote control of the CAD software.

A few masters for all variants

CAD master models and drawings stored in the CAD software are the technical foundation for integrated variant configuration with it.cadpilot. The CAD system then transmits an XML description of the master model to it.cadpilot. Special control tables convert the results of variant configuration in SAP ERP, the sales view, into a geometric view based on CAD technology that is transmitted to it.cadpilot. A CAD adapter from ACATEC interprets the results and builds the new model in the CAD software with the native Pro/Engineer files.

it.cadpilot uses the BOMs and master data of SAP ERP and its stored construction knowledge to generate complete CAD data records, including drawings of the custom vehicle. An integrated configuration system within the SAP software now comprehensively realizes offers, pricing, BOMs, cost calculations, and the creation of CAD documents in the engineering part of order processing. A manageable number of masters can thus configure several different variants.

A system that learns

But that’s not all. Because Krone’s customers can to a great extent freely configure additional products and because the company does not work with maximum BOMs, a sales configuration also contains characteristic variants that have never been constructed or produced. Even in these cases, a BOM can be automatically derived from the sales configuration. The BOM does not explode the class nodes with the unknown variants. In this case, manual intervention is required to construct the characteristics variant in the CAD system and insert it into the BOM.

Of course, all information on the new variant is immediately stored in the variant configurator of SAP ERP. If there are changes in a follow-up order, for example, the SAP ERP application “knows” the new variants and adds them to the BOM automatically. “Manual processes are unavoidable here,” says Korn. “But new construction knowledge is constantly stored in the system, which continuously increases the level of automation when processing sales orders.”

An average of five times faster

Krone first used the integrated solution for configuring container vehicles. The advantages of direct control of the CAD system from SAP ERP were clear soon after the start of production in June 2007. The throughput times for sales order processes of container vehicles were significantly shorter than before.

Korn estimates, “that employees in construction now perform their work an average of five times faster. Burdensome routine tasks, such as loading standard parts that are built in to every CAD model, are no longer necessary,” he says. And the sales department also benefits. When the vehicle configuration that was created with the customer is transferred to SAP ERP, the processes for calculation, scheduling, and construction are triggered there automatically.

It’s no wonder, then, that Krone wants to extend this status. It wants to move configuration of all types of vehicles to the integrated solution one by one. According to Korn, that will happen quickly, because comprehensive relationship and construction knowledge has already been stored in SAP ERP.

New workflow designs

Krone uses the new IT processes to optimize its internal workflows. In a newly created order center, specialists from individual departments work together. The employees in the order center and other departments use a sales order cockpit for SAP ERP that was developed by itelligence to call information from a central source. This approach ensures that when customers make changes, Krone can find a short path and make quick decisions.

Traffic signals show employees which processes related to a sales order have already been performed and which remain open. They can also view important information on construction and assembly BOMs, production orders, orders, warehouse stocks, and quality management with a simple click. Korn says, “All processes are designed transparently and can be tracked. We always know exactly where we’re at, so we can improve our ability to inform our customers.”

The ambitious project was the basis for two German periodicals, CIO Magazin and Computerwoche, awarding Korn third prize as “CIO of the Year 2007“ for a midsize company from a field of 500 peers.

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