“No weaknesses are allowed in the automotive business,” according to Volker M. Fluhr, Controlling manager at automotive supplier Vibracoustic. From the very start, the company therefore put its trust in the industry solution SAP for Automotive. Vibracoustic GmbH & Co. KG, which was founded in 2001 as a joint venture between the corporate groups Freudenberg and Phoenix, develops and manufactures vibration technology and acoustic products and system components in the business areas of engine mounts, drive trains, chassis, and suspension struts, and is one of the technology leaders in its field. The global company has numerous locations throughout Europe.
From an IT perspective, the company merger presented a challenge, but at the same time offered opportunities. Vibracoustic could not and did not want to continue with the various legacy systems used by the two parent companies. The aim was to build up a new IT system tailored to the specific requirements of the young company, and to do so during day-to-day operation, without this being obvious to the customers. Standardized processes, which are an important factor for success in production, were also applied to the business processes and IT at Vibracoustic; all these processes are mapped in a uniform, Europe-wide system landscape on the basis of SAP for Automotive. Vibracoustic chose IT service provider Freudenberg IT (F-IT), a company with over 25 years of experience in the SAP environment, as its partner for this project, which started in April 2000.
Model implementation in Germany
Despite the one face that the new company presents to its customer, business policy and legal factors meant that initially, three German companies (company codes) had to be managed in parallel within one system. This necessity soon proved to be a blessing. The experience of mapping three companies with a common pattern in parallel in a central system made it easier to integrate the non-German Vibracoustic locations using the same model. Georg Dietl, Business Manager of Vibracoustic in the Czech Republic, where SAP for Automotive was introduced at the start of 2003, can confirm this. “I am very pleased with the implementation in the Czech Republic. There were no hitches, and production start-up went very smoothly.”
One challenge that the solution had to meet was that it needed to map the requirements of both the parent companies in the system. For example, separate balance sheets were needed. But this is also achieved most easily in a homogenous “one-system world.” The company headquarters went live at the beginning of 2001, and the United Kingdom subsidiary followed one year later. Poland has been working with SAP for Automotive since January 2003, Spain since January 2004. Other subsidiaries will be connected one by one.
Synergies pay off
The advantages of this IT standardization are clear: the standard, centralized solution reduces costs for implementation in the other locations, because the corporate representation can be transferred one-to-one to the other subsidiaries, and training documents, once created, can be reused everywhere. In addition, the costs for running the overall solution are considerably lower than for the heterogeneous system landscape.
All the threads in Vibracoustic’s IT environment are drawn together in the Freudenberg IT computer center in Weinheim, Germany, where the SAP for Automotive solution is installed and maintained by the service provider. System, consulting, and computer center services are therefore carried out by the same team. As a result, tasks can be completed with relatively little bureaucracy, processes can be carried out more smoothly, and the security and availability of the data are increased.
Thanks to the uniform structure of the solution and its central operation, system adjustments, for example to forecast delivery schedule processing, can be carried out more quickly and easily. “Structural changes in the company, for example the modification of service units such as sales and processing, can be carried out at reasonable cost,” stresses Reinhard Falke, IT Manager at Vibracoustic: “Release upgrades are also ‘noise-free’ and cost-effective in a homogenous system.” Employees need much less specialist knowledge, because they do not have to work with different solutions. Much can be controlled centrally, and certain functions do not have to be retained everywhere. In addition, the experience and knowledge gained at one location can be put to good use at all the others. These synergies improve the knowledge management in the company. At the same time, reporting is transparent, because every location has the same view of the current figures.
Specific understanding of processes
One of the main advantages of standardization is that it simplifies the tasks of the IT service provider. “As a result of our collaboration, we know Vibracoustic’s processes inside out, and can map them effectively in SAP R/3,” states Klaus Antczak from Team Automotive at F-IT. Vibracoustic is also benefiting from the experience that F-IT has gained with other automotive customers over the years, including Freudenberg DS, Sachsenring Zwickau, Profil and Corteco. “We also offer customers developments that we use elsewhere.”
Vibracoustic appreciates this. “We are very happy with F-IT,” says Fluhr. “The company has competent employees, and has the size and capacity to remain a reliable partner in the long term. With its external offices, F-IT is represented at home and abroad. We have benefited from this in the implementation of SAP for Automotive just as we have profited from the service provider’s good long-term relationship with SAP.”
According to Christof Wörner, Manager of Methods and Systems in Controlling, the SAP implementation project had a positive side effect on Vibracoustic’s corporate culture: “The successful SAP project greatly helped integration for the joint venture as a whole. Working towards a common goal under time pressure is a bonding experience and helps to create a new corporate identity.”