MAN Roland manufactures printing machines and, as part of a thorough modernization of its IT infrastructure, replaced its highly integrated SAP R/2 system with SAP R/3 4.6. The conversion to a central ERP system also required a redesign of all interfaces to external systems, some of which implemented new software at the same time.
The company has profited from the rapid development of interfaces, thanks to Zenos integration. In the first step, a total of 23 interfaces were prepared for production in only 190 days. The work included design, realization, and testing so that a completed and tested interface was ready about every eight days, depending upon the complexity of individual interfaces.
Integrating warehouse management had a positive side: the interface logic could remain as is. “You can speak of a 1:1 migration here,” says Jürgen Fischer, the IT manager responsible for interfaces at MAN Roland, “even when we had to take another technical approach to integration because the interfaces were based upon a table structure in SAP R/2 that no longer exists in SAP R/3.” At MAN Roland, the user exits and BAPIs in SAP R/3 are essentially addressed by the same functions that had existed in SAP R/2. Zenos interface management encapsulates and realizes the functions.
A large-scale project
The overall project saw the implementation of SAP R/3 for production planning, materials management, financials, accounting, and service management across several plants and product lines. As part of the project, the assembly lines were mapped in the project system capabilities of SAP R/3 so that networks manage the assembly lines today. This technology has an advantage: SAP software can handle customer changes at advanced stages of the production process. The project also updated the integrative components for electronic capture of operating data in production planning.
Given the substantial number of changes in the IT infrastructure, continuous integration of these components with the central SAP system was important to the project. Integration was ensured for the following areas:
- Electronic document archive to manage technical drawings and service documents
- Assembly control system with BDE
- Linking warehouse management with an automated guided vehicle system (AGV)
- Linking to CAD systems to automatically generate the material master in SAP R/3
- Product data management
Gerd Meißner, IT director of technology, production, and assembly, and Rainer Kegelmann, IT director for financials (including sales, service, and personnel) were responsible for the project as a whole. The IT department had to manage the project in addition to its normal operations without disrupting users with IT problems before, during, or after the conversion.
The conversion from SAP R/2 to SAP R/3 on time, with a small team, and with a limited budget was the greatest challenge. “It worked because of thorough planning, tight project management, and strict adherence to phase plans – starting in the design phase, continuing in the proof-of-concept phase, and lasting until realization,” says Fischer as he summarizes the success factors. And the intensive functional and integration tests to guarantee seamless implementation of the new software were just as important to the success of the project.
Process management beyond interfaces
Two technical considerations made the tests more difficult. First, the systems connected to the SAP systems were rarely available for testing because many of them were being converted at the same time. Second, MAN Roland had been using SAP R/2 comfortably with its sophisticated process management since the mid-1990s. Process management closely linked applications external to the SAP system, like warehouse management and entry of operating data, to SAP R/2. Comprehensive IT support for the business processes in these areas had existed for years. MAN Ronald did not want to lose the advantages provided by this high level of integration; it wanted to extend those benefits to other areas, such as product data management or electronic archiving. Accordingly, the modernization project integrated entire CAD systems with SAP R/3, including material master data, document master data, and change management.
These considerations brought actum consulting products into the project as the supplier of the Zenos integration platform. The factors behind this decision included economic reasons and three technical reasons: tight integration of this software suite for enterprise application integration (EAI) as a plug-in the SAP R/3 environment, good performance, and options for return mappings in SAP R/3.
“The actual interfaces could be developed quickly with Zenos,” says Fischer with satisfaction about the success of the project. This integration platform offers a high level of user friendliness when integrating BAPIs and IDocs. Nonetheless, no one underestimated the effort needed to design the population with content of complex and multifaceted SAP structures of BAPIs and IDocs. The SAP experts from actum were a great help to Fischer’s team, which also relied on additional help from SAP itself.
Project director Fisher summarizes his experience: “As soon as a developer is comfortable in the SAP environment, Zenos takes over a great deal of the specific work related to programming interfaces. The actual difficulty is trying to determine how and where the interfaces place or call information in the SAP system.” MAN Roland also turned to actum for advice on this important and detailed question. According to the contract, actum linked the external warehouse management system, applications for order processing, and the external material master system to SAP R/3 – with the same level of comfort and integration that had already existed with SAP R/2. It did so without lessening quality. The speed is evident: the system went into operation in only three months.
No lessening of quality
But the process was not as simple as it might seem, because a completely new warehouse management system was implemented at the same time as part of a plant restructuring. It involved a high-rack warehouse for 15,000 pallets and a small-parts warehouse for 46,000 pallets. The warehouse is distributed across three locations (Offenbach, Geisenheim, and Mainhausen) and features a new AGV and dynamic production buffers.
The continuous changes in software applications made ample testing of the new interfaces in the infrastructure at MAN Roland absolutely necessary. The company’s IT landscape is divided into development, test, and production environments. Because all changes have to exhibit their suitability and be free of errors in the test environment before they move to production and because many of the new systems were not yet in operation, another feature of Zenos proved advantageous to MAN Roland. Test data could be generated and used for functional tests even before the external systems became available. “Thanks to the standardized development environment, changes and modifications can be made quickly and without complication,” says Fischer. “After one of these corrections, the test can be restarted with the same set of data.”
That’s how actum supported integration of the warehouse management system from the very beginning, even though MAN Roland has adequate knowledge of the required functionality in house. According to Fisher, under this arrangement, work continued with Zenos while internal resources could improve and use their knowledge to handle all BDE and CAD integration on their own. In addition to creating functional and performance specifications, the testing instructions were especially helpful, says Fischer, “so that before production began, we could be absolutely sure and had proof that critical functions were correct.”