The Highest Common Denominator

Feature Article | April 14, 2003 by admin

Feintool hydraulic fineblanking press

Feintool hydraulic fineblanking press

As a manufacturer of forming and fineblanking equipment, automated assembly systems, and components and multifunctional parts, Feintool is succeeding in the highly competitive industrial goods market. Given the highly competitive pressures, efficient structures and business processes are essential for strengthening market position. Feintool is thus faced by the challenge of being able to react flexibly to fluctuations in demand while keeping the balance between low storage capacity and high availability.

Portrait of Feintool

Portrait of Feintool

Feintool overcame these challenges in the past by using a heterogeneous system landscape which had grown up organically and reflected the organizational structure of the company. The Feintool Group, headquartered in Lyss, Switzerland, is made up of approximately 25 companies which essentially operate independently. Five of these companies used an SAP R/3 system for their business processes. The others used various Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems, some of which were customized programs.
This heterogeneous IT structure resulted in a lack of consistent data to ensure that business processes ran smoothly in the individual companies and between different companies in the Feintool Group. This gave rise to productivity problems. Looking after the different systems was also very complicated and expensive.

An IT Solution for 25 Companies

These difficulties will soon be consigned to history. Feintool is in the process of gradually consolidating its IT landscape and replacing the different applications with a system environment based on mySAP Business Suite. “Our primary aim is to make use of standard business processes based on ERP software which are uniform across the company, optimized and have multiple applications, thereby enabling us to increase the productivity of the whole group,” explains Manfred Gyger, Feintool’s IT manager. “We also want to reduce the numerous application systems to a single system, namely SAP, and thereby cut IT costs.” When selecting the system, the people at Feintool responsible for the decision believed that the SAP solution was the most likely to comprehensively map the business processes of this highly diversified company. A further argument was the success that five Feintool companies had already had with SAP R/3.

Toolmaker at Feintool

Toolmaker at Feintool

It was clear to everyone involved that it was going to be a very difficult task to provide a uniform system for the 25 companies of the group, each with their various demands and requirements. Feintool met this challenge with the support of SAP service provider Process Partner AG, St. Gallen, a subsidiary of AC-Service AG, Stuttgart. “We had worked successfully with Process Partner in earlier projects and were impressed by their proven SAP expertise,” said Gyger when explaining the selection of implementation partner.

A Tailor-made Prototype

The project began at the end of 2001 when a team made up of employees from Feintool and Process Partner developed the introduction strategy. This consisted of first creating a tailor-made prototype based on mySAP Business Suite and subsequently introducing this in a multi-stage rollout into the individual Feintool companies. The prototype was to map the key business processes of all the companies and consist of SAP modules for Financial (FI) with result calculation, Material Management (MM), Customer Service (CS), Production Planning (PP), Project System (PS), Sales and Distribution (SD) and Human Resources (HR).
In the template development process that began at the start of 2002, the project team analyzed the business processes of the individual companies and defined the required degree of cover. The result – 80 percent of business transactions are covered by the prototype while the remaining 20 percent represent company-specific special requirements. As with inventory management or reporting, these will be programmed during the customizing process for individual companies or the company will opt to dispense with mapping specific business processes and only use the standard.
The standard includes essential cross-company business processes such as the production and sale of warehouse products or the preliminary costing, development and design of new plant. Human resources is, however, not included because it is very country-specific and depends on the legal requirements. It is thus prepared for the individual companies directly before the rollout.
The prototype became available in July 2002 and the target date for Feintool, Switzerland going live was set for October 1. The IT experts therefore only had two-and-a-half months for the introduction phase. “We kept to the tight time limit and 64 users were able to start using SAP on time. This was helped by the commitment of everyone involved and the quality of our Feintool template,” concluded Mr. Gyger, one of the IT experts.

Overcoming Initial Hurdles

The SAP solution going live in Switzerland marked an important milestone for Feintool on the path to a new IT environment. Gyger: “We have overcome the initial hurdles in the implementation of the template and created an instrument which will allow us to utilize IT across the company to increase our competitiveness.”

Draftsman at Feintool

Draftsman at Feintool

The SAP solution will now be implemented in Germany over the course of this year and thereafter in the international Feintool companies. In the final configuration, around 750 Feintool employees will be working with the uniform SAP system. The software runs with an Oracle database in Windows NT/2000 on IBM computers.

A Practical Solution

“We wanted to find the highest common denominator and not the lowest – this is something we have certainly achieved. Moreover, we wanted to develop a practical solution – this naturally also involved compromises,” was how Gyger explained the recipe for success. On the one hand, the project was initially limited to what was necessary in order to keep the outlay and complexity under control. Additional features that could have been covered by the system were thus put on the back burner. For example, Feintool still processes purchase orders in paper form rather than by e-mail. What is more, version configuration of Feintool products for customer orders can still only be carried out manually. At a future date, this should be possible directly on the system using the SAP Configurator.
The new process workflows that are now standardized throughout the Group will mean that the companies involved will have to adjust to new ways of working and adapt their internal procedures. This applies in particular to Accounting which will have to adapt to the standards implemented in the prototype to ensure that analyses can be compared Group-wide.

Further Expansion Possible

The advantages of the end-to-end SAP solution are plain to see – In comparison to a heterogeneous application environment, information is more easily accessible as changes in media are avoided. The data only has to be input once and is then available to everyone involved. This not only significantly improves data exchange between the companies, but also speeds up business processes. Moreover, IT operating costs are reduced because the outlay for the maintenance and support of different application systems is no longer required.
Feintool has the future capability of expanding the SAP template to meet the needs of its subsidiaries. The company is considering modules for Customer Relationship Management (CRM).

Daniel Eberle

Daniel Eberle

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