On evaluating the findings, the consultants came to the conclusion that separate ERP and PLM systems were a more appropriate solution for the various subsidiaries and for collaboration across different locations than direct linking via SAP PLM. One of the reasons for this is that the process requirements of the various product divisions are extremely varied. Kärcher not only makes mass-produced goods that are produced to order or ordered from stock. They also manufacture custom equipment and variants, which means that it is also necessary to support configure-to-order and engineer-to-order processes. According to Steinmann, it would require considerable effort to map this level of complexity in SAP PLM.
System selection criteria
The second step in the project was for the consultants to work together with the specialist departments to specify requirements governing the choice of PLM system. These were incorporated into the requirements specification and an evaluation matrix was drawn up. Kärcher had taken a fundamental decision not to go with a neutral PLM system. In other words, the decision which PLM system to use entailed a preliminary decision regarding the CAD system to be used throughout the company. Nevertheless, since the migration process will stretch over a significant period, support for multi-CAD environments is an important criterion that has to be met by the PLM system.
"One important insight from the assessments was the desire expressed by all specialist departments, including those that were not involved with engineering, to have transparent change management that was also capable of clearly representing changes to the requirements made during the course of the project. And so we expanded the scope of the project to cover ALM [editor's note: application lifecycle management] in order to ensure that the issue of change management was also addressed," explains Steinmann. Requirements management is of particular relevance to electronic engineering and software engineering, which are becoming increasingly prominent at Kärcher, as most of today's products contain mechatronic components. But it is envisaged that all device requirements will be integrated.
The consultants from PROSTEP analyzed Kärcher's product portfolio, which has grown enormously and become far more diverse over the past few years. The variant and configuration strategies of the different product divisions vary considerably. This demands an extremely flexible PLM solution that has to support different processes and BOM (bill of materials) concepts. "According to our strategy, the eBOMs will be created in the PLM system, and we and PROSTEP are currently considering whether we should also derive the plant-neutral mBOMs directly in the PLM system and then condition them for the specific plants," says Steinmann. One thing is certain: there will be separate engineering and manufacturing BOMs in order to allow flexible control over their introduction into the manufacturing operation.
Cross-system change process
A uniform change process across the entire group is crucial for collaboration across different locations, as Steinmann explains: "We want to know when each change was incorporated in production and what units have the changed component fitted so that service staff can make use of this information." Details of how the change process will be organized with regard to interaction between the PLM system and the ERP system have not yet been finalized, but it is probable that the two systems will communicate changes to each other depending on the maturity of the product. This requires a powerful, bidirectional interface.
The importance of project management when selecting the PLM system is still an open issue that will be examined separately. The reason for this is that a different organizational unit is responsible for project management and the project team do not wish to preempt any decisions taken there. "But, together with the consultants from PROSTEP, we have already developed a concept showing how we can use PLM to provide optimum support for our new product engineering process, what tasks need to be completed at a given level of maturity and what work packages result from this," explains Steinmann. Ideally, these tasks should be mapped in the PLM system in order to be able to monitor their progress more effectively.