Picture courtesy of GroupRecipes
After work, I love to bake with my kids – mostly pastry, cakes and the likes. When I came across this recepy for cream cheese coils I realized there is more to coil than steel. And encounters at various Sapphire’s and other large events came to my mind – there has always been the occasional visitor at the mill products booth asking for SAP for flour & millers. Well, you can discuss cakes & buns with me – but not in SAP.
When I am asked (especially in geographies where “mill products” is not a common term) why we group industries like paper, metals, flat glass, textiles and others: they struggle with similar challenges in master data modeling. I even read an analyst quote that a standard ERP package would not fit this industry. His main point was that this industry does not operate with SKUs, but with dimensions and attributes. I agree.
Steel coils, sheets of flat glass, rolls of paper, plastic tubes or drums of cable are rarely described with a single product code like an off-the-shelf product. More often it’s a range of attributes that describe it. Sometimes just a few, sometimes several hundred. Take the cable example. The single most important characteristics is length. For a sheet it’s length and width. For a plate add thickness.
Surely, with grades, surface treatments, and more sophisticated shapes like a tube or even a corrugated box (check out the fefco codes – you will be amazed by the varieties) you will result in many more attributes.
How do we typically model these in SAP’s master data model?
Before I try to answer this, let us introduce the candidates:
- The classical material master– simple, straightforward and a little rigid
- The configurable material – highly flexible, but how do you deal with this in inventory?
- The material variant – the smaller brother of the configurable material
- The batch – neither the chemical batch, nor production lot – but an even leaner entity in inventory.
Each of these can carry attributes in various classtypes, and I have seen actually all of these in use in the one or the other implementation project in mill products. So the answer is not all that obvious. I would like to start this blog series with the simple one – the “ordinary” batch. (Why ordinary? I will not talk about original batch, WIP batch, documentary batch or other special concepts in this first blog).
Some typical use cases for batches in mill products
- A coil of steel with dimensional attributes length, width and thickness (and many more to describe other aspects of this specific item)
- One single piece of cable with a specific length
- Several pieces of cable, all with the same length
- A single steel tube with inner, outer diameter and length
- A bundle of tubes – all identical
- Tubes in a rack that are grouped in a length range e.g. 5,5 -6m
Looking at these examples – we in mill products use SAP batches for a different purpose than you would in chemicals. For them a batch is a production lot. For us more a logistical entity, a piece, or a group of pieces with certain attributes.
Customers using batches often do this to simplify their master data. They can manage millions of batches under one material master. All of them share BOM, routing, costing and valuation and many of the other features related to the material master. But they are managed separately in the logistic processes.
And this is also one of the main reasons why some customer do not use batches: They do not want to enter material master plus batch during all goods movements and inventory operations. If you are not interested in the different attributes or dimensions per item but only in serialization of items (as often in high tech or component manufacturing) a batch may be too heavy for your users. If you need the dimensions, as we do in most mill use cases, the batch is your friend.
We use batch classification to describe the attributes of an item, or a group of items.
We use batch specific units of measure, or product units of measure, if we need to manage items in several units of measure e.g. manage a steel plate both in pieces and in kilogramm. The SAP documentation gives an easy example how to calculate the weight of plate in kilogram (in many cases the base unit of measure) from the length, width, thickness and density by a formula (which we call “object dependency). At the 2012 Configuration Workgroup conference this was explained in much more depth (get registered for free, and check this presentation.)
When I would not use a batch?
- Standard lengths that you would like to sell through a separate material master and SKU name
Here a material variant is my preferred option – I find this easier to integrate in the sales process.
- Serialized items which only need an individual name and no further logistical support
Typically our discrete colleagues use the serial number. But as soon you need more logistics and traceability for the item, a batch may be the better choice.
The batch is my best friend – how about you?
Did you try to model without batches, and would like to share your experiences?
Did you use batches – what were your biggest challenges?
In the next issue of this blog series I will discuss the other canditates, specifically variant configuration, and how you could use this across the different industries in mill products and mining.