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When one thinks of SAP ERP, they typically think of a vast ocean of transaction codes and menu paths.   Making the various modules work together into a cohesive system to meet the business requirements takes considerable effort and resources. Integrating these modules with an externally interfaced system takes even more effort to develop and maintain over time. Therefore, if we were to have a fully developed production execution both within SAP ERP and external, what are the necessary pieces to make this happen?

We obviously start with the production planning module of SAP.  This module contains many features for planning production, such as sales and operations planning (S&OP), long term planning, and material requirements planning (MRP). When it comes to
executing production, there are limited options for confirmations and order display, but there are no true options that exist as compared to any externally interfaced solution on the market today. This is perplexing that the shop floor module does not contain this functionality given the tremendous details and information contained with the production order.

 

Let’s deconstruct the production order to see the amazing capabilities of this object and its native integration with other modules.

  • Bill of material contains functions, such as back flushing, document links, and supply areas for each and every component of which some features are inherited from the material master (Materials Management Module). 
  • Routing operations have many features and functions for integration that most businesses do not deploy for various reasons, but it’s these key functions that afford it to process just as any MES system offers. Operations contain:
    • Document PRTs (Document Management System)
    • Equipment PRTs (Plant Maintenance)
    • Material PRTs (Materials Management and Inventory Management)
    • Trigger Points (Production Planning)
    • Inspection Characteristics (Quality Management)
    • Qualifications (Human Capital Management)
    • External Processing (Materials Management – Procurement)
    • Classification (Classification System)

Once the BOM and routing are copied over into the Production Order, there are additional functions that may occur that expand functionality into additional modules of SAP ERP.  These integration points include:

  • Sales Order Line Items  for assembly processing (Sales & Distribution)
  • Inspection Lots (Quality Management)
  • WBS Elements (Project Systems)
  • Costing (Controlling)
  • Batch and WIP Batches (Batch Management)
  • Transfer Requirements / Transfer Orders (Warehouse Management)
  • Serial Numbers (Plant Maintenance)
  • Goods Movements (Inventory Management)
  • Capacity Planning Table (Capacity Requirements Planning)
  • Change Management (Engineering Change Management with Order Change Management)
  • Parameter Effectivity (Engineering Change Management)
  • Characteristics (Variant Configuration)

                      

So now that we have listed the numerous components for which a production order can be natively integrated with, let’s explore the option of integrating a 3rd party manufacturing execution system (MES) bolt-on to SAP ERP.  Each one of the listed items above represents at least one outbound interface to the bolt-on MES.  In some cases, more than one outbound interface will be required.  Most of these listed integration points do not have a standard IDOC format (serial numbers, equipment masters, transfer requirements, etc.).  You can determine this be checking the SAP menu path for Tools > ALE > Master Data Distribution or Distribution in Applications.  Additionally, having an outbound IDOC already defined may also not be usable.  If using the Production Optimization interfaces, for example, in which you typically use these for use with SAP’s advanced planning & optimization (APO), this interface does not include attached PRT’s, inspection characteristics, long text, trigger points, and
order change management.  These are usually important pieces for executing production in any external MES.  This all means that there is the need for custom development on outbound interfaces for IDOC processing. 

Once you have gotten all of the required master data and transactional data down to the bolt-on MES, you are going to need to bring some information back to SAP ERP.  The good thing is if you are using SAP MII, then you have a large library of RFC’s (remote function calls) that can be used out of the box.  If not, then you are back to custom development in your middleware to accomplish this effort.  Not all of the data that went to the bolt-on needs to come back, thankfully, but that becomes more of a question on which system is now your “system of record”.

After the considerable cost and effort that has gone into developing both the outbound and inbound interfaces to the bolt-on MES, now the interface maintenance plan needs to be developed.  Questions such as which group is responsible for monitoring the daily, hourly, minute interface IDOC errors?  How will the technical staff work with the functional staff to communicate data transmission errors?  What happens when these errors accumulate and causes either the MES or the SAP ERP or both to become
inaccurate? 

Before we continue, ask yourself why did we decide to have redundant data now in two systems?  Wasn’t the point of installing
SAP ERP to eliminate redundant systems, to consolidate data, to seamlessly integrate the entire business, and
right size our information technology staff in the first place?

One of the selling points of installing an MES solution for your manufacturing business is to extend the top floor to the shop floor with a fully integrated technology platform.  The difficulty in making this happen is the potential number of interfaces required to process the data, to manage differing technology standards, to maintain multiple databases, and to support it with your IT staff.  For those that have had to write the interfaces and connect SAP ERP to any 3rd party package, the effort to develop and maintain the interfaces becomes a largertask than is understood when embarking on this integration effort. 

Given that SAP ERP contains nearly all of the pieces required for MES functionality, how does one consider the integration of these pieces into a coherent solution?  It really all starts with your upfront sales process.  Is your business a make to order (MTO) or make to stock (MTS) environment?  Do you also need to tightly integrate some assembly processing from your sales order to your production order for informational feedback?  Do you need to use an engineer to order or “specials” ordering with sales order configuration (variant configuration – VC)? 

Our experience at JaveLLin Solutions has been that most manufacturing businesses use many of these ordering options to get the best order to produce integration available.  This sales order integration processing becomes a vital consideration when you want to use SAP’s order change management solution to assist in knowing when you can make customer changes or engineering changes that influence released production orders.

For example, your customer wants to change a configured order’s characteristics and this order is already released to the production floor.  With standard SAP functionality, you can run a simulation order and compare it to the production order to see where you can incorporate the change.  How does external 3rd parties MES handle that and what interface changes are necessary to make that happen?  One main concern is that the standard SAP production order interface, which is typically used for supply
chain planning functionality like APO, does not include the order components.  The standard interface won’t help you connect this sales order change to the production order.  Now what option do you have other than a change to a custom interface?  You don’t
as that is the only solution.

 

Given the previous example, here are some additional standard functions within SAP ERP that become difficult to integrate with 3rd party bolt-on MES solutions:

  • Engineering change order break in to existing production orders using order change management (OCM)
  • Trigger points to control which operations can be performed in parallel and which are not
  • Equipment PRT availability checking based upon tools status and/or inventory
  • Skill checks using requirements profiles based within the HR module
  • In process inspections with integration to specific operations on the production order
  • Electronic document viewing for ensuring compliance with the latest version
  • Assembly order processing
  • Printing shop papers with all required key operation details
  • Warehouse management integration with PP for TRs and TOs

All of the above functions work within the standard SAP production order.  The production order is a very detailed and process controlled object that many times does not get fully utilized due to one major limitation within the production planning module.  This
limitation is not having a dedicated function to process production orders electronically within SAP ERP.
 

Fortunately, we at JaveLLin Solutions have provided this missing link.  Our Proximity: Production Execution for ERP 1.0 is a SAP® Certified solution that provides this extension of the production planning module to process production orders electronically. 

  • The Production Execution transaction affords electronic work instructions for processing of production orders using operation confirmations, electronic documents as PRT, results recording of inspection characteristics, and integration with variant
    configuration. 
  • Production Supervisor transaction sets production order priorities, creates production notes, maintains order confirmations, and maintains employee time and attendance with CATS integration. 
  • MRP Controller transaction is an advanced stock requirements list that consolidates list displays, mass conversions and releases, mass availability checks, and WM staging. 
  • Production Scheduler transaction contains an advanced Material Shortage Report affording notes and promise dates; production order management; and IM/WM integration.

We invite you to review more documentation on Proximity and to review an online demo.  We are eager to help manufacturers extend their SAP Production Planning module to afford integrated production execution with SAP ERP.  Contact us at +1.803.339.9587 or mgolden@javellinsolutions.com for further information, pricing, or webinars.

MIke Golden is Co-Founder of JaveLLin Solutions and is the main contributor to it s SAP Manufacturing products.

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