When working with engineering, whether it is product engineering, plant engineering or construction, sooner or later the topic of ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) integration comes up. It is of course vital that the engineering knowledge (how the product or project is designed) is transferred to manufacturing and supply chain (how we will manufacture it).
This process was ironically smother in the past when engineering and manufacturing often co-located. Manufacturing engineers could just bring the drawings to engineering and explain why it was impossible to manufacture the product the way it was designed. A collaboration process was as a result started on the human level between engineering and manufacturing which resulted in either a revised product design, or maybe a new way of manufacturing the product.
Nowadays, in these global times, manufacturing is often far away from engineering, and in addition there might be huge cultural differences between the location where engineering and manufacturing takes place. This adds a whole new dimension of complexity.
The engineering tools of today focus a lot on a virtual model, often backed by object structures that facilitates multi discipline collaboration within engineering, but what about collaboration between engineering and manufacturing?
A real life example sheds some light on the topic:
During a large PLM implementation (Product Lifecycle Management) we analyzed the current practice of transferring information from the PLM system to the ERP system. This was a global company with both engineering and manufacturing all over the world. The current system had a quite impressive multi-discipline Engineering Bill of Material (EBOM, the design intent data structure) that was multiple levels deep. I asked how this was transferred to manufacturing and the ERP system, and the answer was: “As a flat list”.
I bit my lip and asked the next question: “Doesn’t that mean that a lot of information that would be valuable for manufacturing gets lost in translation between the two systems and departments?”
Answer: “Very much so, and especially now that we have become a truly global company. Even worse, we struggle with cultural differences between the two departments which lead to very limited collaboration between the two”
There are however some examples of companies that have taken radical steps to mitigate these problems, but they are, I’m afraid, in minority.