The start of the digitization journey at Mayer & Cie. was marked, among other things, by the decision to adopt a consistent PLM philosophy with a digital "thread" along the entire value chain: Design to Operate. In this way, the company aims to address, among other things, the hard media and data discontinuity that separated the development world from the production world: Development's own PDM system was largely linked manually to the SAP ERP system. The many interdependencies of the business processes in development, order control, purchasing, production, assembly, service, quality management, etc. were literally hanging by a thread due to the separate worlds.
Innovation and digitalization
They still exist, the family-run inventor companies that have been developing solutions for decades that are so good they set standards worldwide. The Swabian world market leader in circular knitting machines, Mayer & Cie. is one of them: Family-owned for around 100 years and now in its fourth generation, the 400-employee company based in Albstadt has developed into an innovation driver which has revolutionized circular knitting more than once through the development of new processes, materials, its vertical range of manufacture and market knowledge.
The portfolio of the medium-sized company comprises around 50 machine types. It is considered to be the most comprehensive on the market: The special feature here is that the machines are always supplied tailor-made to the respective knitters of the world. Combined with the 10,000 or so parts that Mayer & Cie. offers, it builds around 60 million machine variants that need to be mastered. Whether it's shirts, sportswear, car headliners, the curtain at home or even the cover of the mattress - all of these can have been knitted by a Mayer machine.
As in many mature corporate landscapes, the dedicated employees made up for the disadvantages of the IT landscape with a high level of commitment - but at what price? Data redundancies, uncertainties in the up-to-dateness of data, and the re-generation of data in subsequent processes instead of the consistent enrichment of a data model available for all disciplines also made true operational excellence difficult at Mayer & Cie. Also historically grown was a highly customized SAP landscape that was no longer release-capable and therefore frozen on an old status.
In order to continue to manage the complexity of the multitude of variants in combination with the numerous change cycles competitively and thus remain fit for the future, a rethink was called for. The basis for this rethinking is the Big Picture, in which Mayer & Cie. makes the essential objectives, challenges, fields of action, business processes and central applications visible at a glance. The "knitting pattern" of how the "elephant of digitization is to be cut into small slices" can be seen in the Big Picture and Phase Plan, which form the guard rails for the digitization initiatives. The corresponding components were brought into a logical context, from which task areas were defined that were and still are to be tackled in respective chronological order: "We thought about our digital processes and how we can make them more efficient," explains Sebastian Mayer, Chief Digital Officer at Mayer & Cie.
In order to implement the sub-projects in the best possible way in the overall context, Mayer & Cie. was looking for an integrative solution for end-to-end digital support of the complex business processes. The "single source of truth" plays a key role here, providing all process participants with a complete and high-quality information and decision-making basis at all times by means of central data management. Increasing efficiency along the entire
(digital) value chain - this is the declared goal behind it. In other words, the core of sustainable PLM.
SAP platform and partners
When it came to choosing an optimal partner to support the defined task areas with appropriate digital solutions, Mayer & Cie. opted for the IT and software house Cenit.
It was already clear at the start of the joint project that the SAP platform would act as the leading system - and thus provide the basis for the desired digital data and process continuity. In wise foresight, the outdated SAP system had already been upgraded to the current standard at this point. Based on the medium and long-term business goals, Mayer & Cie. subjected the identified search fields to a joint evaluation, in which central goals and the processes and system components required to achieve them were fixed. For implementation, Cenit developed a multi-stage phase plan to systematically approach the processes and use cases, formulating logically self-contained stage objectives. This was crucial in order to get quickly to the beneficial application and not to fall into the trap of endless conception phases without concrete implementation.
"Design to Operate refers to the entire value chain of a manufacturing company. The implementation of this philosophy is a process lasting several years. The art here is to cut the individual stages in such a way that the results are anchored operationally and can thus be used beneficially. A profitable first step for many companies is the integration of engineering into the central SAP system. The source of much product data thus becomes an integrative part of the company's processes. For this initial step, we have developed a best-practice package in the form of the SAP PLM Foundation, which has also been used successfully at Mayer & Cie. In combination with the second essential component, which focuses on the management of release and change processes, we achieve efficient, flexible and secure control of processes on the basis of high-quality data," says Horst Heckhorn, Senior Vice President SAP Solutions at Cenit, describing the field of action. "In the first phase, the aim was to eliminate the media discontinuity between the engineering and ERP worlds and to provide the best possible digital support for release and change management on the new data basis," he continues.
In order to build a safe data highway from engineering to production instead of the narrow bridge used so far, the defined procedure provided for the replacement of the engineering PDM system. This also cleared the way for the conversion of the CAD landscape to the current Catia version. With the SAP Engineering Control Center (ECTR), Catia V5 users were integrated into SAP in a lean and operationally efficient way, where they can find all the functions they need for their day-to-day business in a modern working environment.
The fact that everyone works in SAP and essential processes are mapped via Connect APM creates an optimal data basis for comprehensive monitoring and reporting.
Chief Digital Officer,
Mayer & Cie.
ETL and APM
The existing CAD/PDM data was migrated to SAP with the Cenit System Migration Services based on the ETL Runtime. Always a critical issue for success in such projects and often underestimated in its complexity. Not so at Mayer & Cie. Therefore, clear KPIs were agreed upon for the topic of system migration, to which Cenit committed itself. As a result of the activities, Mayer & Cie. employees now have access to up-to-date, logically linked master data that is consistent across systems.
The second major milestone of the first digitization phase was the introduction of Cenit Connect APM (Advanced Process Management) to control the release and change processes at Mayer & Cie. "In contrast to pure workflow solutions, Connect APM supports the processing of data objects in the process. Since our solution was born in the engineering environment, it can best handle dynamic workflows, which are daily bread in the development environment," explains Horst Heckhorn. "This allows us to take a two-stage approach, which is helpful in many companies. In the first phase, we map the existing processes in many places and thus achieve quick results. From the moment they go live, the processes leave traces in the system, and we use this in Connect APM Monitoring and Reporting to identify process weaknesses and thus areas for action. In the second phase, we can target these areas for action and bring about process optimizations - mind you, through configurative adaptation of process templates and not through elaborate workflow programming."
In the course of 2020, the processes and workflows in the new system components were anchored in the operational business. The findings from the application were used to optimize the application configurations. "The day-to-day application enabled us to formulate clear requirements for the further expansion of monitoring and reporting," says Sebastian Mayer, who was personally deeply involved at this point. "The fact that everyone works in SAP and that essential processes are controlled and mapped via Connect creates an optimal data basis for comprehensive monitoring and reporting. This has brought transparency to Mayer & Cie.", he explains. For a manufacturer of highly variant machines, the integrated consistency of variant, configuration, release and change management is both the greatest challenge and the greatest potential for competitive advantage. Those who manage to fulfill their customers' individual wishes and work highly efficiently at the same time will be ahead of the competition.
Viewed holistically, this means thinking and acting in an integrated model, from CAD methodology to the design of service processes. "In most companies, this approach means a real paradigm shift. It often requires completely new ways of thinking, fundamental changes in attitude, process and organizational changes. All of this is unthinkable without buy-in from management. Here, we have the best prerequisites, because the managing directors and owners of the family business are not only behind the strategy, but are also prepared to actively participate in the relevant project committees at short notice and to decide on the essential points. For us, this is the best possible starting situation for a successful project," Heckhorn continues.
With the potentials comes the question of future competitive advantages. "In the future, we want to continue doing exactly what has been the secret of our success up to now: supplying every customer with the machine he wants," says Sebastian Mayer. However, this diversity of variants - and this is the decisive factor - is to be offered in a more efficient, innovative and superior way.