Integrating PDM with ERP
By Pierre Breuls
The Baan Company
Putten, The Netherlands
The on-going integration of product data management (PDM) with enterprise resources planning (ERP) will dramatically improve communications between engineering, manufacturing, purchasing, sales, etc. Historically, PDM and ERP have developed as separate systems under the control of different parts of the organization. The many areas where the information controlled by these systems overlap, such as the management of bills-of-material, have generally been an area of conflict requiring considerable manual intervention in order to avoid costly errors. The fact that major ERP systems vendors are now integrating full-featured PDM systems within their core software offers the potential to, for example, update engineering documentation and bill of materials simultaneously in response to engineering change orders. Overall, operating ERP and PDM from a single object oriented approach should have the effect of improving coordination between different functions, reducing the need for manual intervention and preventing errors.
The basic idea of PDM is managing the information associated with a product from conceptual design to obsolescence. Early systems focused on controlling the engineering change order (ECO) process. Todays high-end systems are considerably more flexible and can support virtually any type of engineering design process. While functionality varies among the many PDM systems on the market, the following capabilities are most common: 1) design release management including the ability to check-in and check-out design data, establishment of data relationships, security and access control. 2) management of parts lists and bills of material as well as associating product relationship characteristics 3) defining process flow, such as (engineering) change order management, instantly channeling a change to the proper parties for approval and tracking progress of the approval cycle. 4) finding and retrieving existing designs using a wide range of search criteria.
PDM has become an extremely hot issue in the last several years, mainly because it provides the most promising tools to handle the explosive growth in product data that has resulted from a number of converging trends. Manufacturing firms are adopting a more customer-oriented approach by developing much broader assortments of products designed to please different market niches. At the same time, products are becoming more complex due to technological evolution, demands from customers for higher quality, miniaturization of components and integration of functions. Increased information flows are also required to deal with other issues such as geographical customization and the need to meet quality control standards such as ISO-9000.
Historically, PDM systems have been championed by and controlled by engineering departments while ERP systems have generally been considered a manufacturing or even an overall business operations responsibility. As both types of systems have proliferated and increased their scope, problems have appeared, particularly in areas where they overlap. By far the largest area of overlap is in claiming the ownership of item and bill-of-material related data. When two separate systems are each maintaining their own version of vital information, the potential for conflict is always present. Any efforts at integration must first of all face the issue: which system will be the master and which will be the slave? This issue can become as well a sticking point in efforts to integrate business processes with workflow systems. Efforts to automate processes frequently run into issues that relate to this dual control over product data. The need for manual intervention to resolve these issues has in many cases defeated or at least hampered efforts at workflow automation.
Early integration steps
In recent years, some of the ERP software developers have begun to address these issues by integrating PDM systems into the manufacturing environment. These early implementations have generally focused on automating the exchange of data between separate PDM and ERP systems. The most advanced present-day ERP systems seamlessly transfer product information and related documents back and forth with the PDM system. This ensures that product data is accessible from either system and that details of purchased items are automatically transferred to the PDM system in a consistent and up-to-date form. Additionally, when new products are designed or existing products are changed, data is transferred and automatically merged into the ERP system. A unified user interface between the ERP and PDM systems allows the control and distribution of product design information to areas and users both inside and outside the organization. ERP sessions maintain all error messages and log files relating to synchronization of product data between the two systems to provide standard facilities for querying and determining the status of the synchronization process are available.
The concept of integrating separate PDM and ERP systems through file transfer is powerful but still violates the principle that data should only be located in one place to keep its ownership clear and avoid the possibility of inconsistencies arising. For example, the possibility exists that item versions, alternates or serial numbers could be handled differently in different systems. For these reasons, software vendors should move towards a situation where all PDM data will be stored in the ERP database. This trend ties in with a general movement towards componentization among ERP suppliers. In this model, PDM will become a fully integrated component of the ERP system. In current practice, many engineers that need to access development related information in PDM systems use UNIX workstations while ERP users, such as purchasing agents, sales people, shop floor controllers, etc. tend to use personal computers. One method of addressing these differing information and platform needs is to provide engineering users with their own desktop application with fully integrated access to the main ERP/PDM database. This concept provides the following advantages: 1) full integration of PDM in all ERP components 2) sharing of PDM concepts between all ERP components 3) use of the same PDM data model and data for all PDM concepts.
The diagram shown above illustrates how Baan plans to move from its current industry-leading level of ERP-PDM interfacing to a fully componentized approach that will provide PDM as simply another integrated service of the ERP system. This roadmap to PDM-enabled ERP will provide a completely seamless upgrade path from the current version through to the fully componentized next generation system. The current market offering involves the interface of BAAN IVc with BAAN PDM 5.1. The BAAN IVc release has only the existing Engineering Data Management (EDM) module as part of PDM. No other PDM functionality is found in BAAN IVc. On the other hand, BAAN PDM 5.1 has a lot of PDM functionality, of which most is general, parts are focused on engineering and some is ERP-specific. BAAN IVc and BAAN PDM 5.1 are interfaced by means of BAAN Exchange. Data transferred is EDM-related only.
The next improvement will be a new version of BAAN PDM that offers improved PDM functionality and is still connected to BAAN IVc. At the same time, Baan is working on its first Baan Series release which will be a major step in the direction of a full componentized ERP solution. Immediately after the first Baan Series release, PDM functionality will be embedded for ERP users. This functionality initially will involve mainly change management, document management, folder management and workflow management. Soon after, full PDM functionality will be offered as components providing PDM services to all ERP users.
In addition to PDM functionality, components will be introduced that give full support to engineers in efficiently carrying out their job. That is, functional components can be expected like:
· the design of engineering items, bills-of-material and routings
· the creation of product families and related product configuration possibilities;
· the link to CAD/CAM systems, component supplier management (CSM) systems, computer aided process engineering, etc.
The above three sets of components, ERP-related, PDM-related and engineering-related, will work in an integrated environment on one database in order to accomplish Baans ultimate goal of full integrating PDM into ERP.