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Digital transformation at Elopak – The right way to deal with engineering changes

Elopak GmbH expected its migration to the SAP platform to support the end-to-end digitalization of its processes, from engineering to production and on to on-site customer service. The company wanted to better connect its organizational units and systems and have a central platform that would provide access to all the relevant information for each of its business processes.

Among many other elements, part of the overall project focused on implementing modern product lifecycle management (PLM) processes in the context of best practices. The company hoped that deploying SAP PLM solutions would help it fulfill its mission to deliver its products with a high degree of speed and flexibility despite the customized nature of its sales orders.

Elopak’s requirements in handling engineering changes

  • Management of changes to product variants
  • Transparency and consistency during the change process
  • Standardized user interface for processing engineering changes
  • Simple integration of authoring system through SAP ECTR (Engineering Control Center)
  • Validity dates of changes to source and target structures
  • Minimization of errors during the change process
  • Simple synchronization of design and production BOMs
  • Smooth release of materials with food contact

Transparent design and communication of engineering changes

While digitalization helps meet the demand for transparent, efficient process design from development to production, it also requires the seamless communication of engineering changes. For Elopak, the planning and implementation of changes on a defined validity date is the basis on which it identifies and tracks the objects affected.

To do so, it uses engineering records in SAP PLM Web UI within engineering change management. By their nature, ideas and reasons for engineering changes arise outside of IT systems and therefore require consolidation and definition within SAP. Internally identified change potential or external change requests (from customers or suppliers) are managed using these SAP engineering records during the phases of engineering change management.

Source: Scheer GmbH

In its approach, Elopak has focused on a simple handshake between engineering and production to ensure that new and changed engineering BOMs can be adapted efficiently to the needs of production structures.

Taking responsibility for engineering changes

The coordination of change projects and the related activities can become extremely complex due to the use of different user interfaces, particularly at a company with many different layers. This can result in sluggish processing and an intransparent overall process that makes the approval of documents and materials a time-intensive task for the entire enterprise. In contrast, using engineering records enables object-specific communication in real time and makes the life cycle of a change transparent. A change coordinator is used to enable the targeted exchange of information and ensure that technical questions are processed by the right person at the right time. As a multiplier, this coordinator is not only responsible for ongoing implementation through the consistent entry of engineering change requests; they also accompany the entire change process until its release in logistics. To do so, they direct complex, detailed questions to the appropriate experts by initiating the workflow-supported communication of the engineering record.

The transparent design and communication of engineering changes by means of SAP engineering records facilitates a simple handshake that enables engineering and production to plan and implement changes transparently.”

– Johannes Platen, mechanical engineer and change coordinator at Elopak GmbH

Consistent planning and control of engineering changes

As flexible objects in SAP PLM, engineering records make it possible to represent the relevant master data objects and use them as a tool for seamless tracking over the entire life cycle of a change. They provide a means of collecting, managing, and communicating all the relevant information and objects associated with a potential change in the corresponding record. The change process itself is based on the phases of engineering change management.

Übersicht der Phasen des Engineering Change Managements
Source: Scheer GmbH

When an idea for a potential engineering change arises, an engineering change request is created. It initiates an analysis of the technical implementation of the change and a review of its validity by specialized experts. The aim of an ECR is not only to provide an assessment of the request, but also to render a statement on the validity of the respective change upon its release. A validity date must be specified in order to start the next phase of the engineering record.

Once the engineering change request is approved, an engineering change order is initiated. The implementation is planned first. The appropriate specialists are contacted via workflow and notified of their assigned tasks. This is followed by the actual implementation of the measure in the system, which is assigned validity based on a change number. This is how functional changes are made to document and engineering BOMs.

The engineering changes are not passed on to production until the change coordinator has released the engineering change order. This handshake is communicated with the manufacturing change order within the engineering record. The production planner is tasked with checking the impact of the change and modifying the production BOMs.

Use case at Elopak

A frequently underestimated challenge in the handling of engineering changes involves the communication among and integration of the different departments involved in processing and maintaining master data. To simplify this process, Elopak had to establish a flat hierarchy for processing changes while also taking the different user interfaces into account. At the same time, the company wanted to ensure that engineering records would be created based on valid characteristics. Since mechanical engineering in particular is characterized by continual change processes, a change coordinator needs a guide to assessing potential changes. To prevent duplicates of internal potential changes and avoid neglecting change processes that are still underway, Elopak uses internal trouble tickets in SAP QM to identify such potential. Using this method of entering change ideas in the standard SAP system, every user – regardless of their preferred user interface – can describe potential and notify the change coordinator.

Übersicht Use Case von Elopak
Source: Scheer GmbH

Initial engineering change orders are evaluated within engineering (which also reviews options for technical implementation) and the affected objects are added to the engineering record. A workflow makes this information available to users of SAP ECTR, as well. ECTR offers engineers and product designers a standardized, consistent application platform by interlinking CAD authoring systems, SAP PLM, and ERP. This enables the product management of objects and processes throughout the enterprise.  As a result, an engineering change order can be implemented and the document structures adapted. After confirmation is received for the change to the source structures and the corresponding master data, the engineering change is initially released. Production is then notified about the engineering record. The impact of a change with regard to the target structure is assessed in SAP Visual Enterprise Manufacturing Planner by the production planner, who compares the source structures (engineering BOMs) against the existing target structures (production BOMs). This makes it possible to adapt the structure of the engineering BOMs to the needs of production. The engineering record is confirmed again to release the changes for production.

The engineering record is managed and controlled by a change coordinator, which ensures that changes to objects are always reviewed for completeness and that requests are not released until the corresponding conditions are met.

Summary: How Elopak benefits

  • Workflow-supported communication with all organizational units
  • Formalization of administrative processes through digital approval processes
  • Identification and tracking of changes in all affected business objects
  • Reduction of process costs through prompt communication and implementation of changes
  • Consistent implementation of changes in product design and production
  • Shortened development times through planning and implementation on defined validity dates
  • Integrated change management in product development
  • Flexible adaptation of approval processes
  • Reporting and analysis of activities in engineering change management

Its use of SAP PLM solutions enables Elopak GmbH to map processes from development to production in an integrated way. As a result, product development and change projects can be controlled flexibly and efficiently and managed transparently in the system despite increasing numbers of customer-specific orders.