Optimum multiple plant management with PSIpenta/Multisite
IT-based management of more than one site from a central point is not really that new. But precisely what you can do with an ERP system with sophisticated Multisite functions is by no means known to everyone. The Grenzebach Group demonstrates to impressive effect how a clever and well-designed system can contribute to a company's success.
Grenzebach Maschinenbau GmbH is based at Hamlar, a town in the Bavarian region of Germany. Originally set up as a repair shop for agricultural machinery in 1920, Grenzebach Maschinenbau then came into being in 1960, initially specialising in the manufacture of materials handling systems such as conveyor belts for gravel. This was followed by machines for cheese production and the furniture industry. Today the firm's business areas include process engineering, building materials, glass and wood technology, baggage handling and intralogistics, as well as numerous special solutions.
By founding agencies and production plants in Georgia/USA (1988) and Shanghai/China (1998) the company has managed to gain a firmer foothold in its various markets while not only maintaining, but also increasing its high export shares. Majority holdings, acquisitions and start-ups in Europe, Brazil, India, Indonesia and Taiwan make Grenzebach a rapidly expanding global player with agencies and production facilities in three different currency zones. A workforce of more than 1500 notches up sales exceeding €300 m.
With such rapid growth, one issue became increasingly evident in recent years and was described by Jürgen Brunner, CIO, as follows: “Given our massive expansion, a key task for the entire organisation over the last few years has been to set up and anchor identical processes at all sites – in other words, to complete rollouts involving different cultures and languages.” The ERP system PSIpenta introduced across the company many years ago has greatly assisted the people in charge of IT in achieving this objective thanks to its sophisticated and carefully designed Multisite functionalities for managing multiple plants.
The ERP standard of Berlin-based PSIPENTA Software Systems GmbH has featured the Multisite concept since 1999. It has been continuously enhanced with the help of PSIPENTA users and above all with Grenzebach, which was one of its first development partners. Following Grenzebach's takeover of the former Babcock subsidiary BHS at Bad Hersfeld in 2005, a firm that exclusively operated with SAP, it was not least these very Multisite capabilities which prompted a move away from SAP at all production and materials management departments. Another major benefit is also cited by the CIO: the transparent functional scope of the ERP standard, which is equally suitable for managing a 500-strong business or a small agency with just 20 people.
Grenzebach meanwhile makes use of Multisite throughout the company group. If the firm is awarded a contract for a plasterboard plant from Mexico, it will be handled by Grenzebach America as the official contractor. The customer transaction is then created in the Multisite Central Sales Division. The project can be instantly viewed all over the world. The central order management team responsible in the USA, which has an overview of all plants in the group, can now divide up the tasks depending on the expertise and capacity available. The plasterboard plant mentioned above consists of a component used to produce the plaster paste. In this machine the mass is applied to a foil, where it is moulded into shape and smoothed out. It then runs along a setting belt until it has the right consistency. The set plaster paste is then cut to size, transported to a drier and stacked.
Production is a lengthy process that calls for a number of different techniques. The stacking system at the end of the line is one of Hamlar’s core competencies, and drying involves process technology that is a speciality of the Bad Hersfeld production plant. While roller conveyors can be manufactured almost everywhere, i.e. allocated according to free capacity, dryers for example are clearly a matter for the Bad Hersfeld works. In any event, this is where they will be designed, although manufacture might also take place elsewhere. The entire contract is ultimately divided up internationally between different sites, where it is then completed.
Logistics also plays a major role when allocating the work involved in a contract as the finished systems are only put together at the customer's site. Depending on the country of destination and applicable transport/ customs regulations, Central Order Management, which is additionally responsible for logistics, must carry out exact planning to ensure that all components of a plant arrive at the installation location on time. The project manager can monitor the progress of production overall so that none of the fitters available throughout the world turns up for work in vain.
All sites post the work they perform using a separate cost unit in PSIpenta, in which all items are finally brought together. Every process is mapped, from the quotation through order acknowledgement, production and invoicing. An online interface transmits the invoicing data to the SAP financial software which posts it and tracks all payments. Invoices for constantly recurring spare parts are directly issued by PSIpenta.
Although the program is used for posting all items in the case of large plants, invoices are individually designed by each contracting factory and generated in Word as such plants generally involve customised manufacture that will not be repeated.
The ERP system in fact corresponds to a company's headquarters. Strategy and key decisions naturally remain the responsibility of Management, but the work is carried out directly where a contract comes about, in a system that is centralised for all parties. “It would be simply nonsense to give an order from anywhere to some central point that would then handle it, distributing individual jobs to production plants, which would possibly have to start the planning process all over again”, comments Brunner, explaining the benefits of the Multisite system. The CIO emphasised how the Multisite concept helps make the Grenzebach Group more competitive at an international level. It shortens response times, does away with poor planning, cuts costs and greatly reduces interfaces while decreasing the number of information transfer points, which in turn leads to massive time savings.
In China users have already been working successfully with PSIpenta 8.0 featuring a Chinese interface. The latest release, 8.2, is also set to be introduced across the organisation: “Upgrading to the new release will enable us to significantly reduce the number of our modifications. We are also seeing ourselves increasingly reflected in the standard”, comments Brunner, describing the background for this decision. “Developing the program in line with customer requirements has always been a strength of PSIPENTA. We feel our needs have been understood and taken seriously”, says Brunner, praising the partnershipbased collaboration with the firm from Berlin and its expertise in the branch.
The myOpenFactory cooperation platform enables the secure transfer of documents for intercompany order processing with "electronic data integration" (EDI). Small and medium-sized companies can communicate easily and economically (see fig. 1) with the widest range of business partners. All that is needed is a single interface – from the installed ERP system to myOpenFactory. Low-cost standard connections for many ERP systems or the web portal are available for all other partners.
The data exchange format is streamlined and based on standard paper documents. It only requires 183 different fields (compared, for example, to the 5000 fields of an EDIFACT purchase order). myOpenFactory only filters out those documents that have significant differences from the information that is required. This considerably reduces the time required for order processing.
Interchangeable documents: enquiry, quotation, order confirmations, change order, status request, status report, stock query, stock report, call off, delivery note, goods receipt note, invoice, credit note, complaint, payment reminder