For better communications between the shop floor, other company divisions and trading partners, SAP AG is working on a number of manufacturing-oriented enhancements to mySAP ERP and NetWeaver, including at least two new capabilities expected to be released in 2005.
"Manufacturing can still be a black box, but it really doesnt need to be one any more," said Sudipta Bhattacharya, vice president of manufacturing applications at the German ERP (enterprise resource planning) software giant.
"SAP has the largest installed base of manufacturing customers in the world," Bhattacharya told eWEEK.com. Current users include Dow Corning and Rexam, the worlds biggest maker of aluminum cans.
MySAP ERP is a streamlined version of mySAP Business Suite. Like Business Suite, it is tightly integrated with NetWeaver, a back-end software architecture that uses standard-based Web services as part of SAPs current efforts to ease customization and third-party software integration.
Many other specialists in manufacturing software—such as Lighthammer and Vendavo—are "companies in coopetition with us, rather than competitors," Bhattacharya said. "We like to integrate with them."
He said that he doesnt regard traditional supply chain/logistics players such as i2 and Manugistics as SAP competitors, either, since they focus mostly on manufacturing execution, as opposed to manufacturing operations.
Bhattacharya described NetWeaver as a software application stack with four layers: Web-based portals, a Web application server, business intelligence and an underlying exchange infrastructure.
"Were continuing to work on our manufacturing software all the time," he said. SAP launched a new generation of manufacturing software—NetWeaver for Manufacturing and Manufacturing Dashboard for Plant Managers—at its Sapphire show in May, and then announced enhancements to NetWeaver and mySAP ERP in October.
SAP has now set 2005 as the date for releasing the plant managers dashboard, as well as for starting to support emerging ISA S95 industry standards.
On the other hand, Bhattacharya said, SAP has not mapped out any plans yet to incorporate RFID in mySAP ERPs manufacturing functionality, even though this feature has been demonstrated to customers.
Manufacturing Dashboard for Plant Managers will be the first in a series of NetWeaver-based portal views, according to Bhattacharya. The views will be aimed at making it simpler for blue-collar workers to access the information they need, including real-time or near real-time notification of delays and other glitches in manufacturing processes.
"They might want to create a manufacturing work order, for example. They might want to find out which [software] applications are available. If a machine goes down, they need to know right away which distribution centers wont be getting shipments on time. It doesnt do them that much good if they get this information a week later," Bhattacharya said. "The underlying complexities [of the software] will be hidden through the role-based views."
SAPs "plant manager" portal view will be ready by 2005, and the "production supervisor, maintenance supervisor, and quality supervisor" views will follow by 2006, he said.
Also next year, NetWeaver will begin to incorporate support for ISA S95, an emerging standard for interfacing low-level ICL (industrial control level) code to business applications at the MES (Manufacturing Execution Systems) level, Bhattacharya said.
Bhattacharya told eWEEK.com that S95 first got off the ground in pharmaceuticals. But he said SAP expects it will also catch on in food and beverages, batch chemicals, and other process manufacturing industries, too.
Some analysts say they are largely impressed with SAPs latest generation of manufacturing software. "SAP has sidestepped the barriers to ERP in production operations," said Colin Masson, an analyst at AMR Research.
"By positioning SAP NetWeaver for Manufacturing as part of its broader Adaptive Supply Network and Adaptive Manufacturing architecture, SAP presents capabilities beyond the reach of most production operations vendors. Integrating manufacturing into a Demand-Driven Supply Network (DDSN) balances demand variability with supply and in-house/contract manufacturing constraints profitably. But it requires collaboration within the enterprise and with network partners," Masson wrote in a recent AMR report.
Also this fall, SAP rolled out a new partners program that extends its larger, pre-existing "Powered by SAP" initiative to the shop floor. By now, a total of about seven manufacturing tools vendors have already been certified as SAP-compliant—the original group of Lighthammer, Vendavo, TechniData AG and NRX, plus three more partners, according to Bhattacharya.
Meanwhile, enhancements to mySAP ERP are under way in the areas of lean manufacturing, Six Sigma—an approach to quality control in manufacturing—and compliance with the Food and Drug Administrations 21 CFR Part 11 manufacturing regulations.
Upcoming enhancements to SAP ERPs Six Sigma capabilities will make it "simpler and more economical" for customers to build control charts with cost conversion capabilities, Bhattacharya said. Essentially, companies use these charts to set "upper" and "lower" quality levels. The charts help to make sure that theyre meeting the quality stipulations for a manufacturing job, but that they arent overspending by exceeding the upper limits of the customers requirements.