Sunday, October 30, 2016

SAP and Repetitive Manufacturing

As you are probably well aware, SAP functionality includes a model that's called Repetitive Manufacturing or SAP-REM. It's just that only few customers use it even though, I believe, it is a wonderful fit for many things managers would like to do. That is why for the past 10 years or so, I have personally invested a very large amount of time to figure out

1. how the REM module in SAP is functioning
2. what the developers had in mind and why they created it
3. why SAP using customers, large and small, use it only marginal or not at all
...and most interestingly to me... 4. why SAP, as an organization, has shown little, if any interest to get this great functionality out there to the user to automate, simplify and increase efficiency. 

You might say "we're not a repetitive manufacturer" and there lies one of the fundamental problems with the non-adoption of SAP-REM: a widespread mental model of believing that if a product is customized or has some sort of variants, its production can't be repetitive. I beg to differ.

The persistent objections I receive in years of pushing for REM, which was far ahead of all lean and agile ideas, has lead me to avoid the term 'repetitive'. I do not suggest anymore that my customer should activate their materials for 'repetitive manufacturing' anymore. Much rather I ask them if they'd like to run their production schedule by a 'takt' and pursue serialized manufacturing. Then I suggest a rhythm wheel, heijunka or drum, buffer, rope scheduling methods and all ears are wide open.

Yes, I know you can create a heijunka schedule with discrete orders and connect an assembly line with direct production and collective orders but why using a work-around when you've got the perfect tool in hand? Do you eat your soup with a fork?

If you want to know more about what SAP can do for flow, low wip, short cycle times and lean manufacturing look into SAP-REM. If you make one-off, engineered and highly customized, very large projects REM probably isn't for you, but for everybody else I take on bets, if you let me discuss it with you.

Just recently I worked with a maker of power transformers which are made uniquely to each and every customer. In the end they're making power transformers and the steps to build one are the same every time. If you create a standard route and allow for a takt with enough time to allow for work to happen at each station, you can place any transformer in the schedule. Building aircraft is similar. Even though each A320 might have a different cabin configuration, to build one requires the same steps and approximate working time in each takt. So why not planning ahead, reserving time on the line (capacity) and letting the specific configuration drop into the schedule at the time the customer has defined it? 

It's serial (don't say repetitive) production.  Don't you agree? Yes, I know, that company that makes A320s (or the company that makes transformers) think of themselves as an engineering company. But they're also a serial (don't say repetitive) manufacturer of products with customized options. They have a department that engineers great products, however, when they start offering the product to the customer, they move into serial production - no matter how much customization they allow.

And serial (or should I say repetitive?) production is best flowing when you schedule it into a takt that matches your customer demand. Think about it the next time you're trying to figure out how to meet the customer promise date or when you walk through your plant and try tofigure out why you have all this WIP lying around.

Wouldn't you want to see your orders flow along a lean schedule?