Complex Manufacturing

SAP’s Latest Acquisition: Right Hemisphere. Score One for Manufacturing

 Yesterday (September 6, 2011) SAP announced its intention to acquire 3-D visualization software maker Right Hemisphere. Based in San Ramon, CA and Auckland, New Zealand, Right Hemisphere provides “visual enterprise solutions,” a software category one associates with 3-D model-based visualization and communication technologies. Sales and marketing types immediately think of visual product catalogs. If you’re like me and hate to shop, what are the chances of buying a product, either from an online or a mailed catalog that does not have a full color picture of the item you are shopping for?  I shopped from paper catalogs for a decade before online shopping existed. Those with black and white drawings went immediately into the trash bucket. I wanted to see what I was getting – a picture of the real thing. That’s easy to provide for ready-made consumer products. Not so when you are buying a product that doesn’t exist yet – say an engineer-to-order manufactured product.

And that is exactly who Right Hemisphere targets – manufacturers that design, manufacture and perhaps service a physical product. Those who have never lived and breathed the world of manufacturing typically don’t fully understand the complexities of this process. Making a standard product repetitively can be challenging, but designing that product, defining the manufacturing process, managing that process, assuring the quality and then servicing the product in the field adds a multi-dimensional aspect that adds significant complexity. When that product is designed to order for a particular customer, the complexity grows exponentially.

Yes a pretty picture in a catalog is useful, but in my opinion, the real value lies in integrating data from a variety of sources throughout the enterprise, and placing that data in context with a realistic visual image. Where does this data exist? It exists in:

  • Computer Aided Design (CAD)
  • Product Data Management (PDM
  • Product Lifecycle Management (PLM)
  • Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems contain the part, supplier and pricing data
  • Manufacturing information is in Manufacturing Execution Systems (MES) systems
  • Sales and Marketing content can be found in Customer Relationship Management(CRM) and eCommerce applications that support online stores
  • Other documents are stored in Document Control and Digital Asset Management (DAM) systems.
  • Actual customer configurations, work instruction are stored in Field Service applications and field manuals

Connecting and communicating it all is challenging enough in a static environment, but when designs and processes change over time, it becomes even harder. Most humans rely heavily on visual communication. Hearing something described and “seeing” it are two very different things. Bringing it altogether and doing that visually requires some underlying technology that brings these together not only visually, but in a way that appears seamless to all: from the design engineer, to the manufacturing engineer, to the customer, to the field engineer.

SAP provides a strong solution for manufacturers with elements of each of these components, some stronger than others. While not exactly in stealth mode (and you will still find Manufacturing under SAP’s “Lines of Business”) the company has not been as vocal about its manufacturing presence since its big push a few years ago when it co-wrote and published “In Pursuit of the Perfect Plant” in 2008. Indeed, today SAP even promotes this acquisition as a cross-industry move in saying, “The addition of visualization capabilities to the core product offerings from SAP stands to help customers across diverse industries accelerate time to market, increase people and asset productivity and improve information quality and processes across all lines of businesses.” Perhaps it is just me, not having been as closely connected to the manufacturing group recently, but I’ve missed the strong manufacturing voice. Whether meant specifically to strengthen SAP’s manufacturing solution or not, it is good to see this kind of move that will directly benefit the manufacturing sector.

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