Has Parker Hannifin Found the Key to Managing Heterogeneous Engineering Systems?

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I had the chance to participate in a discussion by Bob Deragisch of Parker Hannifin at COFES last week. His topic, Living with Heterogeneous Systems, is a top of mind issue for many large manufacturers I speak with. So has Parker found the key to managing disparate engineering and enterprise systems? In a word, no. Sorry, there was no silver bullet answer uncovered by Parker or any of the other participants. But the steps Parker has taken and the ongoing challenge are worth discussing.

The Parker Scenario

Here are some of the key thinkgs that I took away from Bob’s discussion and description of the Parker Hannifin systems ecosystem:

  • Parker Hannifin is now 135 divisions
  • They have acquired 120 companies of all sizes
  • Just in aersospace (Bob’s area), they have 8 divisions … and 6 ERP systems!
  • They have even more engineering tools than ERP systems – 185 engineering tools

Does that sound scarey? It should. How can those systems possibly be integrated into a consistent, repeatable workflow? How can data be shared effectively across so many tools? How can engineering data be reused? How can employees be shared between divisions (or from program to program) to meet capacity needs? This is the challenge that Parker faced. This is not that different than a lot of big companies, particularly those that have grown through acquisition.

Parker’s Response

So given the challenges, what has Parker done? The first thing Bob made sure to say was that he wasn’t at COFES to present the answer, he was there looking for answers. He described what Parker has done to date. He explained that the first step was to try to homogenize. Parker developed corporate standards for their engineering tools. They have developed a systems design process that narrows tools down to 20 tools. For some, 20 might sound like a lot of engineering tools. For many, that number sounds like an unachievable dream. For Parker, it is a set of standards they are trying to move towards. They have one standard MCAD (mechanical CAD) tool and other singular standards for tools such as ECAD (electronics CAD), requirements management, and others.

So how has this worked? Trying to standardize on a single MCAD tool, for example, is “like herding cats.” There has been a lot of resistance by engineers that feel they are more productive in their tool of choice. Externally, Parker faces challenges in consolidating tools because they supply components and subsystems to other manufacturers. These customers “expect designs to come in their format.” And Bob says they have given up on CAD interoperability.” Bob did add, however, that they expect interpoerability from PLM.

Implications for Manufacturers?  So what does this mean for Parker and other manufacturers? This is a problem that will not disappear easily or soon. Companies have to do what they can to mitigate the issues that arise, but despite the benefits a “simple” choice to standardize will only go so far. While this is an excellent goal (and one that probably makes sense for most companies) it is not the only answer. Companies have to learn to live in a heterogeneous world.

So is there help? PLM systems help manage the data and processes from all of these systems, and is a key part of the answer. New architectures make integration easier (see The Evolving Roles of ERP and PLM in Manufacturing). But this will be an issue for some time to come. If you have the answer, let us all know (and I will pass it on to Bob).

So that’s what I hear from Bob Deragisch at Parker, I hope you found it useful. I found his discussion relavent, open, and honest. Parker, as much progress as they have made, is still looking for answers. What do you think?