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Fully Integrate Product Design Into Your Business Processes for Faster Time-to-Market

by Thomas Klee | SAPinsider

April 1, 2006

The integration of CAD systems with mySAP PLM helps companies reduce time-to-market and improve process efficiencies for greater product quality and a more optimal cost baseline. Learn about new solutions from SAP and leading CAD solution providers that integrate product design directly into your mySAP ERP and mySAP PLM solutions.

Companies understand that it takes measures across their business to stay competitive: cutting costs, better managing customer relationships, streamlining the supply chain. But they must not lose sight of the quality and innovation of their products. To address this continuing challenge, SAP offers its product lifecycle management application — a complete, end-to-end solution for driving effective new product development and then managing those products throughout their entire life cycle.

In industries where competitive advantage relies on consistently developing innovative new products, bringing them to market as quickly as possible, and excelling at servicing them once they are in customers' hands, successful product development starts with savvy R&D departments and innovative design. But is your business as a whole really making the most of the product design and development processes at work in your company?

The Benefits of Tighter Integration Between Design Documents and Your Business

Especially in the engineering, industrial machinery and components, consumer products, and high tech industries, the early product-design phase relies on design engineers and the computer-aided design (CAD) solutions they use to develop products. Within these solutions, CAD documents provide a wealth of information — including product structures, parts specifications, and computer-aided engineering (CAE) documents. But often this valuable information is not easily accessible across the company. Tightly integrating these CAD models into your logistical, CRM, and materials management processes, however, provides:

  • Opportunities for various stakeholders to work in parallel during the entire development process — not just at predefined points. Because information is more easily shared, product-related decisions don't have to wait until design handoffs.

  • Information sharing that gives companies a competitive edge by enabling more informed decisions about component procurement, bills of material, suppliers, and outsourcing — decisions that ultimately affect product costs.

  • Reduced time-to-market through the use of fully integrated workflow, engineering change management, and classification capabilities, as well as an Engineering Client Viewer available to users across the product life cycle.

  • Improved product quality through the use of SAP's document repository, which enables customers to have one enterprise-wide data center. This repository eases daily operations, eliminating redundant data and the need for data synchronization throughout the complete product life cycle.

For most companies, achieving this level of integration is hindered by some technical and organizational stovepipes resulting from CAD systems that are largely disconnected from other business processes. SAP now has a way for you to eliminate this gap. This article shows you how, with integration software developed in coordination with leading CAD software partners, you can bring CAD functions directly into your mySAP ERP and mySAP Product Lifecycle Management (mySAP PLM) solutions, creating tight integration to processes throughout the company.

mySAP PLM is shipped with mySAP ERP automatically, so it does not require additional licensing fees. All mySAP ERP customers already have PLM, ready to be switched on.

Understand the CAD Integration Challenges Facing Your Organization

If the business goal is to reduce the time from the initial product idea to product shipment while meeting customer quality expectations, then the integration of CAD systems is crucial for successful product development from a holistic, process-oriented standpoint.

In the past, companies have installed product data management (PDM) systems for design teams to manage the documents and information generated throughout the process. The pitfall of this approach, though, is that it addresses only specialized CAD design tasks. PDM systems typically do not enable the design team to easily share this information company-wide — especially with logistical, supplier relationship management (SRM), CRM, and production processes — and support the complete product-development process across the business.

With PDM systems, design engineers often shoulder the burden of managing documents and getting them out to the right stakeholders, taking time away from their most valuable function, new product design. In addition, many companies have multiple CAD solutions, often from multiple vendors. (Some SAP customers are known to have as many as 10 CAD solutions across the company!) This heterogeneous solution landscape brings with it complex technical and maintenance issues, not to mention the added costs of managing these multiple PDM systems.

New CAD Integration Software Brings Design Access Directly from Your SAP Solutions

SAP provides the necessary robust and open infrastructure for new product development tasks across the business, as well as for stakeholders outside the boundaries of your company. It also allows you to seamlessly integrate your mechanical CAD systems with your business processes, without making major changes to your current investments in SAP or CAD systems.

Direct CAD Integrations for Tight Integration with SAP Applications

To overcome traditional process and information silos, SAP offers 10 direct CAD integrations for its PLM solution (see sidebar below). Each of them is delivered as an SAP product, eliminating the need to deal separately with several system integrators. With SAP's CAD application integration with mySAP PLM, your design department's product data is immediately integrated into the business process flow. As a result, this data is available to all related business processes inside and outside your company. This integration allows you to accelerate product development by linking engineering and design into the business as a whole — including processes driven by ERP, manufacturing, SCM, and SRM solutions.

Because SAP uses the same data model and functional principle for all of its CAD integrations, you can even integrate multiple CAD systems from multiple vendors with mySAP PLM to secure your current investments. SAP provides you with the freedom to use the CAD system that best fits your design challenges, not just the one CAD system that fits your PDM software.

CAD Integrations Supported Directly by SAP

To provide best-in-class direct integrations, SAP has teamed up with leading CAD design and software integration companies. Each mySAP PLM integration solution is developed in partnership with one preferred partner and sold through SAP, which also handles global maintenance support. SAP integration products support these CAD solutions:

  • AutoCAD
  • Autodesk Inventor
  • CATIA V4
  • CATIA V5
  • MicroStation
  • Solid Edge
  • SolidWorks
  • Unigraphics

Companies that are currently using these CAD products now can use the CAD integrations from SAP, along with the CAD Desktop, to seamlessly integrate their current and new CAD documents.

New Desktop for Design Engineers to Integrate PLM and CAD Views

On the mySAP PLM side, SAP has implemented a unified desktop on which the design engineer usually works — the CAD Desktop. It allows you to edit document structures using a CAD interface, either directly in the CAD system, or from mySAP PLM. With the CAD Desktop, independent technical environments are bound together without compromising the work efficiency of the individual design engineer. On the right side of Figure 1, you can see the CAD system view of a product structure, including all necessary document structure information. The data content is transferred online from the CAD system and is stored in SAP's enterprise-wide document repository, visible on the design engineer's CAD Desktop (on the left side of Figure 1).

Figure 1

The Design Engineer's View from the CAD Desktop, and SAP Integration with a CAD Application

Access to Product Information for Users Throughout the Company

Product information is no longer exclusively captured in the engineering and design world, but is readily available to sales, marketing, manufacturing, field service, and maintenance personnel. These additional users can view the product through SAP's Engineering Client Viewer (ECL Viewer), which automatically converts viewing files from the CAD assembly. Users can also link design documents with other SAP object types like materials and equipment (see Figure 2).

Figure 2

The Engineering Client Viewer Enables Users Throughout the Company to View Product Information

SAP CAD Integrations in Detail

CAD vendors have developed and are constantly enhancing their integration solutions in close teamwork with SAP (see Figure 3). The key functions of these integrations include:

  • Multilevel 3-D CAD structure management, allowing you to manage CAD documents throughout their complete life cycle and derive bills of material, for example, to easily leverage the manufacturing processes

  • Mass check-in and check-out of CAD assemblies, helping design engineers handle complex products

  • Tight management of both the 3-D and 2-D processes for leveraging the preproduction, production, and other logistic process steps, optimally integrating all necessary business processes

  • Management of 2-D drawings for manufacturing, helping to automatically hand over necessary documents to these departments

  • Tight integration with engineering change management, materials management, and bills of material, enabling accelerated decision making and analysis in engineering processes

  • Integration of viewing formats in CAD and SAP solutions and the ability to automatically create viewing files, leveraging the use of these files throughout the enterprise

  • Workflow integration, allowing on-the-fly decision and release processes within the company

  • Management of all kinds of CAD references, including external references and circular references.

SAP's CAD integration philosophy puts the user at the center and frees the design engineer from administrative tasks associated with the requirements of overall business process support. Users can see the information they need directly, without the need for design engineers to push it to them.

Figure 3

The Relationship Between mySAP PLM, the CAD System, and the mySAP PLM Integration Solution That Connects Them

Case Study: CAD Integrations at Work in the Manufacturing Industry

To see how one company has put mySAP PLM and CAD integrations to use, let's take a look at an example of a French subsidiary of a large American corporation that is active in the industrial machinery and components industry. This company's key objective was to more rapidly respond to customer-requested product modifications. To address this challenge, the company chose a direct interface between mySAP PLM and CATIA V5.

Decision Phase
The company was looking to transition from a separate design-to-manufacturing process to a collaborative one. Client and internal requests for modifications, which could total up to 10 a day, were directly impacting the delivery system, as well as the manufacturing and installation of their product. To enable design and systems engineers to quickly respond to client requirements, the IT department evaluated three software vendors of PLM solutions. They decided on SAP mainly because of its proven expertise in the management of technical data. Implementation of mySAP PLM was completed successfully within 18 months.

Dynamic Data Exchange
When the company replaced an older CAD solution with CATIA, the IT department realized it needed a data management tool that could ensure data coherence between CATIA and mySAP PLM. The design department uses mySAP PLM to manage items, classification systems, technical data, and definitions folders containing plans in Adobe PDF format. To increase responsiveness to client requirements, the new tool had to meet the following criteria:

  • Provide a single data store for integrating R&D processes into production and for simplifying item searches (cost reduction)

  • Decrease the amount of time it takes to make information from the design department available to other areas within the organization (management method)

  • Increase the flow of information to improve the productivity of the teams

The IT management team had to choose between indirect integration via a third-party solution or integration of the interface offered by SAP. After testing, they chose the direct interface between mySAP PLM and the old and new CAD systems to enable coherent, dynamic data exchange during collaboration, planning, and construction.

Integration will be performed in stages. Before the actual migration of data from the earlier CAD system to the CATIA system, the migration will be simulated to identify potential problems. At the same time, 15 users in the design department will be trained in methodology and maintenance processes.

The mySAP PLM integration interface enables the design department to simulate all modifications made in the CAD system directly in mySAP PLM, so designers as well as warehouse, inventory, and external purchasing users can see how product modifications will impact their portion of the process. The interface also simplifies collaborative activities and reduces the time spent searching for data stored in the single SAP database. All files created in CATIA are saved in mySAP PLM.

The customer can now adapt the interface to integrate additional control elements and numerous modifications, thus eliminating potential errors caused by multiple data recordings. The customer also reports that the automatic integration of modifications enabled them to recoup the cost of the CAD system and the separately licensed mySAP PLM integration solution within two years.


The integration of CAD systems with mySAP PLM allows companies to greatly reduce time-to-market and positively influence product quality and the cost baseline. For more information on CAD integration solutions, please see For more on product-design processes supported in mySAP PLM, please visit

Thomas Klee is a member of the solution management team for Product Lifecycle Management at SAP AG. In 1998, he began working at SAP as a consultant in the area of PLM. Since 2002, Thomas has been part of solution management in the field of Lifecycle Data Management and is responsible for Document Management, CAD Integration, and SAP's Viewing Solution, as well as Partner Management in this area. Before joining SAP, he worked for four years as a design engineer in a major European aluminum products company. Thomas holds a Master of Science degree in mechanical engineering.

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