From paper chaos to digital manufacturing: One of scc’s first SAP digital manu­facturing projects imple­mented in Bulgaria

“Go West” is one of the Pet Shop Boys’ biggest hits that everyone knows. For us, however, it was recently “Go East”. Because we were able to implement one of the first SAP Digital Manufacturing projects within scc – in Sofia. The Bulgarian capital is home to the headquarters of Centillion Ltd, a company that has opted for SAP Digital Manufacturing. The company ensures that people can be fitted with hearing implants, for example. An interesting but also complex field that was full of challenges for us. But let’s start from the beginning.



scc meets Centillion Ltd.

The Bulgarian company Centillion Ltd. is primarily at home in the medical technology sector and in the aerospace industry and produces implants, for example. We were brought on board for this customer project by Next Consult as a subcontractor and expert in the area of "SAP Digital Manufacturing (SAP DM)".

Doch bevor es losgehen konnte, galt es einiges zu prüfen, denn zunächst war nicht klar, ob SAP DM überhaupt für die spezifische Prozessabbildung dieses Fertigungsbetriebes geeignet ist. Und so flogen wir 2022 erstmals nach Sofia und schauten uns das Ganze im Zuge einer Vorstudie an. Vor allem die speziellen Herausforderungen im medizinischen Sektor, wie etwa alles, was in Zusammenhang mit der Rückverfolgbarkeit steht, verlangten nach alternativen Zugängen. Fakt ist auch: Sowohl die Produkte als auch die damit verbundenen Prozesse und die Software müssen zertifiziert sein.

Nach einigen Wochen gab es für uns grünes Licht: SAP stellte ein gutes Grundgerüst zur Verfügung, mit welchem der Kunde die Validierung selbst durchführen konnte. Digital Manufacturing war somit lizenziert, was zugleich den Startschuss für das Projekt bedeutete.

Go East – Project kick-­off in Bulgaria

For us, it was then time to "Go Back East" in 2023 - onto the plane and off to Bulgaria again. We started implementation there in May.

We focused on two of the three production areas: the clean room, where the components for the medical devices are produced, and mechanical and manual assembly, i.e. the merging process. These two areas had to be set live.

In the following, we explain the specifics involved and what made the project stand out.

Challenges in the cleanroom

Let's start with the cleanroom: in this scenario, maximum precision is required. A strict production process is therefore essential - and this includes many checks. Electronic signatures play a key role here, which - in addition to user registration - must be carried out by employees at many workstations for documentation purposes. The task here was to set up an appropriate system. To date, comprehensive documentation has been carried out on paper - and this is exactly what was to change, towards digital production.

Although there was no machine connection in the clean room, very small parts, which are often not even the size of a pinhead, are manufactured here. And that brings with it many other challenges. The cleanroom per se is also a complex environment that is associated with high hygiene standards, which also influenced the test phase.

A few more tricky details:
RFID chip:
We had to take into account an RFID chip that was installed at the first workstation. The unique identification number of the chip and the transfer of this number to SAP Digital Manufacturing makes it possible to determine the production progress of the component in SAP DM and to document the number or assign it to the appropriate order. This is done using an RFID reader.
Training software:
It was also necessary to link the training system (M-Files) with SAP Digital Manufacturing - this related to both production areas. This program verifies, for example, whether employees have completed the relevant training to work at a specific workstation and product. The result is now a process in which SAP DM first asks whether employees are authorized, and if this is not the case, they are prevented from carrying out the work step in SAP DM. At the same time, the system indicates which verifications are required.
Materials with a short shelf life:
Some materials used in the cleanroom, such as special adhesives, have a shelf life of just a few hours. If this adhesive is not used within this period, it must be disposed of. If the adhesive is nevertheless applied, the resulting product would also have to be discarded. A corresponding test therefore had to be set up here.
Serial number:
Each end product has a serial number, and corresponding digital data is stored during each individual production step, for example: Which employee produced it? When was it produced? Which batch does it belong to? When was the product tested? And was it reworked? Upon delivery, the customer then receives a document with all serial numbers or - depending on the require­ments - also the serial numbers of the components to ensure traceability.
Additional attribute:
The EWM connection turned out to be tricky. The reason? Normally, faulty products can be scrapped or rejected immediately. In this case, however, faulty products must first be posted "to stock" - with the additional attribute "blocked stock". This means that positive stock is simulated, but it is blocked. The already assembled product is then broken down into its individual components and sent to the customer.

Challenges in final assembly:

In final assembly, products are assembled on manual production lines. We rely on the same processes as in the cleanroom to create a uniform process. The biggest challenges included:
Serialnummer on semi-finished product:
In this area, the serial number is already printed on the semi-finished product, for example on a hard shell. This means that this important number, which is essential for traceability, is not only created on the finished product, but one step earlier. During assembly, this engraved information must then also be transferred or passed on to the finished product. In SAP DM, however, every number is an order - and every order number must be unique. We therefore had to find a way to break through this uniqueness so that the number of the semi-finished product can be used again for the finished product.
Easy system:
We were keen to design a system that was as simple as possible for the operators, i.e. employees. Many of them were not very computer-savvy, as they had previously worked with paper. The aim was to find a good balance between a high degree of flexibility - similar to that of paper - and a modern system that only allows the entries that are necessary. This minimizes errors.
Automatic material consuption posting:
For example, we also implemented enhancements to the automatic material consumption postings, which are carried out in the background. Due to material provision using SAP EWM, the standard could only be used in part. Furthermore, manual posting by production staff is too time-consuming due to the large number of components.
Machine connection:
A Mimaki printer was also connected during final assembly. This allows the half-shells to be provided with serial numbers, codes and certain texts. The jobs started are transferred to the printer's software at the touch of a button - via a specially developed interface or a web service interface.

This was not our first time in Eastern Europe, but it was one of the first SAP DM projects within scc - a milestone for us. We have grown with the challenges and can now master SAP DM projects of any size.

On time and on budget

In total, we boarded the plane five times and were on site for a few days at a time - although the majority was carried out remotely. Our core team of three, as well as the two other people involved on our side, also had to stick to a very tight schedule, as there was nothing to be done about the go-live date. Despite all the tricky aspects, both the schedule and the budget were adhered to. And the implementation was definitely a highlight for us, as it was one of the first SAP DM projects within scc.

As with every project, we grew with the challenges. We were always in close contact with SAP during the implementation process. When the go-live finally took place in mid-March 2024, Centillion Ltd. celebrated extensively - according to the motto: "A new milestone has been reached, on to digital production, on to a better future!" And that also fills us with pride.

There were quite a few challenges - the clean room alone is an interesting scenario that characterized the test phase. But it was also nice to see how happy Centillion Ltd. was at the end and how much this big step was celebrated together.

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