Founded in 1949 by Walter Wirthwein, the company from Creglingen is engaged in polymer processing, including the manufacture of injection molds made to order by its customers from the home appliances sector and also the automotive, railway, energy, and medical engineering industries for such globally leading corporations as Bosch and Siemens Hausgeräte GmbH.
Wirthwein AG was one of the first West German companies that, immediately after the fall of the Berlin Wall, decided to invest in East Germany. In time, Wirthwein opened subsequent plants in New Bern (North Carolina, USA), in Łódź, in the Chinese Kunshan, and also in Zaragoza, Spain. At the same time in Germany the number of plants belonging to Wirthwein Group increased. Currently, Wirthwein consists of 19 entities in five countries on 3 continents. There would not be such a dynamic development in recent years if it hadn’t been for the decisions of Wirthwein to invest in modern tools and innovative solutions.
IT Strategy of Wirthwein AG and the SAP Projects
One of these strategies is an appropriate IT system that allows global management. Selection of the software is extremely important – an appropriate system facilitates and speeds up many processes, including decision-making. In this case the choice was SAP. It is a solution that provides limitless opportunities for development and is very well suited for companies operating in an international environment. SAP standard operates in several language versions and the SAP software operates in accordance with local laws and regulations in all countries where Wirthwein AG is present.
The starting point was the SAP solutions maintained locally in some divisions. In order to exploit the potential of the multi-lingual system, the Management Board of Wirthwein had decided to standardize an important part of the processes in individual companies by deciding on a central management of selected modules, the first being finance. The advantages of such a solution is not only a reduction of system administration costs but most importantly the business benefits, including accelerating the flow of information (for example, by reducing the closing time of a month/year and the preparation of necessary reports), standardization and unification of processes and procedures across all business units, improvement of internal organization, and an increase in the degree of automation of processes, eliminating some manual operations.
In the past few years, the company’s management decided to implement SAP corporate solutions for their plants in Poland, China and the USA. BCC (since 2018 SNP) was Wirthwein’s implementation partner for the Polish and American projects.
Finance and Controlling in Poland
The implementation project in Poland, including the SAP system for finance and controlling – as well as sales and distribution – consisted in transferring the SAP corporation solution, as well as adjusting it to meet the requirements of Polish law. The solution was made available to users in early 2011. The most important challenge of the project was to adapt the existing SAP structure to the requirements of the special economic zone, as well as the Polish legislation, which is among one of the most difficult ones to work within. One element of the project was to transfer the global solutions for payment discounts to meet Polish legal requirements while maintaining the consistency of the solution with other entities in the group. According to a majority opinion the, project – even with all its complexity – did not differ much from a previous implementation carried out in China.
Successful cooperation and highly assessed competences of the SNP consultants involved in the Polish project were the reasons why Wirthwein AG decided to use the SNP support also in their SAP rollout in the USA.
Time for America
Launched in March 2012, the SAP rollout project for Carolina Technical Plastics (CTP) in the USA consisted of three major challenges.
The first challenge was the fact that the American company, being a part of the corporation, had already benefited from the local SAP installation but only supported the logistics (materials management, production, planning, and sales). Thus the “new” finance had to be painlessly plugged into the already functioning SAP operational processes. Within the scope of the project, in addition to the implementation of SAP in financial accounting, fixed assets and controlling, “new” logistic processes within the system needed to be launched; this time in Wirthwein’s integrated SAP environment.
The second challenge was the necessity to take into account the legal requirements, in regard to both federal law and state law (North Carolina), including taxation. Legislation differs in many respects compared to the implementation of the European projects, because of both the country’s federal nature and the lack of VAT (in the U.S. we speak about a Sales and Use Tax, which is something different than European VAT).
The third challenge is the organizational issues. Within just 6 months, the three parties to the project (Wirthwein AG, CTP and SNP) had to effectively launch the expected SAP functionality.
Despite these challenges, the project went according to plan and successfully launched in August 2012.
Allocation of Roles
One of the important criteria of Wirthwein’s decision of this rather unusual marriage was the fact that SNP consultants had already known and understood the operation of the operation of their SAP system. The only “gap” that needed to be filled was the competencies associated with the local legal specifics. In this area SNP was supported by the knowledge of an external subcontractor who had worked for companies in North Carolina before.
SNP participated in the project from the very beginning of the project development phase, covering such activities as: the confirmation of the scope and objectives of the project, the appointment of the project team and the development of the project schedule up to the post go-live support phase, which includes ongoing user support in the operation of the system, and additional online training sessions.
Due to the involvement of many parties, a clear allocation of roles in the project was extremely important. SNP, along with the subcontractor, were responsible for the implementation in the area of FI and FI-AA.
The implementation in the areas of logistics and controlling was the responsibility of the experienced Wirthwein IT team. Where it was necessary and approved by the Project Managers, additional SNP consultants were engaged (e.g. in SD or data migration).
Management of the project was the responsibility of an experienced Project Manager from the Wirthwein headquarters who was supported by the SNP Project Manager.
The realisation of the project would not have been possible without the key CTP users who were the recipients of the implemented system. Two key users, who also participated from the beginning of the project, were delegated to the project implementation in the area of logistics and finance.
As Little as Six Months
The project was designed to take 6 months, which meant that the work schedule was quite tight, especially during the period of preparation for launch, when the employees had to reconcile current responsibilities with the extremely important task of preparation and verification of the data to be migrated. Here, detailed activity planning and the monitoring of progress at the developmental level of individual data sets greatly helped.
Another important issue for the planning of design works was the consideration of the availability of people from CTP; it was necessary to plan trips and book tickets in advance. In addition, at the same time, the implementation of WMS module at the Polish division of Wirthwein was carried out. It was therefore necessary to regulate the work schedule so that the changes made within the constraints of one project would not affect the work carried out on the second project. Thanks to very good knowledge of both projects by the project manager, Wirthwein managed to perform work completely and painlessly in parallel.
Not Just the Time Difference
An issue that may cause inconvenience in these kinds of projects is the time difference (6 hours in this case). It does not have to be an obstacle in an implementation of a project – as it turned out, there are also advantages of these few hours difference. Problems and issues reported during the project by the CTP team were specified during the U.S. business day. The answer and the solution were worked out during the European business hours – and were waiting in the CTP employees’ inboxes.
The manner of the task’s implementation was very interesting and entirely different due to dissimilar cultural backgrounds and experiences. In Europe, the decision as to the final shape of the solution always depends on the customer and in most cases is unquestionable. In the USA it is the consultant, being the specialist in the given branch of industry, who is taking an important role in making the decision as to the chosen solution. This is based on the strength of belief in the years of experience that implementation companies have. Again, American rationality is translated into benefits for the company in the form of a reduced design load for the company’s regular employees. In the USA, the end result is the most important thing – the simpler the method is to achieve the goal, the better.
Within the constraints of the project rollout in CTP, the implementation team had to make some other changes. These included the introduction of a time-dependent tax procedure and calculations for the tax level within a given jurisdiction, reflecting not only the state or municipality, but also an individual city. Therefore, in exceptional cases, third-party applications such as Vertex are used. In CTP, we have successfully used the procedure for the USA – TAXUS without the need to install additional software and then interface between SAP and this software.
Another customised element was the need to change the format of all printouts from A4 to US LETTER, for which the format is not only shorter but also wider. This not only means that the footers with bank numbers are left outside the printout range, but also the need to correct the calibration of the address footer to a different envelope format.
Having analyzed the financial data for the period, it should also be noted that the date format is different – in the U.S, this is the month / day / year format. Again in this case the SAP system allows for full flexibility depending on the user and the time zone settings.
Running a project over such a large distance with participants from different locations does not necessarily have to mean a high logistic cost. During the project implementation CTP organized 4 “onsite” sessions: 2 in Łódź (during the development of the concept and during the integration tests) and 2 in New Bern (users training in the concept phase and the Go-Live support). The rest of the time, telephones, e-mails and video conferences were successfully used and part of the configuration work was done remotely by SNP consultants.
Melanie Hojsak Responds to Questions about the SAP System and SAP FI/CO Project Rollout
You have 19 entities around the world; what is the role of SAP in a company operating in such a manner?
Melanie Hojsak: Well, there are several advantages to running SAP as our global ERP system. On the one hand, we are able to act and react very quickly as we have all data inside one system for almost all of our plants across the globe. On the other hand, a unified reporting and sharing of information is one of the most important things that must be guaranteed anywhere at anytime. Running one system also means that we can lower our cost as we do not have to maintain several systems in parallel. It also reduces the efforts for interfaces between the systems. SAP also allows us to set up group common standards of processes that are approved within Wirthwein.
Why was the decision of SAP rollouts in Poland, China and the USA in the scope of finance made?
M.H.: The main reason to install SAP Financials for our plants in Poland, China and now the US was to enable a SAP based standardized reporting. For example, we are now able to run monthly sales reports at any time we need to. Based on this data, our management is able to rely on the numbers for business decision making. We are also faster in our month end closure processes because integrating the Financials into SAP is also improving the SAP processes within logistics.
The rollout of SAP solutions in the scope of finance and controlling is an important project for every company and the choice of subcontractors requires careful consideration. Why have you decided to have SNP as a contractor and not a company from the USA?
M.H.: After a careful comparison of all references of several consulting companies, Wirthwein wanted to have SNP as a contractor because of the good experience we already made during our SAP FI/CO Rollout at our Polish plant. The high experience of SNPs consultants and project mangers is evident, and the cooperation between SNP project members and Wirthwein internal SAP consultants was always satisfying. Even while negotiating the offer, SNP showed up very flexible and they provided different contract models so that we could chose the most suitable model for this particular project.
How do you assess the course of the project – deadlines, commitment on the side of SNP, and communication skills?
M.H.: During our kick-off meeting, we finalized the milestones of the project and all deadlines of the project were carried out right on time. As SNP consultants can speak English fluently and many of them German as well, we never encountered a communication problem. The means of communication like e-mail, telephone or even video conferences proved effective during phases where we were not meeting physically. To summarize, in my opinion the project went very smoothly.
The rollout process has been completed, how do you assess the benefits of this project – from the point of view of Wirthwein AG and from the point of view of CTP?
M.H.: Our successful Go-Live on the 1st of August proved that it is possible to manage such a project under uncommon conditions, and also that a project based out of 3 nations across two continents could be carried out on time while fulfilling all the requirements and challenges of such a project. The project meetings took place in Creglingen, in Łódź, in Poznań and in New Bern. So regarding distance and time differences, it was really unusual but I think a great experience for all of us. But coming back to the question itself, the benefits of this project are that headquarters now have access to all the data they will need for decision making for example, or to have a one-click reporting capability. CTP’s benefits are the usage of all SAP functions and the advantage to do the period end closure within one system and without external service providers. Of course, introducing a new system will at first lead to a higher workload for as long as people are getting completely used to handling all the new functions. However, they now have the chance to get the support they need from other Wirthwein groups including headquarters, as well as support from SNP, because most of the processes are now shared with Wirthwein.
The Wirthwein-Group is an international company with German capital. It currently consists of 19 companies employing 2,350 employees. It specializes in plastic injection molding and injection mold construction for the automotive, railway, energy, home appliances and medical engineering sectors.