Design anywhere, build anywhere is an ambitious goal for any global manufacturer, but especially so for Weatherford, one of the world's largest providers of oilfield equipment and services.
"Wherever there is oil, Weatherford is represented," says Bill Droke, an IT director responsible for the company's integrated enterprise resource planning (ERP) and product lifecycle management (PLM) systems. Weatherford is a multi-national organization headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland with operations in over 100 countries. The company operates 16 technology and training centers, approximately 1,000 service and manufacturing facilities. Over 59,000 Weatherford employees are dedicated to helping the world's oil and gas-producing giants increase their well productivity.
Oil and gas companies apply Weatherford's technology across the span of a well's lifecycle – from drilling and evaluation through completion and production. Intervention systems are another Weatherford specialty; they help oil and gas producers remedy problems and optimize yields from underperforming wells worldwide.
About a decade ago, Weatherford committed to taking the "design anywhere, build anywhere" concept from an industry ideal to a company imperative. They resolved to reorganize their operations around a global ERP platform, with integrated PLM as a mission-critical component.
Why PLM? "Simple," says Droke. "We needed to get control over our product data. More than ever, we began to think of our parts designs as critical company assets. Our investments in ERP and PLM are entirely aimed at improving inventory and asset management throughout our global supply chain."
From the ERP/PLM initiative's start, Weatherford set out to build a single, centralized database of their product information. They envisioned the system to be comprehensive in scope, with parts consistently identified and extensively attributed. Users should be able to access the data quickly and easily – at any time, from any place.
Given the company's worldwide operations, delivering these capabilities would be no simple task. But that was only one complicating factor.
"Product engineering in the oilfield industry may be like nowhere else," says Lewis Lawrence, Weatherford's PLM process owner. "While there are standard products that we design and manufacture, there are critical products we provide that are specifically engineered to the well conditions they will be used in. They're designed, configured, and built to order."
Weatherford's parts – especially those for downhole uses – are generally machined from raw bar stock, and they may use materials that other industries would view as exotic. An example is inconel, a super-alloy primarily based on nickel and chromium.
Production is limited, but a product's lifecycle may be very long. "Repeat orders are often 10 years or more apart," Lawrence says. "With designs for parts coming from so many sources, it can be easy to lose track. The original data may be hard to find."
What Weatherford has especially aimed to avoid, notes Lawrence, is the need to re-engineer parts that already exist. This adds time and cost to product development.
Another PLM challenge has been organizational. Over the years, Weatherford has grown through acquisitions. The firm is today a melding of more than 250 acquired companies. "And for every new engineering team we've brought on board," says Lawrence, "we've taken on another set of legacy systems for numbering and describing parts."
The supply chain adds layers of complexity. "Weatherford's biggest customer," Lawrence notes, "is Weatherford." That is, most production in the company's plants is to fulfill internal sales to their own service organization. Weatherford's service sites then rent and operate the equipment when performing services for the oil and gas companies under service contracts.
Weatherford also relies on thousands of third-party manufacturers to produce short runs of specialized parts. The company's suppliers are mostly small companies. "Many," says Lawrence, "are in way-out-of-the-way places close to our customers' wells. This makes for a lot of additional – and a lot of different – product data to coordinate."
On top of all that, delivery deadlines are tight. If Weatherford delays getting equipment to a site, the customer may waste precious drilling time and fall behind on production.
"There's a huge bottom-line impact from being on time," says Lawrence. "We can't be held up by problems with product data. For our customers, it's a matter of productivity. For us, it can be the difference between getting the next service contract – or not."
Weatherford uses an Oracle ERP system, with PTC's Windchill system as the PLM front end. Users create parts with computer-aided design (CAD) tools, and Weatherford's PLM-driven Release To Production (RTP) process tightly controls approvals before transferring the parts information to ERP.
Key engineering and manufacturing personnel automatically receive notification when a new or updated part design reaches "released" status. "The systems are so intertwined," says Droke, "that ERP users interact with our PLM tools and data without really knowing it."
Weatherford's ongoing acquisition of companies means that adoption of the integrated ERP/PLM systems remains a work in process. Yet there is no doubt it has firmly taken hold. There are now more than 2,000 day-to-day PLM users at Weatherford. The product database holds nearly a million part masters and over a million secondary part numbers.
Each month Weatherford users add nearly 6,000 new part numbers, nearly 2,000 part revisions, and over 1,000 engineering change requests to the system. By Droke's estimate, approximately 85% of Weatherford's business transactions now occur through the ERP/PLM systems. As he puts it: "If Windchill is unavailable, our ability to respond to business demand is severely impacted."
Quality of product data is all-important, says Lawrence. "Here's my philosophy: Live like there is no tomorrow; manage data like it will live forever." He elaborates: "I may be stating the obvious here, but the information contained in PLM is what gives the system value. Bad data is worse than no data. Inconsistent data is bad data. The system doesn't create data, nor does it fix data. Quality in, quality out."
Lawrence adds, "With apologies to the credit card commercials – good data: priceless."
Careful parts classification helps to eliminate duplicate part designs and ensure the high quality of Weatherford's product data. The company's classification team engages with subject matter experts to comb data throughout the many legacy systems and find equivalences in part designs. They then create "new" part numbers and where possible map the existing legacy number to existing parts in the system, with descriptions in standard formats for consistent use in bills of materials and other applications.
Up to 40 attributes per part aid in distinguishing items. Geometrically identical parts can be described from the same drawing. This attribute-driven approach, says Lawrence, helps to "de-skill" part variant creation. "Often, generating a new repeated part from different materials can be a clerical function. No CAD license is required."
Classification helps Weatherford's users quickly search for and retrieve required parts. "In an organization as widespread and diverse as ours," Droke says, "just having a PLM system isn't enough. It's the classification of data that truly breaks down the silos of information. It's what makes easy search and retrieval a part of our everyday work life."
Parts classification also enhances cross-team collaboration. Asserts Lawrence: "It gets everyone on the same page, both internally and throughout the supply chain. Our teams work better and faster when they can have confidence that their product data is complete, accurate, and up to date. We can meet our customers' needs more efficiently."
Classification even creates synergies across business disciplines. "Our integration of classified data structures, product templates, attributes and allowed values is interwoven into all aspects of our business process and supply chain," says Droke.
With engineering, finance, marketing, and other Weatherford departments sharing consistent product data, they can perform sophisticated business analyses to find new opportunities for growth.
Having classification and attribute data available in reports linked to ERP data has enabled some groups to perform detailed business analysis looking at revenues for certain product lines or specific product models by geographic region, customer and well types. This type of reporting has sometimes led to more targeted marketing, internally to Weatherford staff and externally to customers.
Data analysis showed, for example, that Weatherford customers commonly needed certain sets of peripheral equipment. This led the company to create companion parts kits linked to main assemblies – a valuable new tool for customer services helping ensure that orders contain everything the customer needs to use equipment. Prior to this capability customer services would often have to consult engineering directly, or rely on product catalogues to ensure the required accessories were available to the customer.
"The data thus helped us anticipate our customers' needs and meet them innovatively," says Droke.
The Trade Compliance organization also depends heavily on product classification to make license and customs determinations for the company's international shipments.
Droke points to Weatherford's upfront commitment to classification launched as a "phase-one task" in their ERP/PLM initiative – as a key to successful implementation. Yet, as he makes clear, companies must approach classification fully aware of its challenges. "It's not a magic wand you can simply wave over your data and get everyone right in line," he says. "Classification is hard work. It's a major investment."
PLM, per Lawrence, makes engineering change management a "closed-loop process" at Weatherford. "The system strictly enforces what users need to do," he says.
Access controls prevent unauthorized design changes. Yet the system also steadily advances the process. "The whole purpose of engineering change management is to make the change," says Lawrence. "Our customers can't put their oil rigs on hold waiting for an approved design change to be implemented."
Lawrence notes that Weatherford's PLM system met some internal resistance at first. "Some in the company," he says, "were inclined to view it as a nuisance – something 'the man' was forcing them to do. But as good data was added, and users began to access it regularly, they saw the value and became champions of the system."
Droke adds, "Today 'design anywhere, build anywhere' is more than just a slogan at Weatherford. It's reality. The quality of our product data helps to make it so."