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I just returned from this year’s SAP Configuration Work Group Conference at Marco Island.  I received very positive audience feedback on my presentation, “Little Known VC (Variant Configuration) Facts.  So, given the high level of interest and feedback, I thought I’d share it here.

The presentation was focused on a few important capabilities that I continually find missing in client settings.  Specifically, this time I delved into modeling and runtime transactions/tips in the venerable LO-VC configurator running under the SAPGUI Client.

The Survey:  Because my topic was “little-known facts”, I thought it would be fun to poll the audience on their before and after understanding.  In the digital age it’s pretty easy to do a survey, so our marketing department put together a quick Survey Monkey instrument and we used it LIVE during the presentation.  One of the great things about having this survey was that we were able to tally up the feedback immediately after the presentation.  I even presented a summary of the results on day 3 of the conference.  One of the survey elements asked the audience to highlight areas where they wanted to learn more and go deeper.

Survey Results: Highest Level of Interest in Multi-Level Material Variants: The highest level of interest was in Multi-Level Material Variants. Few attendees knew in advance that this capability even existed, but apparently many of them have a need for it.  I was not entirely shocked at the lack of awareness because it’s one of many features within SAP VC that is not well known, understood, or even documented.  From follow-up discussions, I learned that beyond a lack of proficiency, there is significant misinformation on this topic within the user community.

How to USE Multi-Level Material Variants: Multi-level material variants are activated by a user exit.  Without this user exit, a user will not see a configuration browser or instance navigation buttons in transactions MM01 or MM02 (where material variants are maintained).  I suppose this is why many attendees concluded that they are not possible.  Once the user exit is implemented, the configuration browser can be seen.

Creating a multi-level material variant is only the first hurdle.  Perhaps the bigger challenges occur when trying to manufacture one.  Some attendees had been told (incorrectly) that material variants had to be created for all configurable materials in the structure and that the BOM had to be created manually.  This isn’t true and taking this approach creates a lot of unnecessary modeling and maintenance.

The top level material variant can be allocated to the BOM of its corresponding configurable material BOM using transaction CS40.  Its lower level configurable materials need not be created as material variants.  Having configurable materials as assemblies of non-configurable material variant can, however, raise an interesting challenge for production planning.

If a material variant is made to stock, how can its lower level configurable materials be made to order?  Don't configurable materials have to be made to order (to distinguish one configuration from another)?  In other words, if the lower level configurable materials are to have their own production orders, how can they be managed as sales order stock if their parent material variant is unrestricted use plant stock?

Obviously this is getting a little outside the realm of VC, but VC is so deeply integrated into other SAP modules that an understanding of these integration points is also needed to design proper solutions for complex challenges like this one.  Make sure that you don’t overlook the downstream impacts of your high level VC design decisions.

Getting back to the previous questions, it is possible to manufacture lower level configurable materials with a form of special procurement known as direct production (i.e. collective orders).  Most of our customers do not use direction production, and we have seen that this can be sticking point when introducing multi-level material variants (because production personnel want to avoid introducing direct production if this is the only situation where it is used).  Direct production does take some "getting used to", but we can do things to make it easier to understand and manage.

Don’t despair - not all multi-level material variant manufacturing scenarios require direct production.   How do you know what to do?  Ask for help.  User forums like the one on the CWG website is a great place to start.  If you have a really complex scenario, it is often best to get qualified consulting help.  Note the word "qualified".  Obviously no one is an expert in all areas of SAP.  Heck, no one is an expert in all areas of VC.  Make sure you are talking to an expert when you have a complex problem.

Get The Facts: This blog is ostensibly about a technical topic, but the real message here is about finding the right help for challenging VC problems.  Oftentimes you don’t know what you don’t know.  Don’t settle for a workaround or custom development that is highly suboptimal and fails to leverage native SAP functionality.  Get the awareness that comes from getting and staying involved in user groups like ASUG and CWG.  Make networking connections so you know who has done what and who has what expertise.

Coming Soon - More Little Known Facts:  This was just the first topic of many that came up during CWG. Also at the top of the list were CUCK, Debug.txt, Variant BOM, Moving variants, and more. We are going to be putting out more technical information about these topics so please feel free to check back regularly for more topics, or contact us directly at www.eLogic.com.


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