The cost of integrating a PDM system with an ERP system tends to be "fairly minimal" in comparison with the cost to get the enterprise-wide systems up and running in the first place, says Andrew Wertkin, manager of enterprise architecture at General Instrument Corp. (GI), Horsham, Pa. And, to his way of thinking, the potential benefits of creating such linkages easily outweigh the costs. "The power is really in the integration," he says. "You have these large, powerful systems that are able to do advanced planning and manage changes and whatnot. But if you are dependent on the skill of some data-entry clerks to get the pertinent information back and forth, then you are slowly going to grind down into legacy systems, like our old systems were, where the data is not dependable and you don't know who updated it or when." GI, a $2 billion maker of analog and digital equipment for cable TV and satellite communications systems, has completed the first phase of a three-phase effort to integrate its Oracle Manufacturing ERP backbone with its Metaphase Enterprise PDM system. Among the company's major objectives are to eliminate redundant data entry and to ensure that information between the systems is synchronized. This year the firm's San Diego plant, which produces encoders for cable and satellite transmissions, achieved production status on the Oracle system -- the last of GI's five major production sites to complete Phase I. The project was focused on linking the part masters, which are the elements in each system containing information about specific parts used in the company's products. "The part master is really the common thread between PDM and ERP," Wertkin notes. "But both systems have slightly different information in the part master. The ERP system will have such things as cost and the last purchase price, while the PDM system will have supporting documentation, the history of approval cycles, and other engineering-type information." Creating the bill of materials (BOM) connection is Phase II of GI's implementation plan, which is expected to be completed sometime this summer. The company plans to move to a single BOM between the two systems after products are released from engineering. "And as a means of improving time to market, we are trying to start driving engineering to generate manufacturable BOMs. Traditionally, the BOMs generated by engineering required a good deal of work before they became manufacturable BOMs," Wertkin notes. Phase III of the program calls for integrating engineering change orders (ECOs). The ultimate goal is that when an ECO is approved in Metaphase, it will automatically create an ECO in Oracle. One of the early paybacks of GI's integration initiative has been to facilitate a major parts-reduction project. "We've standardized part numbers and renegotiated contracts," Wertkin says. "And we've been able to do that because there has been consistency in our data. As a result, we've saved a big chunk of change just in reducing the number of parts." Like many large companies, GI has had as many as 20,000 "active" parts such as capacitors and resistors -- out of roughly 300,000 part numbers -- at any given time. The PDM system was the primary enabler for the part-reduction program, Wertkin notes, "but we needed the integration to drive the results of that [program] into manufacturing." The PDM-ERP link is also beneficial in getting manufacturing updates back to the engineering side. "We need to know when manufacturing has stopped using a part so we can slate that part for retirement," he points out.