Building a Foundation for the Future: One PLM at MAHLE

CENIT Supports PLM Development at Auto Supplier

Published 07/26/2018 | updated 08/05/2022

MAHLE – known globally for its high-quality pistons – is a leading international development partner and supplier to the automotive industry, covering all major aspects related to powertrains and air conditioning – for both combustion engine cars and electric vehicles. The advent of electric mobility means that the company needs to address fundamental changes. To cope with the challenges, MAHLE is preparing to introduce a uniform PLM landscape. The important role played by system provider CENIT in developing and implementing this new PLM world is reflected by the conclusion of a strategic partnership between the two companies.

Building a Foundation for the Future: One PLM at MAHLE

MAHLE was created in 1920 when Hermann Mahle hired on at the Hellmuth Hirth motor works in Bad Cannstatt; in 1922 Mahle’s brother Ernst also joined business. The company developed the first light-alloy pistons which permitted higher engine speeds than the customary gray-iron pistons. To increase the durability of the delicate light-alloy parts, the brothers developed oil and air filters, setting off the triumphal march of the modern light-alloy piston.

At one time, half of the automobiles on the road anywhere in the world were equipped with MAHLE products. From a small testing workshop, the company grew into a leading global technology enterprise.

Today, MAHLE is a corporation with international presence: around 77,000 employees working at 170 production facilities in 34 countries generated sales of € 12.3 billion in 2016, with sales growth of over 100 percent just in the past five years. This unusually high growth rate is largely a result of acquisitions, including engine manufacturer Cosworth Technology, thermal management specialist Behr and the thermal management segment of Delphi Automotive. MAHLE has positioned itself as a major provider for powertrain solutions.

But the auto industry faces great changes. The demise of the combustion engine is just a matter of time, at least in the passenger car sector. New mobility concepts are arriving on the scene – a true challenge for a supplier like MAHLE, where the combustion engine is virtually a part of the company DNA.

To address the changes in the auto industry, the company has adopted a two-part strategy. For one, it intends to further optimize the combustion engine to reduce emissions and thereby make it more efficient.

For another, MAHLE aims to develop new, alternative drive technologies, adding competencies and portfolio variety in the electric mobility field, creating a new business unit for mechatronic products and further expanding the thermal management segment. The latter already accounts for more than half of MAHLE’s sales and now boasts new solutions for the car of the future, e.g. battery cooling technology and panel heating for passenger compartments.

To make all this possible, the company has adopted the One PLM Program, a five-year plan to expand and streamline its PLM landscape. The overarching goal of the program is a maximum increase in efficiency and flexibility of MAHLE’s fundamental value-adding processes. Additionally, the plan is aimed at maximizing synergy effects and enhancing collaboration between the individual business units. Here the challenge is to address process and system heterogeneity, because PLM processes are currently confined to individual regions and mostly limited to the respective business units. MAHLE uses over half a dozen IT systems to map its processes. The company relies primarily on SAP PLM, but in very diverse permutations.

MAHLE’s definition of PLM goes a great deal beyond what many other enterprises take PLM to be, namely not much more than PDM or product data management. At MAHLE, PLM (and thus the place where One PLM comes in), begins with sales-related opportunity management, i.e. the processing of client queries, offer generation and release of (pre-) development projects. Above and beyond project and quality management, cost control and integrative product development, PLM at MAHLE also involves handover to production and support for the serial manufacturing process, lifecycle and disposal. This also makes change management important when it affects the serial production phase and is based on PLM processes.


To attain the targets of One PLM, all legacy systems will be shifted to a joint core data backbone based on end2end global processes. Wherever possible and meaningful, the project will also simplify processes across business units to create synergies.

This will enable global collaboration across business units e.g. in construction and design, driving projects across time zones in accordance with the “follow-the-sun” principle. The end goal is a flexible process and IT landscape that can be easily adapted as additional acquisitions are made.

MAHLE has opted for an introduction that incorporates three salient objectives. As Dr. Alexander Burger, head of One PLM at MAHLE, explains:

“In expanding our PLM processes, we have to consider the respective level of maturity and the heterogeneous product complexity of our business units. Our program is therefore based on three pillars: globalization, harmonization and digitalization.”

In the first pillar, globalization, regional processes occurring within individual business units will be elevated to a global level and stored in the lead PLM system.

The second focus is unifying processes within the individual business units wherever appropriate. For example, MAHLE plans to harmonize project management tools and project documentation across all business units and establish common standards. Consequently, the integration of products within individual business units will also benefit from process and IT support.

The third objective of the program is digitalization and creation of an integrated digital master capable of end2end digital product mapping. This will enable functions such as Big Data analysis and the use of wizard systems.

MAHLE has already implemented the new change processes in the filter and thermal management segments. These are driven via the PLM system, controlling product data as well as the logistical and commercial information contained in the company’s ERP systems. Defining the new processes was a challenge – also in organizational terms, because it went a great deal beyond technical IT aspects

Global process chains were defined and implemented for the respective business units. To achieve greater efficiency and create synergies, these will be connected via cross-business unit applications and processes.

The project is being implemented in collaboration with CENIT. For instance, MAHLE relies on the cenitCONNECT Advanced Process Management (APM) software. As Dr. Burger says, “cenitCONNECT APM is a highly flexible workflow engine that lets us map processes and link them with master data from a variety of SAP systems.”

“cenitCONNECT APM networks the stakeholders involved in the change process”, Dr. Burger adds. “We have already defined global change processes for two business units and implemented them in APM. Now we’re in the process of doing this for our third business unit as well. Next, we plan to establish cross-business unit linkages that facilitate collaboration between the units.

The new change process will enable clean, audit-proof, workflow-driven collaboration that reduces change cycle times via a clever networking of process participants.”

“We maintain a close working partnership with CENIT regarding consulting for change and PDM processes, but also for software solutions. This includes the integration of the different CAD and CAx systems with SAP via ECTR”, says Dr. Burger. “Our collaboration has now grown into a strategic partnership – not least because we are working on core processes and want to create a long-term basis for our projects and development goals. This ensures that the further development of CENIT’s solutions is oriented on MAHLE’s requirements. For CENIT, collaboration with MAHLE offers process expertise that will be helpful in driving their future software development. It’s a win-win situation for both of us.”

Dr. Burger is certain that the targets of One PLM will be attained. “The program is well grounded at the management level – the steering committee is made up of MAHLE managers. We need this kind of backing to succeed in such a demanding project – a project that ultimately affects and strengthens the entire enterprise. CENIT is an important partner in getting MAHLE set for the future.”

Contact person

Swetlana Isaak

Swetlana Isaak

Communications Manager

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