6 Benefits of Moving to a Paperless Manufacturing Environment

Posted by Greg Goodwin on Tue, May 06, 2014 @ 10:59 AM

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Paperless manufacturingIf you have a magazine or newspaper subscription, there’s a good chance these days you’re accessing content via an electronic log-in rather than a trip to the mailbox. Even if you’re one of the diminishing few who prefers the feel of glossy pages or newsprint on your hands, your subscription no doubt contains a digital component that allows you to see the same content via your tablet or smartphone at no additional charge.

The writing is on the wall: Paper is being slowly but surely phased out of our daily lives, and as goes the consumer so will the enterprise.

Manufacturing organizations too are beginning to recognize the value that eliminating paper and moving to digital systems can deliver. Particularly when you consider the dynamic nature of a shop floor and the number of stakeholders that need to collaborate and share information to be successful, the improvements that paperless manufacturing can deliver extend to several operational areas and have the potential to fundamentally transform operations. And many of today's shop-floor systems, including Manufacturing Execution Systems (MES), Document Management applications, and more focused point solutions such as Electronic Work Instruction (EWI) applications are delivering value to organizations in a number of different ways.

In this post, we’ll examine six benefits that shifting to a paperless shop floor can deliver for manufacturing organizations.

1. Increased Operational Flexibility

In order to respond to manufacturing dynamics like changing customer demands, material shortages, and disabled assets, shop floor workers and plant managers alike need to have access to accurate and up-to-date information to take quick and decisive action.

The immediacy and real-time information provided by digital displays greatly speeds the rate of information flow between key stakeholders as the time to produce, share, and edit paper reports is eliminated. Additionally, remote access to digital documents removes the tether of required on-site presence put in place by physical paper and opens up new possibilities for a global/mobile workforce.

2. Quicker Responsiveness

In a stringent regulatory environment that will only continue to tighten, the speed of actionable and available information translates directly to savings, or the lack thereof. Consider a product recall situation where having real-time product traceability information provided by integrated digital displays available to all relevant parties could quickly isolate a bad batch or lot of product, or identify a supplier quality issue. The rate of response can be crucial in minimizing the amount of lost product and keeping the scope of recalls at a minimum. 

3. Better Environment for Innovation  

The level of ease paperless systems facilitate for sharing and collaborating over hard copies is an important consideration. Though difficult to quantify, having a platform for employees across functions and departments to access and work with real-time data and have the ability to edit, revise, share, and archive ideas cannot be overemphasized in fostering an environment where ideas flow freely, one in which innovation is more easily nurtured than dealing with multiple versions of documents that need to be physically passed around.

4. Greater Efficiency and Productivity

By now you can tell that all of these benefits are closely related. Such is the case when introducing potentially transformative technologies and processes. But it’s worth noting some examples in increased productivity and efficiency that may be hidden from plain sight.

Planners no longer waste time researching the progress of each order before planning for the next shift. Status reports are immediate and automated. Specific documents are immediately searchable through a database rather than wading through stacks of paper. EWI displays are always up to date and presented in context to workflows such that they are immediately available to shop floor workers. Relevant production information can be digitally captured in-context to the product and work being performed, so there is no extra time or errors introduced by paper log books. 

By eliminating all of the various maintenance, planning, and production steps that required manual actions within paper-based systems, all of this aggregate free time from workers across the plant is now freed up to focus on more important activities.

5. Better and Simpler Security & Compliance

Whereas important paper documents must be physically stored, often under lock and key, a paperless system can be stored in numerous virtual locations, and can also have tiered access to information depending on role and responsibility. In addition, digital information that is automatically captured can be readily altered, and can be stored and archived for long periods of time--thereby more easily meeting industry and government regulations.

6. Reduced Paper and Associated Costs

Paper reduction in a paperless system is obvious, you say, and this is a fair point. But this is a bigger deal than you might think when you consider the amount of paper that can pile up between orders, schedules, reports, work instructions, etc. as well as the associated annoyance and frustration of dealing with and disposing of these stacks. Eliminating all but the most necessary paper can improve plant organization and raise employee morale. It can also significantly cut the cost of paper purchasing and disposal and ultimately result in a reduction in energy consumption. 

A Paperless Environment Is Only Part of the Solution

We can see that a paperless environment is an important factor in increasing the speed of response to issues on the shop-floor, but there are several other facets to a strategy that increases operational agility at the plant as well as line of business and enterprise levels too. Along with the appropriate software technology, a comprehensive strategy involves adopting standardized processes and making the necessary cultural adjustments to pursue appropriately selected and realistic goals and targets. To find out more about top strategies to increasing your operational agility, click below. 

operational agility in manufacturing

Tags: MOM, Product Traceability, Product Recall