Digital Manufacturing • July 19, 2023

Digital Integration in Paperless Manufacturing: Creating Your Technology Ecosystem

Digital integration is talked about all the time. But why is it so important? Because it makes every person and every stage of production more accurate and effective. In manufacturing, connectivity is not a buzzword. It has real and serious implications for how your factories can benefit from paperless manufacturing.

Think of your stack of digital technologies as an ecosystem, where the more the individual solutions interact and support one another, the stronger the whole system becomes. These days, integration between manufacturing execution systems (MES) and enterprise resource planning (ERP) has become common, but it is inside the real-time manufacturing processes that connectivity can unlock the true potential of digital technology.

Let’s look at how information can flow throughout operations, improving both quality and efficiency, when paperless processes are integrated as an ecosystem. 

It Starts With Communication

In paperless manufacturing, communication is key. Paperless systems use manufacturing data from a single source across the enterprise, creating a direct link between what is happening on the shop floor and other real-time systems like supplier quality management (SQM) and product lifecycle management (PLM). When all these systems are integrated, data is automatically shared between them, removing the dependency on less reliable methods like paperwork and verbal conversations. 

For the shop floor, this means that every worker at every level always has the latest information needed to do their jobs. It also opens up new efficiencies, such as the ability to smoothly implement engineering change orders after production has started, instead of the usual scramble that comes with a paper-based system. 

The Supplier Quality and Manufacturing Execution Link

Supplier quality is an area that especially benefits from an integrated digital ecosystem. Linking an SQM solution to your MES provides you with insight into quality beyond the four walls of your factory, allowing issues with purchased parts to be identified and corrected before they reach your production stream.

This integration also allows quality information to be fed back to the design process for improvements. Engineers can identify design issues and make improvements to products and processes by analyzing product quality and performance data. SQM plays an important role in the feedback loop between production and design. 

When Life Happens, Quality Integration is Key

There are many preventive measures in paperless manufacturing, but in reality, escapes can still make it downstream. When a nonconformance issue like a defective part makes it through testing and inspection and gets installed into a component, the whole production process can grind to a halt. If communication fails during the response, the costs quickly multiply. 

With a connected digital ecosystem however, you can embed quality management into the paperless production process. For example, in response to a problem on the line like a defective part, manufacturers with a corrective and preventative actions (CAPA) process integrated with their MES and supplier quality systems can efficiently step through the process of root cause analysis and corrective action, including identifying the responsible suppliers. What results is a precise response without overreactions or shutting down lines while you run around the shop looking for answers. And if you do have to shut down a line, you know exactly why you’re doing it and for how long. 

MES-PLM Integration Extends the Possibilities

MES-PLM integration is a critical aspect of paperless manufacturing that we’ve written about before. Manual data entry just can’t keep up with the countless connectivity points between these two systems, so integrating them yields many benefits. Full connectivity delivers capabilities like automated data publishing, real-time interdepartmental communication, improved error reporting, and full product histories. It also eliminates the human error associated with the manual rekeying of data, and ensures a single, real-time version of product information.

In addition to the direct benefits, MES-PLM integration provides a comprehensive view of the product life cycle from design to disposal, making it a foundational step toward the Model-Based Enterprise and full digital transformation.

Think Connectivity

The reality is that manufacturing is comprised of multiple operations, often involving software from different vendors, all trying to work in sync. Things get even more complicated when it’s time to integrate with the supply chain.

Fortunately, modern web-based software helps manufacturers handle this challenge. Standards such as JSON object notation and RESTful APIs provide a framework for software integration no matter the supplier, and iBase-t is leveraging these technologies to help our customers integrate their key applications and create a true digital ecosystem.

Without connectivity, paperless manufacturing is just that—manufacturing without paper. But with connectivity, paperless manufacturing becomes something more. It becomes a way to unlock new potential for quality, efficiency, and agility across your enterprise. When going paperless, think connectivity.

Teel Hoeffel
About the Author

Teel Hoeffel

As Director of Product Marketing, Teel Hoeffel brings over 12 years of experience to iBase-t. She is responsible for supporting iBase-t's product-based positioning and delivering a clearly articulated value message to customers. Teel earned her BA at Emory University and has held progressive roles in product marketing for a number of enterprise software providers.

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