What is Paperless Manufacturing?
Paperless manufacturing uses digital technology to connect all the people, parts, equipment, and processes related to the shop floor. Instead of exchanging paper, emails, and spreadsheets, everyone involved uses an integrated software application that makes communication virtually automatic and instantaneous across operations.
From digital work instructions on the production line, to real-time reports in the executive office, a paperless shop floor system breaks down silos and provides the information people need when they need it. As a result, it improves the speed and accuracy of everything a manufacturer does.
With the right platform, paperless systems can be extended across the value chain to include suppliers, partners, and even customers.
The state of paper-based manufacturing
Managing production processes with paper is as old as manufacturing itself, so it’s no surprise that many manufacturers are still using paper (or emails) to perform critical steps like issuing work instructions, process planning, and producing reports for management.
But what used to be acceptable no longer is. Paper is costly, slow, cumbersome, and prone to error. Meanwhile, the pace of change in the world keeps accelerating. Manufacturers are going paperless to solve a host of problems caused by outdated paper systems.
The true cost of paper: Where is money spent & where is revenue lost?
The real cost of paper is not just the money spent, but the opportunities lost.
- Paper slows down business.
It’s estimated that a business loses or misplaces 1 in 20 documents on any given day due to human error and knowledge workers spend hours out of every week looking for information.
- Paper has “blind spots”.
Paper systems never show you what’s happening now, only what happened last week or last month. Without proper visibility into the shop floor, businesses have blind spots and struggle to improve performance.
- Paper is not secure.
Paper systems do not have the security that a properly designed digital system can have. The likelihood of a data or privacy breach is much higher in a paper-based environment.
- Paper systems reduce your revenue.
Every minute spent by employees handling paper is time that could have been spent producing revenue. Failure to respond quickly to a change order, waiting for a supplier change to take effect, and lacking visibility into production lines are all examples of lost revenue.
The average company spends one to three percent of its revenue on printing costs alone. (Gartner)
Common challenges in going paperless
Going paperless means new computer hardware and software, plus the technical staff to run them. Historically, this has made the cost of entry too high for all but large manufacturers.
Many of these technical barriers have been removed. For example, the more advanced MES applications come with extensive templates that allow people to start using them right away. In addition, highly secure servers and enterprise software can now be accessed through the cloud, significantly reducing the cost of entry to going paperless. (Scroll for more deployment options.)
The biggest challenge for many manufacturers is overcoming inertia. Change is always hard and people will have to learn new ways of working. Company leaders need to make the commitment to going paperless and stay involved in the process. Have a plan and work with vendors who are willing to work with you.
What does paperless manufacturing software do?
What exactly does paperless manufacturing do? Essentially, paperless manufacturing provides a unified software application for planning, executing, monitoring, and reporting on every step of production.
To do all of this, paperless manufacturing provides at least three essential functions:
1. Manufacturing Execution System (MES)
MES is the central nervous system of a paperless operation. It executes and monitors all work-in-process on the shop floor and provides real-time visibility of production activities. It tracks and documents the transformation of raw materials through finished goods, coordinates activities such as scheduling and dispatching, and integrates with other corporate systems like PLM and ERP.
MES should also provide real-time manufacturing intelligence for decision-makers. Unlike the information in paper systems, digital information can be instantly gathered, analyzed, and delivered to whoever needs it.
2. Digital process planning
Transitioning from engineering to manufacturing BoM is an error-prone process. Digital process planning ensures that your shop floor instructions are updated to engineering changes. The result is more consistent results from your production lines by ensuring that everyone in your company is designing and producing based on the same information.
3. Digital work instructions
Digital work instructions make sure that everyone in the plant gets the latest work instructions. These instructions can include engineering drawings, photographs, videos, or any other documentation. It’s all distributed instantly to every workstation, where the MES can verify that the instructions are received and enforced. Obviously, the more workers you have the more valuable this is, but even a single factory benefits from always having accurate instructions delivered to every workstation exactly when you need them to be.
Adding MRO and SQM
iBASEt also goes a step further by offering paperless MRO (Maintenance, Repair & Overhaul) and SQM (Supplier Quality Management) to its integrated suite of solutions, enabling manufacturers to connect more of their operations.
- SQM – Are your suppliers hurting your business or enabling its success? Digital SQM helps manufacturers answer that question by providing a systematic way to measure and validate supplier quality.
- MRO – Digital MRO schedules and manages repairs in a consistent, repeatable way to minimize risk and downtime. It increases visibility, control, and efficiency of your MRO operations.
iBASEt’s MES, MRO, and SQM solutions can stand alone, but the benefits are amplified when they are used together, providing a more complete picture of operations.
Benefits of paperless manufacturing
Digital software such as MES enables a smooth and organized launch process. You have historical data to help improve each new product, planning tools to ensure effective processes, and visibility into everything so you can quickly course correct and keep the project on track.
of total revenue and profits come from the launch of new products (source).
How to Go Paperless in Manufacturing
There are many paths to paperless manufacturing, from buying and operating your own hardware and software, to subscribing to the capabilities you need over the cloud.
- On-premise: Large enterprises with deep IT resources may host manufacturing software on their own servers with an on-premise solution.
- Public cloud: This is the most affordable and scalable solution, using providers like AWS to host applications and connect users. This approach is often used by medium and smaller companies to limit their upfront capital costs and reduce the IT burden.
- Private cloud: Manufacturers with special security or control concerns can choose a private cloud, in which the servers and software are hosted by an outside firm but are used exclusively for that client alone.
- Hybrid: A hybrid approach is a combination of any two of the above. For example, you might want to manage and store sensitive data on-premise and use the public cloud for less sensitive applications.
Whatever the technology path chosen, manufacturers can pursue it in stages. Your vendors should be able to help you identify and address the areas that are easiest to implement and fastest to create profits. By addressing those first and building value as you go, paperless systems can pay for themselves.