The Path to a Paperless Shop Floor and Manufacturing Environment


Deb Geiger, VP Global Marketing, Aegis Software


Path to a Paperless Shop Floor System and Manufacturing Work Environment

Today's manufacturing environment is subject to many external pressures, such as the demand for lower-cost products and faster delivery timelines. At the same time, there is a growing request for more feature-rich products. Amid rising product complexity, as well as cost and time pressures, operational efficiency is a must.

But in paper-based environments, the creation, distribution, maintenance, and updating of paper documents on the shop floor creates an extensive amount of work. It requires a large quantity of labor—which can be unsustainable, time-consuming, risky, and costly for organizations. Therefore, in the quest for operational efficiency, it is critical to address the paper problem on the shop floor.

And according to a recent Aegis webinar poll, manufacturing leaders have not yet embraced a paperless production floor approach. Sixty-five percent use a hybrid mix of paper, and digital, 21.25 percent are using paper-based approaches, and 13.75 percent are using spreadsheets and manual data entry. No single attendee identified themselves as 100 percent paperless. These responses underscore the opportunity to shift to a paperless manufacturing work environment and achieve transformative benefits.

The Challenges: A Problematic, Paper-Based Pile-Up

Let's start with a brief overview of what a paper-based environment looks like. A lot of effort is required to create, revise, and distribute paper work order documents. Even after distribution, tracking a paper work order's status is tedious, asynchronous, and time-consuming. It is all too easy to misplace a paper document, causing a schedule delay. Change management in a paper-based environment is also exceedingly difficult, and long-term storage is also a labor-intensive feat.

Typically, before work instructions are ready for operators to use, an interim step requires taking engineering documents and creating supplemental instructions to make them easier for an operator to understand. These "how-to" instructions are training-oriented and use visuals, step-by-step instructions, illustrations, and more. While helpful, the time it takes to produce this supplemental documentation can delay production even further. In a paper-based environment, work instructions are often left to interpretation, resulting in production errors, waste, re-work, regulatory risk, higher training costs, and increased testing.

Paper-based processes are less than ideal and challenge today's manufacturers' primary goals: to deliver more complex products, faster and more cost-effectively than ever before. Before we examine the transformative impact of a paper-based approach, let's recap some of the major pain points associated with paper-based environments:

  • Time & Resource Intensiveness: Paper-based work instructions require significant time to author, edit, format, and publish. Frequently, work instructions are too focused on engineering specs instead of "how-to" instructions tailored to specific roles or tasks.
  • Lack of Standardization: Because many different people are involved in creating paper-based documents, each using different systems and formats, it can be challenging to leverage prior work in an extensible way.
  • Difficult Version Management: Paper-based systems make it very hard to manage versions and revisions, streamline the approval process, and elegantly track audit history. Getting a new or revised document through the necessary approval process can take far longer than anticipated.
  • Document Confusion: Because paper-based systems have no systematic way to manage versions, it can be challenging to differentiate between new and old documents. Operators may not know which document to use, or worse, they may use an outdated version with material differences from the final.
  • No linkage to central systems: Paper-based documents are not electronically tied to the central manufacturing database. Without a digital linkage with the central database, manufacturing teams lack full assurance that the right job is being built on the right line at the right time.

The Solution: The Power of a Paperless Approach

Paper-based processes can no longer keep up with real-time demands or scale with changing business requirements. When manufacturers use manual, paper-based systems, human error, and poor data integrity permeate all business areas. For this reason, and many others, Best-In-Class manufacturers, are increasingly turning to digital solutions. It should come as no surprise that Best-in-Class Manufacturers identify Visual Work Instructions as a top investment area for manufacturing technologies. The lion's share of Best-in-Class Manufacturers are also investing in Augmented Reality (AR), another technology area that is key to closing the manufacturing skills gap. In fact, Best-in-Class manufacturers consider AR instrumental in the path to paperless, identifying upskill workforce capability, visual work instructions, and eliminating paper manuals as top AR use cases.

Manufacturers can benefit significantly from a comprehensive, broad-based vision for the paperless shop floor and factory. As manufacturing transitions to Industry 4.0, electronic documentation is a necessity—and the Best-In-Class are 2.4x more likely than all others to implement paperless document management. But to capitalize on the full potential of paperless, automated document management must do more than simply display documents that were formerly printed. Proper paperless document management is all about the targeted and personalized digital delivery of information and data. In a cyber-physical environment, this includes envisioning the type of data, its interactivity, its revision control, and its adaptability.

Moving away from paper is key to satisfying the product complexity, accelerated timelines, and cost pressures of today's manufacturing environment. Let's take a closer look at some of the most compelling benefits of a paperless shop floor system approach:

  • Less Downtime: Because coordination is easier with an electronic routing and delivery system, less time is required to take maintenance actions or make engineering change orders.
  • Stronger Communication: A centralized document management system also enables a stronger ability to share and communicate about documents within the manufacturing environment, across facilities, and between functional units.
  • Closed-Loop Manufacturing: With a centralized platform, electronic work instructions, content, and data can be more easily shared with corrective, preventative, and audit management processes, enabling closed-loop management and stronger quality control.
  • Less Waste: The ability to communicate and collaborate with engineering improves first-time quality, reducing costly waste in the manufacturing environment.
  • Regulatory Responsiveness: Because many industries face dynamic regulatory environments, electronic work instructions help to quickly communicate changes required for shop-floor processes and ensure that personnel are following them.
  • Faster Product Introductions: Streamlining communication and collaboration between manufacturing and engineering reduces the time required to develop, test, and build new products. This is especially valuable in the context of increasingly complex and personalized products.
  • Reduced Risk: With automatic notifications triggered for both shop-floor and engineering workers, the likelihood of a non-conformance or compliance issue is much lower.

The Right Platform Can Accelerate Your Path to a Paperless Production Floor
Embracing a platform like Aegis' FactoryLogix is a Manufacturing Execution System that empowers manufacturers to advance their factory digitization efforts and adapt to Industry 4.0 requirements. This IIoT platform seamlessly connects people, processes, systems, and devices to make smarter decisions with automation. With FactoryLogix, manufacturers can gain real-time operational visibility and control across all applications, accelerate their journey to a paperless factory, and drive tangible results.

Watch The Fast Path to a Paperless Shop Floor on-demand webinar to learn more about how digitizing processes can transform your manufacturing operations. If your organization struggles with a paper pile-up on the shop floor or wants to streamline workflows and gain superior agility, contact Aegis to learn how FactoryLogix can deliver powerful results.

Sign up for our blog

Stay up-to-date on the latest in manufacturing trends, insights and best practices.