Why a Paperless Factory Benefits Everyone


Jason Spera, CEO and co-founder of Aegis Software

Paperless shop floor

We all know that for any change to be successful everyone must benefit.  Nowhere is this truer than in the change to a paperless factory floor environment.  The results of such a program speak for themselves and can be seen in the experiences of all those vested in the process.

From the operator's point of view, they can bring up the correct revision assembly instructions, dynamic video assistance, CAD images, BOM information and all associated documentation and work instructions with a single scan of the unit in production.  This can be done immediately and at any point in the manufacturing process.  The operator also enjoys the ability to interrogate the data provided, rotating or zooming into CAD data or digging deeper into a BOM to query a particular part.  First article assembly and inspection become simpler as the operator can receive adapted and dynamic information.  And finally the operator can close the feedback loop by sending suggestions to the engineering team from their own terminal instantly, supporting their value and the continuous improvement of the product and process.  There is plenty of evidence supporting the tenant that operator satisfaction is much higher when the data provided to do their job is unambiguous and when their voice is heard.  All lean manufacturing principles completely support the concept of operator involvement and the paperless environment simplifies this process.

Let’s explore how the process engineer benefits from the paperless experience.  Where engineers are allowed to develop all visual instructions via a single digital system, first product launches and subsequent engineering changes are expedited much more efficiently.  Revision control is no longer a slow, manual and risky process, but a fully automated simple procedure that can be assured throughout the shop floor.  When the vast majority of supporting documentation such as user manuals, maintenance specifications, corporate procedures and standard practices are maintained digitally there is no need for the shop floor management of such documents.  Revisions can be done once and the engineer can relax in the knowledge that all copies of that document are updated on all the relevant workstations and that the revision control and changes made are duly recorded.

Engineering changes are inevitable.  These can be carried out quickly and can be digitally ‘cut in’ to production where required without the need for chasing legacy documents on the shop floor and without costly hold ups in production.  And importantly the engineer can get the front line feedback from the operator digitally, before processing suggestions and incorporating them when necessary in the next revision.  This creates a better dynamic between the operator and the engineer and a clearer understanding of each other’s challenges.

The Operation Director can also enjoy the benefits of being paperless.  First of all they are ensured that down revision documents cannot be lost and re-emerge later on the shop floor.  Secondly, there is no risk of operators building to the wrong revision.  Thirdly, the audit path is hugely simplified for customers and regulatory agencies and that audit is wholly visible, so no unexpected surprises await the Operation Director on audit day.  The entirety of the MES audit process can be conducted quickly and efficiently with no shop floor disruption.

New product introduction becomes faster, simpler and more reliable with a paperless system.  Digital review and approval procedures, using electronic signatures, are simplified and are more reliable, ensuring that improper data never reaches the shop floor, and traceability is absolute in all product documentation and data.  And lastly the Operations Director can take the majority of the cost of print and paper out of his operating costs.

Perhaps the most important person in any value chain is the customer and the demonstration of an in-control documentation system is certainly valuable to them.  Risk reduction is hugely valuable as customers see the risk of product being manufactured with an outdated or incorrect specification being eradicated.  Customers’ costs related to on site audits are also reduced as this process is simplified.  Customers like faster new product introduction (NPI), they like to be able to make changes quickly and reliably and they like to be able to gain full traceability quickly and seamlessly when they need it.  All of this adds up to improved levels of customer satisfaction and better customer retention.

The value comes when all the documents and all the participants are fully aligned, and that value can be huge.

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