Why Going ‘Paperless’ is so Much More than Just Digitizing Documents
Why going ‘paperless’ is so much more than just the digitizing documents
People’s perception of what constitutes the paperless shop floor may vary from individual to individual and indeed from company to company, but if you are looking to get all the benefits from going ‘paperless’ it needs to be much more than just another way of displaying documents that were formally printed and held on the shop floor.
Deploying a system that merely replaces paper with pdf or images of paper documents will most times result in failure to gain the full benefits of being paperless. Delivering work instructions to a screen rather than via a folder full of forms and drawings may provide some benefit to operators and line managers, but does not really get to the core of the far more comprehensive solution that being paperless offers.
This is all about the delivery of information, or data, and in a paperless environment that is delivered digitally. But we need to consider more than just the method of delivery, we need to envisage the type of data, the interactivity of that data, its revision control and its adaptability.
When a truly paperless system is put in place that addresses all of these issues the benefits can be substantial. When documents are merely replaced with a digital version, the benefits are much more limited.
Take for example cost. Top of the agenda for many companies, particularly those that find themselves in the competitive space that is the EMS (Electronics Manufacturing Services) industry, where quarterly calls for cost reduction from OEMs (Original Equipment Manufacturers) are commonplace. In a paperless environment customer audits, quality audits and regulatory audits can all be done via a digital terminal and via a single system, with all revision control and document management visible. This could even be done remotely in some cases further reducing costs. This is potentially a cost saving for the vendor but also for the customer, something that they will doubtless appreciate and remember.
Another cost benefit comes in the form of reduced, or even eliminated personnel costs associated with the maintenance of documents like standard practice manuals, preventative maintenance manuals, user manuals and work instructions, all of which can be managed centrally rather than being disbursed all over the shop floor.
And finally the obvious cost saving of any paperless system is paper and the costs associated with printing and distributing that paper around the shop floor. It’s not like the work instructions are static, they change constantly and in a paper driven world that means reprinting numerous versions, distributing them around the shop floor, making sure everyone has seen them and doesn’t use old instructions. This is time consuming and risky.
And risk reduction is the second benefit worth highlighting in the paperless environment. The potential presence of down-revision documents on the shop floor is eliminated in a well-ordered paperless system; audits become risk free and operators are not in danger of building to the wrong document.
Beyond reduction of cost and risk, there are the improvements in performance and quality to consider. Optimizing the performance of an operator is about having them spend as much time as possible making, testing and shipping product, not searching for or through documents to find an instruction or procedure. In a CAD (Computer Aided Design) driven paperless environment test and diagnostic data can accelerate the resolution of quality issues or the data required to expedite a repair function.
A paperless system also allows the operator to become part of the process improvement feedback loop. Feedback systems allow for fast and effective improvements in the documentation and more importantly in the process and multiple operators on multiple lines and/or shifts can impact upon any improvement initiative.
Paperless processes also provide interactive visual data that can guarantee the current and proper parts list and CAD information is available improving quality, increasing inspections reliability as well as raising the accuracy of diagnosis and repair.
All in all, the full and complete commitment to ‘paperless’ can yield a lot of benefits that go far beyond saving paper and print cartridges or avoiding clutter on the factory floor.