Manufacturing is becoming smarter all the time. In recent years, data has become arguably the most valuable business commodity for manufacturers, with companies keen to collect as much usable information as possible about their processes to make operations lean, efficient, and reliable - and allow for swift, intelligent decision making on the shop-floor.
The move toward the Factory of the Future starts with digitising every data point at every step along the process. Choosing the right paperless manufacturing software to bring your factory toward Industry 4.0 will have a lasting impact on your facility’s future and sustainability.
The problem with paper-based processes in manufacturing
Modern manufacturing requires traceability, accountability, and impeccable quality. Paper-based processes in your factory simply can’t meet the needs of today’s ever-increasing pursuit of excellence.
Relying on paper to track key processes can result in a severely disconnected information ecosystem from the shop floor to the front office.
Paper-based manufacturing operations result in:
- Loss of information to physical degradation, displacement, or data mismanagement
- Increased human errors
- Additional costs including paper, printers, toner, and stationery products
- A factory-wide disconnectivity due to data staying offline
There is an intuitive way toward connecting all manufacturing processes: paperless manufacturing software, which integrates inputs from every point along the production line and allows for maximum traceability of production, quality, staff hours, and more.
Benefits of implementing paperless manufacturing software
Paper-based documentation is ubiquitous in most manufacturing plants. It’s generally considered to be inexpensive, hassle-free, and easy for everyone to use and understand.
That said, using paper documents can lead to unexpected costs, a loss of information, and is extremely prone to human error. Paperless manufacturing software is the only solution for bringing manufacturing to the next level and achieving your future factory.
Attract and retain the next generation of workers
The manufacturing industry and its workforce are changing quickly. As more young people - those Gen Z and Millennials - enter the workforce, and the Baby Boomers continue to retire, factories must adapt to fill the inevitable skill gap. With this new breed of workers’ desire to seek more knowledge-based positions, traditional manufacturing jobs need to change.
Adapting to this younger, more digitally-driven workforce requires shifting mentalities, especially concerning technology. This youth movement brings with them a digital-savvy, paperless mindset.
For companies to stay relevant and attract the next generation of workers, paper-based manufacturing needs to shift to digital, to an end-to-end paperless process.
Paperless environment to future-proof your shop-floor
Eliminate manual data entry. Eliminate antiquated, human-error-prone reporting practices. Moving paperless ensures reliable and accurate record-keeping, from operational data to financials, to staffing and shift information.
Establishing a paperless model on the shop floor and throughout an enterprise makes sure that every piece of data is collected, sorted, and securely stored. When it comes time to retrieve information, whether that’s for an audit or any other operational need, automatically indexed and accurate data can be instantly accessed at the click of a button.
Reduce human error with improved reporting and efficiency
In a paperless manufacturing process, operational data can be automatically pulled from each process throughout the factory. Instead of relying on operators to punch in information, digital gateways on each machine send data directly to an ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) or MES (Manufacturing Execution Systems) for safe and efficient storage.
Common mistakes when implementing paperless manufacturing software on the shop floor
1. Choosing the wrong software
Every plant is different. That’s why choosing the right software to suit the specific wants and needs of your facility is essential.
Often, plants choose the wrong paperless manufacturing software. Whether the decision is based on budget, time constraints, or a slick salesperson, it always leads to the same problems: low employee adoption rates and disjointed, inefficient data processing.
2. Not supporting staff AFTER implementation
Staff need training and continued support after the implementation of any new or updated paperless manufacturing software. This is especially necessary for less digitally-literate employees, who may never have worked without a pen and paper.
Some companies don’t assign a responsible person or change management team, to streamline the integration process. Having a knowledgeable support team that employees can rely on will boost employee adoption and iron out any wrinkles before they become an issue.
3. Implementing new software all at once
All software has a learning curve for new users. For paperless manufacturing software, it’s no different. If a factory implements a paperless solution across the entire plant in one fell swoop, bugs, downtime, and staff push-back are all almost guaranteed to happen.
How to go paperless in manufacturing operations
Making the shift from a physical paper trail to paperless manufacturing is a crucial step toward realising the factory of the future. Though a paperless process will eventually make your factory run smoother and more efficiently, there will certainly be some growing pains in ditching paper legacy systems.
Most important in going paperless is investing in the right paperless manufacturing software that works for your factory, your employees, and your industry. After that, continued support of staff in reskilling, through training programmes and clear user instructions, is imperative to ensure a successful implementation.
Steps to adopting paperless manufacturing software
Prioritise business processes
A paperless system doesn’t need to be adopted 100% overnight. Like any new process or piece of software, there will be a learning curve for shop-floor employees and managers alike.
Every manufacturing company has a range of business processes such as planning, production, procurement, or delivery. Highlight areas where going paperless will be easiest to implement, while also adding value right out of the gate. Prioritising the order in which of those processes can go paperless will help make the shift to digital that much smoother.
Map key manufacturing processes
Once your business processes are prioritised, it’s time to identify those manufacturing steps that are directly related to each process.
Which key manufacturing step within each business process is easiest to shift to paperless? Identify those low-friction adaptations and get used to your new software by working through some of the initial bugs and learning curves at a small scale.
As confidence and acceptance of the new software grow throughout the factory, start making your way down the priority list. Soon enough, every facet of the shop floor will be fully paperless and connected.
Implement digital operations platform
Your paperless solution, or digital operations platform, creates a unified space where all employees can find and add operational data. Whether working on the shop-floor, front office, or remotely, employees have a wide-ranging array of uses for their new paperless manufacturing software:
- Digital checks can be performed automatically through sensors, or manually inspection. If done manually by an inspector or operator, these checks are input at the touch of a button into a hand-held digital device or even a laptop. If automatically detected along the line, real-time data is sent to the cloud through in-line gateways, capturing up-to-date and precise operational data.
Step by step operator training
- Standards of practice (SOPs) define the guidelines for a plant to operate safely and efficiently. Within a paperless manufacturing software, these best practices and rules are found at the click of a button for all applicable parties to view. Managers and responsible team members can edit SOPs and those updates can be flagged for all to see to ensure widespread adherence to the standards.
- Within a paperless manufacturing software, step by step training can easily be shared with the applicable members of the team. Either used for training, or as a workflow checklist, these instructions are instantly available on tablets, laptops or smartphones. Not only are they always available, document owners can quickly make updates to ensure the material is relevant to any process changes.
Other paperless processes
- Shift handovers are a breeze with paperless systems. Employees can badge out and their shift information is automatically sent to a central digital system. Managers can see who’s coming and going, and make adjustments based on shortages or illness.
- When it comes to compliance and audits, paperless manufacturing systems store and index all relevant information to validate adherence to code, protocols, and standards. No more digging through stacks of documents to pass an audit. Simple, effective, and intuitive paperless data storage will take (a lot of) the stress out of passing any audit.
Repetitive, time-consuming work can be automated within paperless manufacturing software. Instead of manually punching in numbers into a form, a connected factory instantly sends output data to a safe and secure database. There, data can be indexed and stored using AI tools, further simplifying the workflow and making nearly every process smooth and automated.
So, what key features should you look for in a new paperless manufacturing software?
Connected to MES and ERP systems
Interoperability of paperless manufacturing software with ERP and MES systems plays an integral role in unifying processes and data collection across the shop floor.
Ease of use
Widespread adoption of paperless software is essential for a successful implementation. Because of this, your software package needs to be easy to use and intuitive.
Paperless manufacturing software works across nearly all digital devices. From smartphones, tablets, and laptops, to shop machine-based screens, paperless systems work fast and efficiently when and where you need them.
Common applications for paperless manufacturing software
Real-time visibility for production management across the entire factory.
Quality data is automatically collected within paperless manufacturing software. Sensors along a production line perform data capture through gateways and send that information to the cloud which instantly syncs into a central database.
Operators and quality teams can even compare photos of the manufacturing software to their production outputs to ensure compliance and minimise defects.
Instantly view or edit what’s in stock, what’s missing, what’s going out, and what’s coming in.
We all know managing logistics is a crucial element with so many variables. Paperless operations make sure that logistics management isn’t left up to chance.
Paperless software lets maintenance managers and operators keep equipment operational through preventative maintenance and limit critical downtime.
Quickly view real-time energy usage to spot inefficiencies and perform resource-saving optimisations.
All information related to the factory’s assets - equipment, stock, real estate, and more - can be viewed, edited, and updated in seconds.
Health & Safety
Digital safety checklists, forms, SOPs, and protocols are all instantly accessible and easy to update if ever there are changing health requirements and compliance mandates.
Common questions about paperless manufacturing solutions & digital operations software
How do you go paperless in manufacturing?
Choose the right paperless manufacturing software, assign a lead to implement the transition to paperless, and work step-by-step to digitalise each of your factory’s processes.
Starting with a bulletproof plan and taking it one piece at a time will ensure your manufacturing facility’s smooth transition away from paper.
How do you convince staff to use paperless manufacturing software?
Widespread adoption of new technologies is always difficult. Most importantly, employees need to see the value in their new processes. That’s where a dedicated responsible person or team needs to support this change management.
Re-skilling and continued support make sure that all staff has the capability and know-how to use new manufacturing software. Training in which the value for the company and the individual is highlighted can also help bolster acceptance.
What is the best paperless manufacturing software?
The best paperless manufacturing software or digital operations software is the package that works best for your plant’s specific needs.
Easy implementation, a straightforward and intuitive user experience, and robust integration into other digital manufacturing and business tools are some of the most common wants and needs.