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PAPERLESS MANUFACTURING OPERATIONS Paperless factories – Way of the future!

Nov 9, 2022

Over years, manufacturing units across industries have used paper for various operational purposes. However, today, with rapid rise in digital tools; going paperless has almost become a pre-requisite for achieving manufacturing excellence. The article explains how production can grow manifold with the help of paperless manufacturing operations leading to significant productivity improvement in the coming years. - Dr Vijay Kumar Singh, Dean and Head of School of Mechanical Engineering, Lovely Professional University

Using paper is the most popular way of monitoring industrial processes, but that does not mean that it is the most sustainable way as well. The production of paper itself takes a huge toll on the environment. Pulp and paper mills are one of the major contributors to water, air and land pollution. In addition to that, massive amounts of water and energy are spent on the making of paper. Looking at the adverse effects of paper production, we can confidently say that the use of paper will fade out sooner or later. Therefore, for a factory owner and its workers, it is better to get familiar with non-conventional techniques of controlling manufacturing procedures and switch to apps like MS Excel, Word, and many other software available as soon as possible. Electronic (software-based) applications are the future of the production industry.

How does paperless methods ensure production efficiency?

Paperless factories are manufacturing units that employ software systems in place of physical books and registers to manage and record the production processes.

Following are some benefits that a paperless factory offers:

Time-saving: Maintaining production records on paper takes much more time and effort than modern electronic methods. Using computers means saving time and human energy with the help of techniques such as:

  • Cut/copy/paste for entering information

  • Ctrl+F for finding certain information instead of searching manually

  • Grouping sheets/files together and organising them in folders so that you do not have to waste your precious time looking for the required information.

One can create one destination folder for all SOPs, machinery manuals, safety precautions, checklists, clients and vendors.

Minimise human error: Paperless methods minimise the scope of human error with features like:

  • Automatic correction of spelling mistakes

  • Automatic mathematical calculations

Easy accessibility: Another major advantage of having information saved in electronic documents is the fact that one can carry it easily with in a pen drive or mobile phone. Moreover, one can access digital information conveniently in any part of the world with the help of the internet. This enables major businesses with multiple factory outlets in different parts of the globe to operate themselves with ease. Any change in your production methods or information updates can be easily shared with all the people in the company with the click of one button.

Optimising production: Most importantly, paperless techniques help in optimising the production processes and making better decisions in the future for the company. With the help of digital applications, you can analyse the data you have recorded in the past few years. This can include the:

  • Number of deviations from planned procedures

  • Number of rejected articles

  • Change in the efficiency of the equipment

  • Workforce competency

  • Number of mishaps or near misses at work

One can study the effect of various factors on the production efficiency and form certain patterns. That way, the production team can tackle the challenges they come across in an effective and organised manner. For a better Root Cause Analysis (RCA), organisations should make use of electronic software.

Organised structure of software

Different software systems are used in paperless manufacturing units at different levels of the company hierarchy. Following is the organised structure of software being employed in a typical paperless factory:

  • ERP or Enterprise Resource Planning

    (Enterprise level)

  • MES or Manufacturing Execution System

    (Management level)

  • SCADA or Supervisory Control And Data Acquisition

    (Supervision level)

  • PLC or Programmable Logic Controller

    (Control level)

    (Production level/actual shop floor)

Software like MES (Manufacturing Execution System) is used to optimise the production procedures by documenting, monitoring and controlling the whole manufacturing lifecycle. The goal of software such as SCADA is to track and control the functioning of equipment being used in the industry. With the help of SCADA, we can collect and study real-time data to monitor the equipment. That way, we can take control of time-sensitive and critical factors that influence the production process.

Significance of enterprise-level software

Paperless production management involves the use of cloud-based electronic software for storing information. Supervisors as well as workers can enter and analyse the data in such applications.

ERP is one such software. In ERP, businesses can record and manage information related to their production processes. With the help of such advanced applications, production managers can re-engineer and improve their procedures. The goal is to increase the efficiency of the processes and decrease idle time. Project or department leaders can share valuable information with and explain need for changes to all the people working in their team interactively and quickly.

Most importantly, ERP can be used to maintain the quality of the items being manufactured. By constantly updating the standard operating procedures and sharing them with all the workers in the production line through a shared platform, one can ensure that we always get the same quality of the product. Furthermore, with the help of digital applications, once can even ensure better traceability of each article being made in the factory. Software plays a huge role in quick and convenient reporting and resolution of safety issues. One can simply notify the management of safety incidents or probable hazards from any place on the shopfloor by just filling out an e-form.

Material Requirements Planning (MRP) is another software used in manufacturing facilities for planning production processes. Specifically speaking, MRP is an inventory control system. By making all the manufacturing procedures a lot more transparent and understanding the actual requirement of tools, supplies, and machinery components, one can run your factory with much less inventory.

To summarise the present situation of the use of electronic software like ERP and MRP in production facilities, we can say that they are imperative in the following:

  • Improving and maintaining product quality

  • Reducing operational costs

  • Improving workforce output

  • Improving machinery efficiency

  • Eliminating workplace injuries

  • Increasing the visibility of production processes

How to ensure paperless production?

To ensure paperless production, following are the steps with which software-based manufacturing management systems help in creating high-performing, safe and systematic production procedures.

  1. ERP software will generate an order for the shop floor. Let’s say that the order ID is SO689 to manufacture item ABC in ‘n’ quantity. The order has a certain due date. This order will automatically trigger the MES software to make an entry to schedule the job. So, the factory scheduler personnel do not have to physically take a printout of the order and run it to the supervisors to schedule the timings for preparing this order.

  2. The machine operator at the production level will get the electronic form of operation document. The document will contain references to each step and part. Therefore, the factory scheduler does not need to prepare the job packet manually.

  3. The software systems will also monitor the progress of the job. Shop floor operators are sent notifications to start the job at a certain work centre. Hence, there is no need for a human workforce to take regular rounds of the shop floor and track the operations.

  4. The end of a certain job is automatically recorded in the ERP. Also, the software reviews the process to ensure that everything has happened as per the plan.

Image Gallery

  • Industry 4.0 workers in the smart factory environment

  • When information is saved in electronic documents, it ensures easy mobility and access to it from any part of the world

  • Dr Vijay Kumar Singh

    Dean and Head - School of Mechanical Engineering

    Lovely Professional University

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