Author: Paul Van Metre
When people hear the term "paperless," they typically associate the elimination of this office resource as an act that helps the environment. And while this is true, adopting a paperless manufacturing solution can do so much more. In addition to promoting a more sustainable business, going paperless can decrease operating costs, enhance productivity and help a shop floor work smarter (and not necessarily harder).
In fact, of all the ways that manufacturing companies might look to cut costs, there’s often one easy, untapped avenue staring them right between the eyes: go paperless. That’s right, by going paperless, shops can eliminate a decent portion of their overhead costs, enhance their productivity and even help out the environment and meet any sustainability goals that they’ve established in the meantime. While this may seem like a difficult challenge, the concept of a paperless manufacturing system is fairly simple to implement. Rather than relying on paper, manufacturers just need to switch up their operations to rely on captured data, cloud computing, and other paperless manufacturing tools that enhance collaboration and productivity. Yes, there’s an upfront cost with implementing paperless manufacturing systems, but the payoff is more than worth it in the long run.
In this post, we’ll go into further detail about the benefits of upgrading your shop floor with the right paperless manufacturing software and why it pays to establish a true paperless manufacturing environment. Here’s a look at 16 reasons why you should be taking the steps to do this today:
Want to know how taking your operations paperless can work in your favor? Here are 17 reasons:
How well do you know the status of your jobs? Are you able to transition seamlessly between departments when operations are completed or are your machines sitting idle for extended periods of time between runs? If you have orders to produce, it's essential to optimize them in a way where they can be produced with maximum efficiency. When you’re not making chips, you’re missing out on revenue— and this happens more often than you'd like to think on a shop floor. Going paperless and adopting the right digital solution with shop floor scheduling can streamline workflow, and ensure you order enough tooling on time for each job so that the efficiency of your machines on the shop floor is maximized. This equates to less downtime and more productivity.
In business, time is money. Just as your manufacturing business strives to meet production deadlines so your customers can achieve fast time to market, it’s imperative to quote jobs fast and accurately when you’re trying to earn business with new or existing customers. That’s another big benefit of going paperless, as it allows you to quote jobs in a more timely manner and then send proposals and estimates over to prospective customers with greater urgency. Instead of focusing on just one or two quotes at a time, going paperless enables you to focus on multiple quotes at once due to a more streamlined platform. Ultimately, going paperless should enable you to earn more work, which will essentially make your shop more profitable. Think of the right software as the key to improving lead times, and winning more work.
In the end, it’s going to be the quality of the product that you make on the shop floor, and the speed at which you deliver that retains customers and helps your manufacturing company earn new business. But what’s the best way to measure quality? Answer: With accurate data and information — and receiving it in a timely manner. Case in point: If there’s an issue with a part or with a shipment, you don’t want to be scrambling trying to figure out what went wrong and where it went wrong. No, you want the answer immediately so that you can come up with a solution to the problem. In a paperless operation, quality issues can be detected sooner — sometimes even automatically — so that out of tolerance parts don't get shipped. Issues are bound to happen, but it’s often how quickly they’re caught that can be the difference between a crisis averted, or a lost contract. In this regard, a paperless system can absolutely play a significant role in reducing the cost of quality control in a manufacturing operation.
It’s said that the average company is spending anywhere from 1 to 3 percent of its entire annual revenue on printing costs. Furthermore, the average business spends upwards of $20 a month on filling, $1,500 a year on filing cabinets and the average filing cabinet takes up 9 square feet of space. While these office supply costs may seem like a drop in the bucket, consider the cost of printing ink, equipment maintenance, and machine downtime as well. When you consider all time and expenses, things add up. Like we noted in the intro, going paperless isn’t just good for the environment, it can also help increase your company’s bottom line — not to mention the space that any filing cabinets would take up within your facility.
We already mentioned how much money the typical business spends on filing costs each year when it comes to the organization and safe storage of paper. But as is the case with anything that’s physically stored, it’s also easier to access — and certainly, every business has confidential information and data that they don’t just want anyone to be able to access. In addition to not taking up any physical space, digital information is stored securely and can only be accessed via password. What's great about a paperless manufacturing system is that a company can control who has access to what information. While there’s always the threat of a data breach, storing confidential information in this manner is generally much more secure, less at risk from property damage, and more compliant with industry and government regulations that need to be met for legal purposes.
Paperless shop floors are great because they provide real-time data. And while we’ve already mentioned that benefit, one of the keys to being able to access this up-to-the-second data anytime you like is that it better enables companies to track progress and shop performance. With this data handy, businesses can more quickly adapt to changes or make adjustments to better ensure success. If a material shortage is detected, more can quickly be ordered with little to no business interruption. If changes come in, they can be processed and implemented immediately. Tapping into the right digital platform certainly beats sifting through stacks of paper to analyze performance and then making any necessary adjustments.
Think about this for a second: You’re updating inventory or inputting data about a work order, or a shop process. What do you think is the better method for doing so? By hand on physical paper, where the process can be tedious and prone to human error? Or inputting numbers into a spreadsheet or software program, which is fast, reduces the chances of error, and is able to keep complete, time-stamped records on entire jobs updated and accurate in real-time? The answer is obvious — it’s another big win for a paperless environment.
When jobs go bad, it's often the result of a communication mishap. And while digital solutions like email have helped enhance communication in manufacturing, a paperless manufacturing system that has a messaging feature built into it is beneficial for several reasons. One benefit is that all messages are attached to specific orders or part runs, so there's no toggling between digital platforms to acquire information. Software messaging features can also send automated alerts, push data updates and document approvals. In addition to keeping team members up to speed with each job, all communication is stored right there within the system.
If a paper-based office seems tedious, just imagine how much time is spent training transitioning employees or new hires to do their jobs correctly. Employee turnover is a reality of any shop doing business today, and when it comes to getting new hires up to speed or getting transitioning employees acclimated with their new role, any shop can benefit from a digital learning environment. While there’s a learning curve associated with anything, a digital ecosystem can help offer that simplified approach, which will translate to fewer man hours lost to training employees and workers that learn their new roles faster, each of which benefits the bottom line. A good digital solution will also offer training modules and instruction via video, photos, tests and other interactive means to reinforce learning and ensure rapid employee development.
It’s important to plan the work and then work the plan when it comes to producing a single work order or a batch of work orders on the shop floor, and going paperless can help you do this more efficiently and effectively. Forget about manual planning and searching stacks of paper for the right documents. With a paperless shop floor, you can find what you’re looking for easily in the database. It allows you to better streamline planning and green-light work orders for production sooner. A good digital solution can also track work orders to better enable planning and product delivery.
Today’s digital software doesn’t just provide the blueprint for how to manage product orders, it can also help streamline the production of said orders. Much of the software available today can actually integrate with CNC machines, helping improving machine setup times by integrating tool management and calibration of the machines. Additionally, software modules are able to help with tracking equipment status in real-time, managing and tracking maintenance, and helping shop floor employees work more proactively.
Much like how going paperless can help lower costs associated with quality control, it can also be a major improvement to overall quality control in a manufacturing setting. Because of the influx of data that is collected, automation is a major benefit of any digital environment. And what’s nice about real-time data collection is that errors or issues can be caught and then preventative and corrective action reports can be automatically put in place. In the end, any manufacturing company can reduce product recalls, scrap parts and improve shop profitability.
Mistakes are bound to happen in any business environment, but it goes without saying that addressing and learning from these mistakes is imperative to moving any company forward. That’s one other big benefit of moving away from paper and toward a digitized system — it can easily tell management who made changes to what and when they did it. The time stamps can be a great teaching tool for newer or inexperienced workers on what they should do and what they should not do. For more experienced workers, the archiving ability of digital software can help hold them accountable by automatically issuing NCR's (non-conformance reports), CAR's (corrective action reports), and PAR's (preventative action reports) to ensure that employees are performing their jobs adequately.
A greater number of companies are publishing short- and long-term sustainability goals, largely due to the public’s demand to acquire products from and do business with more environmentally-conscious companies. In fact, more than half of all consumers report their desire for the manufacturing industry and individual manufacturers to act in more environmentally-responsible ways. In this regard, going paperless can truly be a win-win-win scenario. You win by saving money and increasing productivity. You win by doing good for the environment. And, last but not least, you win by improving your public image as a result.
This benefit ties into the whole aspect of lowering the cost of manufacturing and improving overall quality control. Like we noted in previous points on those benefits when you’re working in a digital environment, there are so many data points being recorded at a time. This data can be more easily managed to identify small issues before they become major ones. There are a lot of things that need to happen before an order goes into the manufacturing phase of product development. Built-in dashboards help monitor manufacturing activity and drive decision-making on the shop floor. One great feature to note is an "inspection" dashboard that paperless manufacturing software solutions offer, which permits shops to more promptly take action when any issues are identified.
Tribal knowledge is identified as any information that’s not commonly known. In a company, there may be a certain unwritten way of doing things that all employees are expected to abide by – yet no real roadmap of how to get there and how to do it. A good digital solution can help provide a training ecosystem for new hires, current employees and anyone else who is involved in the process. Visual work instructions including text, photos, and videos help employees to hit set-up and run goals and helps to reduce tribal knowledge on the shop floor. And if anyone needs assistance beyond what a fellow team member can offer, there’s always the group messaging system to get help from management.
Your customers understand the risks and waste associated with a paper based system. They’ve seen it in other shops and have been on the receiving end of those problems. A paperless management system with robust business processes will wow the auditors and procurement teams at your customers. Showing them how you can easily manage their changes, flowdowns, and new revisions will provide them with a high level of confidence in your ability to be a high performing supplier. That confidence will result in more orders and revenue for your shop. A certain win for the paperless shop floor.
During the 17 years we spent running our own CNC machine shop, we've taken the mistakes we’ve made, and the challenges we faced and built our own software to solve those problems for our shop and yours.
If you're ready to upgrade your shop to paperless manufacturing and solve all of the problems mentioned in this article signup for a free demo of ProShop.