Have you ever considered moving toward a paperless environment?

Back in the nineties, our future was going through discovery. We saw the creation of the Sony PlayStation, MP3 players and a massive range of different mobile phones. One of the largest telescopes in the world was launched into orbit, The Hubble Space Telescope. However, of all the technologies that changed our lives through these years, arguably most profound is the World Wide Web.

A ‘paperless world’ was a term first bandied round in the 60s and 70s by those who had a vision of the future of office automation making paper redundant. This idea has existed mainly since the use of computers in the office became custom in the business world. Despite the multitude of software available such as email, electronic documents and online facilities – today, many organisations still rely on paper documents.

Companies are aware of paperless evolution. Although with any investment opportunity comes a challenge. In this case, the problem is identifying what the best approach is to enable accurate paperless operations that rely solely on automated data capture.

Traditional Methods

A paper-based system transfers data between the enterprise resource planning (ERP) system and manufacturing execution system (MES). The problem arises when the data moves between the MES and the shop-floor; you carry this action out manually using documents. Paper-based shop-floor systems lack the flexibility of just-in-time order execution and real-time processing.

The very first method of going paperless was the concept of Electronic Data Interchange (EDI). Even today, volumes of data are either transmitted or collected from portals. The sender extracts data from the appropriate system and then electronically transmits it to the receiver. The receiver then imports that data directly into a suitable system to process. Examples of this could be orders or invoices.

The traditional methods for getting information to the shop floor and collecting progress tracking data still exist. These methods have evolved to use the latest technology in electronics and software. In its purest form, PCs have been positioned on the shop floor in strategic places for operatives to enter production feedback for progress tracking. Add to this barcode scanning and handheld/mobile terminals/computers and shop floor data collection (SFDC) was born. Some of the SFDC installations date back to the first half of the Eighties when the equipment was large, heavy and with very little in terms of display capability. However, today, these systems allow operators to complete their daily work tasks with little effort as they have access to real-time, prioritised work queues. The ability to electronically track live progress of shop floor activities delivers valuable insight into the ship floor adherence plan, helping to improve on-time delivery performance.

The Evolution

Manufacturing equipment with an electronic brain or Computer Numerical Control (CNC) enabled the production programme for the shift or day to be set, initially via paper tapes and later online via a network of connections throughout a factory. Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) was a natural evolution of this with the ability to not only download a programme of work to a machine but also collect progress data in return. Apart from the PC on the shop floor linked directly to the ERP system, most of the other methods of managing the shop floor and collecting tracking information involved some manual intervention to format data and steer it to the right place.

Today with ERP systems such as Infor’s CloudSuite Industrial, the paperless environment is very much an achievable objective for any manufacturing business. The design of tools such as Factory Track and Doc-Trak is to help you streamline production and speed inventory operations. With tools such as these, it is possible not just to go paperless internally, but also create electronic images of an incoming document. As an example, these images may depict a delivery note, invoice, and many other paper forms of communications, ultimately providing a wealth of information available to whoever in the business needs it.

The paperless shop floor can access its production schedules, issue materials and complete production transactions at work centre or machine level using the tools providing up to the minute control of the shop floor and progress visibility.

What about the hardware?

The hardware side of things is a story in its own right. Using Infor CSI as an example, you can use Android devices like tablets and smartphones to receive and send data. Add to that a low-cost app to scan QR and barcodes, and the setup is complete. The cost can be as low as £200 per user to go paperless. Secure login and specific user logins, fingerprint or eye scanning, can be ways to comply with industry regulations and standards set out in ISO9001:2015, ISO9004:2009, ISO/TS16949, AS9100, cGMP, ISO13485. As you may have predicted by now, none of this is expensive. Office users of ERP can already work in a paperless mode without additional investment beyond a PC and in some cases a document scanner.

What are you waiting for?

You may have heard of Making Tax Digital (MTD), this concept is the HMRC approach to going paperless with VAT Returns. With Brexit looming, other forms of paperless legal and tax compliance may be introduced, e.g. customs procedures. Being paperless enables an organisation to respond quickly and effectively, sometimes with the help of software authors, to provide some additional functionality.

The investment to go paperless, beyond your ERP, WMS, QMS and MES systems is small. Not just for the technology and software, but the education and training needed to make this work is not difficult nor time-consuming, primarily since many people already use technology like smartphones.

If the affirmative of a return on your investment is not enough for you to make the switch to paperless in your operations, how do the below benefits sound?

  • Reduced lead times
  • Improved workflow
  • Reduced costs, eliminating postage, printer and ink costs
  • Improved accuracy
  • Greater ease of sharing and collaboration between departments
  • Automatic adherence to compliance and security
  • Environmentally friendly

If you’d like to find out more about working with us, then contact us today. We will offer an initial, no-obligation discussion about your aspirations. You will find out how we can help you and your business deliver your vision for the future. So, call us now on +44 (0) 1282 463710