Manufacturing is a complicated business no matter how you shake it. To be successful, managers need to bring together the right mix of people, machines, and processes in the most efficient sequence to create something of value. The answer to doing this? Paperless manufacturing audits.
But too often, the backbone holding these three factors together is paper. Paper assembly drawings, paper Standard Operating Procedures, paperwork instructions, paper checklists, and audits. Paper, Paper, Paper! With paper comes more processes just to manage all that paper, which just adds more complexity (but no value) to the operation.
Now, I feel like I need to disclose the fact that VKS is in the “Going Paperless” business. Our flagship product, the VKS Smart Work Instruction application provides manufacturers with an electronic, mobile, visually based work instruction solution. That said, this article will talk more directly to the multitude of audits happening in your manufacturing facility that are being created, executed and stored on paper.
This means someone on your team using a pen and paper to audit your facility for safety, environmental, organizational, or other conditions. These could be directly associated with your 5S program, or completely separate. The point is this… You should quickly move away from paper audits to a mobile, electronic platform for 5 significant reasons :
Integration is formally defined as ‘making something a part of another larger thing’1. Now, as I mentioned, VKS is really in the electronic work instruction business, but that is important because we’ve also integrated audit capabilities into our application. See what happened there? In this case, integrating your audit function with another relevant application like VKS, brings 2 distinct process flows together and makes managing both much simpler while also presenting an opportunity for easier access. Mobile, web-based applications simply need an internet connection to provide access to electronic audits forms, reducing redundant data transcribing and opportunity for data entry errors.
Storage and query sounds simple, but if you’re using paper audits, how easy is it for you to find something specific if say, you had an injury or quality issue with finished product that was attributable to an audited condition? If your audit is on paper, stored in some filing cabinet, you could have difficulty looking for a specific audit, performed on a specific line, for a specific product, by a specific person, etc. Now, think about a situation where you knew something happened that should have been documented on the audit, but you have no idea of when, or who. You’re looking across hundreds or even thousands of responses trying to find an observation that impacted safety or product quality. Paperless systems provide not only a single, electronic storage location (Goodbye file cabinets), but these reports and databases present 2 additional benefits. First, they are searchable so you are looking for a specific observation, say “Fluid leak under machine 3”, you could search across thousands of documents for this string. Second, you can easily export the audit results for trending and further analysis. Think about how powerful historical results would be in predicting future results, and providing the opportunity to prevent it.
Investments in paperless audit solutions can be significant, but the relatively recent availability of browser based web applications have dramatically reduced that upfront investment, making the ROI more clear than ever. Think about a very likely scenario for a minute. You have a talented audit team of 3 making $20 per hour each. Now, this team spends on average, 1 hour per day each handling paper. Updating, printing, copying, filing, looking up, etc. In this example, you are investing a minimum of 3 hours or $60/day on just managing the paper audits. Not a huge number until you look at it over a year - $15,600. This is a huge investment in non-value added activities, and keep in mind, this is only for managing the paper. If we look at the cost of purchasing paper, printers and ink, maintenance contracts, etc this cost can easily double. Now consider the opportunity costs associated with lack of visibility and traceability paper provides. Could you prevent just 1 injury, or quality issue with added transparency to audit results? Probably! It’s becoming crystal that paperless solutions are actually low hanging expense cutting fruit ripe for the picking!
Security is a growing concern for successful organizations hoping to stay 1 step ahead of the competition, and the worst possible thing you could do is have critical information about your processes on paper, stored in file cabinets. Even locked, file cabinets are notoriously easy to access, meaning your information is not safe from prying eyes.
Solid paperless solutions control access to information electronically, through multi-stage access control. First, a small select group of people will have the credentials needed to add new users to the application, who then are assigned a user role further limiting or providing privileges. This level of control matches the user with a set of capabilities, and preventing access to sensitive information is as simple as changing or removing the user’s account.
In addition to user access control, many systems will also track change history on documents so any changes can quickly be traced back to the appropriate author.
Developing and executing any process in a standardized way reduces variability and provides management much clearer insight and predictability. The knowledge that a process, and in particular an audit will result in the same outcome despite who is actually completing the audit is a huge advantage. This begins with things like standard responses to audit questions so trends can be developed and extended to audits being completed at the correct date and time every time. How often do you get paper forms back from operations with fields missing data, or responses in the wrong places? What about signatures, time and date stamping? Electronic solutions remove that variability in your audit process by requiring responses to specific questions, and automating the user, date and time stamping.
The power and flexibility of software, especially web applications, has reduced the entry cost while accelerating ROI for manufacturers, and the best of those applications have integrated plant-wide solutions into a single platform. This means even small manufacturers have access to tools that can reduce costs while improving their position in the competitive landscape. The mistake many complacent manufacturers will make is to overlook the inefficiencies that slowly but surely reduce the organization’s effectiveness, accepting the way things are without considering how great they could be. Forward-thinking manufacturers are moving toward paperless solutions now. Which type of company will yours be?