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. How you do this? The answer is: with 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 to the operation without any additional value.
Before moving forward, we'd like to disclose that the VKS application is in the “going paperless” business. We provide manufacturers with an electronic, mobile, and visually based solution, so we are able to demonstrate the benefits of paper audits' digitization with real examples. In this article, we will also discuss the multitude of audits happening in your manufacturing facility that slow you down by being created, executed, and stored on paper.
We are certainly talking about your team members 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, you should quickly move away from paper audits to a mobile, electronic platform for 5 significant reasons :
If we are to tackle the concept of integration from a manufacturing perspective, we would want to have a tool that incorporates all the valuable data going in and out to the shop floor in one. Since VKS was born on the shop floor, to serve this exact data flow needs, it has the much-required audit capabilities integrated into the application. See what happened there? 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.
Before moving forward, it is important to mention that integration is a significant benefit if it is also mobile. This means that not only Joe, the manager, has access to the application from his top floor corner office computer, but it is available for a multitude of users on various devices. We're talking about a web-based application that simply needs an internet connection to provide access to electronic audits forms, reducing redundant data transcribing and opportunity for data entry errors.
Traceability is not possible without storage, and these 2 concepts sound 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 a quality issue with a 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.
For instance, ATM, serving the aerospace and defense industries, struggled to record diverse information for every piece on the assembly line in a timely manner to keep up with customer expectations. But after they implemented the VKS solution, the manufacturer really appreciated the integrated report search filter that allows them to trace every part's serial number, operator name, and other relevant data recorded.
Going back to paper days, 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.
3. Cost Savings
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.
Recent studies list better asset utilization and lower quality cost as digitization efficiency gains. So if you're asking yourself "Could I prevent just 1 injury or quality issue with added transparency to audit results?" The answer is most probably - Yes! 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.
- At 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.
- Afterward, additionally 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.
In the image below, you can clearly see the role assignment feature that we encourage you to use and update regularly.
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 in 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?
With contributions from Shannon Bennett.