Paperless with a plan

Rethinking paper on the factory floor

The FABRICATOR August 2002
August 29, 2002
By: John Leibert

The idea of removing paper from the factory floor is getting more attention these days. However, paper removal should not be the only goal.

The idea of removing paper from the factory floor is getting more attention these days. However, paper removal should not be the only goal. The goal should be improving customer benefits through better production performance. To do this, evaluating the factory floor from a comprehensive, integrated, electronic point-of-view is an important strategic exercise. Paperless projects can have an electronic real-time floor system that responds to customer needs, improves quality, improves on-time deliveries, shrinks manufacturing cycle time, and minimizes waste. An organization can achieve this if management is willing to move into a more robust and all-inclusive electronic communication system that is focused on the factory floor.

The idea of eliminating paper from the factory floor is getting more attention these days. Paperless processes are emerging in all types of businesses. However, paper elimination should not be the only goal; the other goal should be to improve customer benefits through higher productivity. To do this, you need to evaluate the factory floor from a comprehensive, integrated, electronic point of view as a strategic exercise.

A paperless, electronic, real-time floor system can respond to customer needs, improve quality, increase on-time deliveries, shrink manufacturing cycle time, and minimize waste. These are just a few of the benefits an organization can achieve if management is willing to move to a more robust, all-inclusive electronic communication system that is focused on the factory floor. It is the key to unlocking the potential of paperless processing.

Where to Begin

To start, it will be necessary to work across departments and break down the barriers common in today's manufacturing environment. The leader of this project must look beyond functional boundaries and envision an electronic, paperless floor information system that takes the facility to a higher level of performance. This means that the engineering, quality, production, and accounting departments, for example, each cannot just formulate its own paperless system.

How to implement a paperless system should be analyzed from several points of view. By evaluating and identifying the use of paper and verbal communications that take place on the floor, you can devise an all-encompassing strategy. Functionality then can be implemented in a plug-and-play approach as time, priorities, and resources permit.

Increasing Communication on the Floor

Every manufacturing company has requirements for floor communication. Because parts can't make themselves, floor employees must know what to make, how to make it, and when to make it, as well as record work completed on a daily basis.

Floor management software designed to increase communications comes in all shapes and sizes, but some of the more common systems are data collection, labor collection, time and attendance, scheduling, document management, quality control, and ISO and QS-9000, to name a few.

While communication can be improved by installing these systems for factory floor workers, manufacturing managers must realize that the planning and cost accounting departments also may be making their own information system decisions. The result is departmentalized, nonintegrated islands of automation. Instead, a single system with a common user interface should be implemented that includes several of the systems discussed previously in one integrated package.

What Should a Paperless System Include?

To answer this question, do an analysis on the use of paper on the factory floor. The most obvious answer is the work packet, or traveler, that is created when a product is released to the floor. The traveler moves with the product as it travels from work center to work center and contains several pieces of paper, usually the routing and drawing documents. In some factories, the work instructions are in the packet, while in other production facilities, the work instructions are in books at the work center.

In addition, paperwork the operator or supervisor fills out, such as time tickets, facilitates data collection of production information. Such data can include setup time, production time, amount produced, scrap quantities with reason codes, and rework, if necessary.

But there still may be even more information that's usually recorded on paper, such as process check-off sheets for each operator that list required activity at the start, middle, or end of an operation. Quality sheets that collect the product's measurements may be required at one or more operations. ISO and QS-9000 information, such as corrective action procedures, must be available via some controlled document.

Unwritten data, which is best classified as the daily verbal communications on the factory floor, also must be considered. For example, the sequence of the work to be completed (dispatch list) at the work center may be a paper printout, written on a white board, or communicated verbally by a supervisor. Schedule changes or special reminders about the items or machines often are communicated verbally, not on paper. Problems and downtime situations also may be discussed instead of recorded on paper. Without a formal way to document problems that are discussed verbally, there is no way to capture this vital information.

What's Next?

Visualize the paperless floor as an environment in which two-way communication enables production functions and process data functions to be integrated in one system.

Don't be fooled into believing you've implemented a paperless solution just because documents are accessible from the floor or CAD drawings are distributed from the engineering database. Ask the hard questions. Will customer satisfaction increase through better on-time delivery? Will we be able to react faster to customer changes? Quality production takes more than making an electronic drawing available to the operators.

Consider categorizing floor information from another point of view, such as production, engineering, quality, or accounting. This way you can see your paperless environment as an electronic information system that helps the parts flow through the factory floor in a real-time approach with some real meat behind it.

The engineering department should evaluate its strategy for delivering CAD drawings to the floor. First it should evaluate the need for sending engineering CAD drawings versus other forms of product information. Perhaps sketches, electronic pictures, or video clips would enhance operator understanding and improve communications.

Next it should consider delivering the work instructions at the same time. Maybe, like the CAD drawings, document distribution can be re-evaluated and improvements made using an electronic image.

The quality control department, like the engineering department, might want its documents to be delivered on demand to the floor operators. ISO and QS-9000 information can be delivered electronically to save control documentation costs. Electronic systems also can send the quality and process control input sheets to a PC to allow data capture at the operator station. By actually recording quality data into a new factory floor system, rather than just viewing the data on paper, you will have truly captured the data. You may realize at this point that some of the quality and process data sheets should be overhauled to improve the data capture process.

Get the accounting department's input too. Perhaps the electronic interface will enable the accounting department to solve data collection problems. This could provide a nice vehicle to simplify and improve the reliability of the production information (quantity made and scrapped with reason codes). By including the data collection of production data into the paperless system, the company can remove the production and time tickets from the floor. This will improve the return on investment.

How Will Customers Benefit?

On-time delivery can be improved with better real-time floor communications. Just as the electronic floor system can distribute engineering information and collect quality, process, and accounting data, it can be used to communicate the sequence of parts that need to be completed. In fact, evaluate the feasibility of creating a paperless dispatch list that operators, supervisors, and production control personnel can view. Your customer service department also can view the dispatch list so it can inform the customer about expected delivery dates.

Pulling It All Together

A system that has just one floor application may result in a floor interface that is useless to the operators. Over time your company might see other opportunities to improve its floor system process, but then it may be too late to retrofit additional applications painlessly. Looking up multiple drawings, quality and process documents, and data collection sheets might be too much of a burden for a single-application system and destroy a good concept, so the floor interface should have the capability to do several things from the start.

If improving customer service and minimizing late orders are important, consider prioritizing your system requirements so that the electronic floor system helps shrink cycle time through better production control. Operators should be able to access meaningful documents easily and record data in a timely and accurate process. In general, the system becomes the catalyst for improved factory floor performance.

One floor system option is to let operators work from a prioritized list of parts at their work center. This list can be sequenced via computer logic or manually sequenced based on managerial experience. An electronic prioritized dispatch list can be changed to respond to customers' order changes and downtime.

Communication with others on the floor can be simplified with a messaging system that allows anyone on the floor with proper authority to send or receive vital information. Arriving in the form of an e-mail, alert and alarm messages can be sent to the appropriate location for faster problem discovery and resolution.

John Leibert

Contributing Writer
23400 Mercantile Road
Cleveland, OH 44122
Phone: 216-514-5141
Fax: 216-514-5142
Factivity has been implementing manufacturing and business systems for manufacturers for more than 20 years.

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The FABRICATOR is North America's leading magazine for the metal forming and fabricating industry. The magazine delivers the news, technical articles, and case histories that enable fabricators to do their jobs more efficiently. The FABRICATOR has served the industry since 1971.

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