Designing a successful digital manufacturing program doesn’t need to be hard. 

In fact, you can pick a sure-fire win by answering one simple question:

Where are we still using paper on the shop floor? 

While you think of all of the places you’re currently using paper, this post will give you 10 reasons to consider leaving paper in the past. 

1.) Paper is Inefficient

What’s the most efficient way to perform the tasks on your lines? Pick any task, it really doesn’t matter which.

Does your answer include any of these:

  • Flipping back and forth through paper work instructions to find a particular step? 
  • Time spent trying to decipher an ambiguous description
  • Effort it takes to locate a missing page?
  • Choose-your-own-adventure progression through a process with high customization?

Paper slows manufacturing work down. It’s rarely the best way to organize information. At best, it leads to longer cycle times. At worst, it encourages mistakes and increases rework.

2.) Paper is not responsive

How do people learn? Through constant feedback and repetition.

How do tired operators know they made a mistake? If you’re using paper, the answer is that they don’t.

What ties these two questions together?

In both cases, paper work instructions aren’t able to give operators the feedback they need.

Whether it’s for training, complex assemblies, or a new hire on a difficult machine changeover, paper can’t track a worker’s actions and provide the responses they need to do the job right. 

3.) Paper work instructions are hard to write

Authoring paper work instructions can be time consuming in and of itself. Between writing, editing, diagrams, and an array of file types, getting instructions production-ready can cut into valuable production time.

4.) Paper is static

Are long, complex sentences the best way to convey information in high-stress situations? Maybe.

But are they better than images, video, and other rich media? Better yet, is it better than real-time feedback from IoT devices?

What about from an efficiency standpoint?

Is it easier to imagine the details of a complicated assembly from text? Or is it easier to watch exactly how two pieces need to align?

I came across an example of this in my daily life recently. I wanted to learn how to debone a chicken. I found plenty of detailed, text-heavy breakdowns. There were also excellent videos. Which do you think was more helpful?

5.) Version Control

For many of the manufacturers we work with, version control is a huge priority. If you have multiple product lines, dozens of variations, short product cycles, or multiple locations, it’s critical that every line, plant, and process is aligned. This is especially true in regulated industries.

In many ways, version control with paper isn’t that different that having no version control at all.

The effort and coordination it takes to update and harmonize paper instructions could be much better spent on value-add activities. 

6.) Paper doesn’t scale

Paper may work for a single cell. Or even a single plant. 

But managing paper work instructions at scale can be a nightmare. 

Digital platforms make it trivial to update, rollout, and control the release of every new version of an SOP. They make it possible to collect data automatically for every process in the plant.

7.) Paper doesn’t collect data automatically

Hard fact: Paper can’t collect data by itself.

If you’re running time studies, then you might have a sense of how long it takes an operator to perform a given step or process. But that’s time and resources put into time studies (which have a history of being inaccurate).

Digital work instructions automatically collect data for every operator at the step, cycle, and process level.

This means better visibility, fewer errors, and more opportunities for improvement.

8.) Paper lets data get lost in translation

How many points of translation are there in your data chain?

Simply put: how many times do you have to copy data from one place to another before it makes it into your analysis software?

Each “node” in the data chain represents another opportunity for error and inaccuracy to enter the picture.

Each translation from clipboard to whiteboard to excel multiplies the chances for mistakes. 

9.) PDFs aren’t much better

One solution we see frequently is replacing paper with PDFs.

But PDFs are just digital representations of paper work instructions. They don’t give you any of the benefits of going fully digital.

Without IoT, connectivity, and integrations, you’re really just using paper.

10.) The alternatives are easy

We often hear that the move to digital is hard.

It can be. But it doesn’t have to.

There are dozens of places you can start.

There are digital work instructions, for one. Within hours you can modify a template, connect devices, and error proof your processes with logic.

Machine monitoring is another. With plug–and-play machine monitoring apps, you can automate your data collection in no time.

By making an effort to get rid of paper, you can begin work on one of the fastest paths to value with digital manufacturing.

If you have any questions about what this will look like for you, we’re here to help. Get in touch