So, let’s start with a few frank observations. Firstly, don’t waste time thinking your ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) vendor can solve critical business issues with a bastardisation of their finance, procurement, or planning system.

I simply do not understand. Manufacturers do not think twice about investing in ERP, Customer Relationship Management, Computer Aided Design, Product Lifecycle Management, Machine tools, the list goes on…

Yet, you give your operators on the shop floor, pieces of paper in a plastic wallet, or at best a very large complex PDF to try and navigate the build process. What the heck?!

Should a 2019 shop floor look like this?

You invested significant amounts to find new opportunities for your products, but your processes bear no resemblance to the expected efficiency and productivity of today.

Production and manufacturing engineers and management are asked to use Word, Excel or PowerPoint to create a build standard (work instructions) to assemble products. They must build them to a specification and test, as well as manage the governance and quality processes; all with pieces of paper or a set of disparate documents, such as PDF, Excels, etc.

Ask your finance director or CEO to use paper to manage the finances of the business. I can probably tell you what the answer will be, but it’s not appropriate to document the response here!

Significant investments have been made in complex systems, such as SAP, Oracle, Infor, Epicore, JD Edwards, and SolidWorks amongst others, to manage business and engineering requirements. Yet, ERP or design and product lifecycle management vendors do not solve the critical business issues that surround the use of paper or Word, Excel and PowerPoint on the shop floor.

If this resonates and you are wondering how to transform your shop floor, let me share a couple of other points.

Transition from paper or PDF based work instructions

Implementing a paperless work instruction solution can be very straightforward if you focus on the critical business issues. Our customers were experiencing a range of critical business issues:

• The use of paper PDF-based work instructions had a direct impact on quality.
• Build standards / work instructions were not being followed due to the cumbersome management and use of paper or very large PDF documents.
• Quality thresholds and confirmations to enforce accountability for the operators was non-existent in the build process.
• Data collection was in disparate places, or paper-based and not easily accessible.
• Reporting of production performance, build and quality data was time-consuming and not real-time.
• Issues in production was managed in yet another Excel spreadsheet.

Focus on these critical business issues must be the priority. Integration for integration-sake should come later once business results have been achieved.

The good news is gone are the days of ERP-type implementation schedules, resource requirements and costs. The new world is app-based, and agility is a given. Going from paper or PDF-based work instructions to an electronic work instruction process can happen quickly, in some cases in a matter of days.

Which work instructions solution is right for your business?

There are a few key considerations to support the selection of a solution partner.

Remember you are not just replacing Word, Excel and PowerPoint. Take the opportunity to consider the end-to-end process, as new solutions enable a concept of a ‘Digital Traveller’ that enhance the ERP and Manufacturing Execution Systems (MES).

Check and validate how your processes can be replaced or updated. Identify any new opportunities that may arise from the transition. Migrating to a data driven process is a major change from a document-based process, so you will need to ensure you pick the runners in production and then transition over time. Supply chain and sub-contract manufacturing can also be pulled in to your quality and build processes.

Consider the ergonomic implications as input devices, such as scanners, screens and layouts for operators, will be required for different configurations, depending on the type of work being completed.

A significant point, how do you manage your product variants from a work instruction perspective? For example, how will the system manage many 100s or 1000s of variants? Will you need to generate each variant separately or does the system support variance?

If you have variance in your products, you will need variance to be supported, otherwise you will need an army of production engineers creating a separate work instruction for each variance. Modern systems should be able to hold characteristics which dynamically generate the work instruction.

Equally important, ensure that you understand how quality data is defined, managed and captured in the build process.

Finally, updates to content. How does the system enable fast updates whilst maintaining the document control processes? Change is constant, so you need to see how change is implemented.

As an engineer and advocate of digital, I believe there is a fantastic opportunity for manufacturers to invest in the shop floor. This advances their own, as well as the industry’s productivity. Significantly, it engages shop floor operators, an undervalued point, whom given the opportunity will enhance quality and provide feedback. This ultimately affects the bottom line and enhancing your brand, whatever you manufacture!