If you’re still using paper in the front office and on the shop floor (routers, schematics, timeclock, etc.), then you probably have some room for efficiency improvements. In fact, there are many manufacturers whose business practices and information systems are still built around the idea of moving paper documents though the course of their production processes. Paperwork is both a fragile and relatively bulky medium, and inevitably the slow moving information it contains will either be archived in space-consuming files or lost through extensive and often careless shop floor handling.
To counter these negative tendencies, manufacturing technology has advanced paper reduction techniques through digital mediums and storage. With digital media, massive amounts of information can be stored in one very small, very central location for immediate and simultaneous withdrawal of real-time data.
To be sure, some manufacturing operations are still comfortable functioning with paper. The reengineering of business practices is never an easy thing to do, and often the maintaining of a successful status quo seems to be the easiest thing to do. However, as more and more companies see the value of waste reduction in lean approaches to manufacturing, supply chain management, shortened lead times, and global competition all mean that efficient and continuous improvement is necessary to remain viable in the market.
In order to overcome these new mandates in manufacturing, management must challenge themselves when it comes to seeing how their company reduces non-value added processes, while increasing more opportunities for adding value to production. The movement of paperwork from order generation to shipping is one place where enterprise resource planning software (ERP) can work to provide an easier transition from paper-based manufacturing to a more dynamic and streamlined manufacturing environment.
Identifying the areas of paperwork waste is the first step in reducing it. The most common area of paperwork waste in the manufacturing environment is the over-processing of information—particularly in the front office. Excess paperwork and redundant approvals generate those non-value activities that consume much unnecessary attention, time, and money and do not really add to helping satisfy customer needs. Re-doing work, checking, fixing, clarifying, asking basic accounting questions are all activities that, at their core, offer little direct enhancement to custom relations. By contrast, taking and processing orders, materials procurement, and even hiring additional employees can all have positive effects on the relationships you’re looking to create with your customers.
Ultimately, the question comes down to how information flows from the front office to and through the shop floor. When the channel of communication is paper, the introduction of noise (miscommunication) into the system is found in many forms—smudged ink, torn/worn documents, and missing routers and other paperwork. In addition, changes in data relative to any given piece of paperwork are slow to take hold. Waste is introduced into a paper-based communication system when workers must take time to correct, amend, or otherwise view a document whose location in the system is not immediately known.
This is why ERP software systems are well known for their efficient lean approaches to information management. In ERP, data is electronically collected in digital formats by, and stored within, a central data point. Here, through computerized communication, information regarding work, work orders, and work projections, is continuously available to all pertinent employees.
Rather than paper-based documents, all information is stored and retrieved in computers in a variety of ways including the touch-screen graphical user interface (GUI) monitors and bar-codes with hand-scanning wands. In the absence of paper handling, production information flows quickly and easily along a digital highway; time wasted in the remediation of miscommunicated or lost paper data is no longer an issue.