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4 Ways Paperless Manufacturing Can Benefit Composite Manufacturing

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Composite manufacturing can often be more art than science, making consistent production a struggle. Learn how MES can overcome many of those difficulties to improve production.

By David Oeters, Corporate Communications with CIMx Software

Composites are made from two or more physically different materials that are combined to act as one, yet remain distinct. Manufacturing composites is complex, and can be difficult, but it’s a vital industry, producing some of the strongest, lightest and most versatile materials in the world. Composites are used in almost every industry – from Aerospace and Defense, to simple household items, to electrical equipment, and consumer products. Companies rely on exacting specifications, rigorous recipes for each machine processes, exceedingly stringent quality control, and, in the end, on art as much as science to produce quality composites.

With the right tools, even the best manufacturers can improve results, increase production, reduce errors and scrap, and deliver better quality. Here are four ways we’ve found a successful paperless manufacturing system can deliver benefits to composite manufacturing:


1) Revision control of all specifications, recipes and process documentation.

Paper-based recipes, instructions, specifications and quality details add unnecessary complexity for little value. Think about it – start with the paper-based specifications. If you have customer specs in addition to internal specs, you are doubling the number of forms and papers. Add to that the recipes for each of the machine processes. Then assemble all the process instructions, build books, and other ancillary material – you end up with stacks and stacks of paper. Can you be sure you are working from the latest, most accurate approved documents?

With paperless manufacturing, you digitize all that paper. By managing information through a single source, users have access to only the most recent, and accurate, documentation through airtight revision control – even with the tangled web of cross-referenced documentation most composite manufacturers struggle with. Previous revisions are archived, while only the most recent revisions can be opened and used.

2) Control, management and collection of quality information.

In composite manufacturing, variability must be measured and controlled, and any fixes or defect repairs must be thoroughly documented, matched to the specifications, and then made part of a permanent as-built audit report. Using a paper-based system to manage quality information leads to errors and scrap. Paper isn’t the right tool, and is inadequate for the process.

Paperless manufacturing manages and automates much of the process. The system will automatically check the specification once data is collected, and the quality defect fixes are managed by process enforcement. Each step is documented and archived in a permanent record. Automated record-keeping is especially important for companies regulated by the 14 CFR Part 21 Quality Control requirements.

3) Synchronization of specifications, process variables, and actual workflow.

Precision is necessary for successful composite manufacturing, but many companies struggle to synchronize internal and external specifications, and the necessary process variables. They’ve recorded best practices and standard operating procedures (SOP), but it doesn’t translate to consistent shop floor execution.

Paperless manufacturing and MES give you the tools to synchronize project work. That starts by providing a single source of manufacturing truth – one place were project information can be managed and stored. All documentation, build books, work instruction, and data collection are kept in the system. Process enforcement allows planners to incorporate the specifications and process variables in the actual workflow used by the shop floor, ensuring specifications are followed.


4) Creation of an as-built audit and data collection to support trend analysis.

With paper-based workflow, the as-built audit (or complete documentation of the manufacturing process) is often more speculative than historical. The documents and data collection are assembled from handwritten notes or memory of the process. Work is done outside of the documentation, and then compiled in records that we assume (and hope) are accurate.

Trend analysis and process improvement are even more difficult when predictability is a question. With paperless manufacturing, each operation and procedure can be scheduled in planning. Using shop floor data collection, each step, procedure, action, and detail of the process can be recorded and archived, giving as complete a picture of the process as possible. A complete and largely automated as-built audit is a critical benefit to composite manufacturing, and vitally important to the trend analysis necessary for process improvement.

Determining the variance to specifications is one part of eliminating errors and improving processes. Studying an accurate as-built report to determine the cause of errors and flaws is equally important.

According to a recent report by accenture, “… modern, mature MES solutions fit into companies helps bring greater efficiency, speed and precision to manufacturing.” MES helps bridge the gap between IT (Information Technology) and OT (Operational Technology) by providing a foundation for the digital factory – delivering shop floor control and visibility.

Understanding the specific benefits a paperless manufacturing or MES system can bring helps in planning targeted shop floor improvements that specifically address the problems faced daily in composite manufacturing.

Want to learn more, or see how we can help you? Give us a call or leave us a message. We’re happy to help.