What Does Paperless Manufacturing Mean for You?

In the world of manufacturing software, there are many who aren't sure of the difference between Paperless Manufacturing and MES, and they’re missing out on opportunities.

Question_Art_WEB_081513.jpgYou can call any manufacturing process that doesn’t use paper Paperless Manufacturing, but there is context far beyond that (and advantages for savvy manufacturers).  Some believe it’s just another name for a Manufacturing Execution System (MES) or Manufacturing Operations Management (MOM) system, and others think it is a subset of a master MES or MOM.  To understand what Paperless Manufacturing is and how it can help, you need to understand the history of manufacturing software.

The History of MES

In the 1990s the manufacturing software industry was focused on building out the functionality of MES. Software companies were searching for functionality. They assembled massive teams of consultants during the dot-com boom to build out their systems (which meant prices had to increase to pay for all those resources). Where MES traditionally provided Production Planning and data collection, now they tracked resources, provided recipes to machines, and collected data streams – all benefits to manufacturers with the money and resources to implement an MES.

The new functionality came at a heavy cost. Suppliers couldn’t provide the functionality fast enough. Waterfall software development takes time. To speed up the process, companies purchased smaller vendors for their functionality, even if it was never part of the main platform.  This required complex integrations between old and new software (which they now called modules – a fancy marketing term for additional cost and complexity) and between the platform, the modules, and other systems.

Expensive_MES_Customization.jpgThis led to changes in the industry, and not all of them good. In the 1980s, buyers wanted to see the software at a demo.  The sales process focused on shop floor needs. You could install an MES on a large shop floor for US $1M. In the 1990s, as the complexity of MES increased, suppliers could no longer demo functionality, so the demo became a massive PowerPoint filled with speculative promises. Price and schedule increased drastically for all the new functionality and the teams necessary to implement it.

Today, MES companies are still building in new functionality (Internet of Things, the Digital Thread, and Predictive Analytics).  Companies still purchase smaller businesses to build out functionality. Today, many major implementations require 2 years or more. The price has significantly increased, twice as much as systems in the past (which, frankly, isn’t sustainable for any company concerned about an ROI or for most manufacturing facilities). In addition, most systems use a forms-based platform to help ease the integration of all those modules.

Put simply – the way many MES are designed increases complexity and cost, but there is a better way.

Understanding the Advantages of Paperless Manufacturing

A Paperless Manufacturingsystem focuses on workflow – the “manufacturing” in Paperless Manufacturing.  The result is a robust, user-intuitive system providing broad and widely-applicable workflow and business process management.  Systems focusing on functionality might contend Paperless Manufacturing is a subset of what they offer in functionality, however, software that adds functionality through complexity and cost is actually hindering productivity and quality gains. Put simply – additional functionality does not mean additional production benefit. Paperless manufacturing matches or exceeds the functionality of today’s MES/MOM systems with a focus on workflow instead of complexity or additional processes. 

Improvement_WEB_041415.jpgAn easy way to understand the power of Paperless Manufacturing over a typical MES is to look at the difference in how the two systems manage work instructions. With a common MES, your existing production packets are often useless.  The system provides forms to hold required information.  Often these fields are custom to your operations.  You are responsible for breaking your work instructions and data collections into various fields.  This takes time (and a lot of money). The shop floor must learn a new process not only to use the MES, but to complete work. It’s a complex process, and increases time, cost, and risk, many times resulting in complete project failure.

Paperless Manufacturing software supports your existing processes and work instructions. Loading the instructions into the software is a relatively simple process – attaching the work instructions to plans and setting up the workflow. The process can be automated, so the system is “fully loaded” for product launch.  Custom fields aren’t necessary, as the system inherently understands the flow of work from one work center to another, one operator to another, and can adapt when needed.  Since the system mirrors existing processes so closely, and uses the instructions the shop floor already knows, training can be done in an afternoon. There are immediate benefits to manufacturers, and over time, as the tool is expanded into new areas and processes on the shop floor, the ROI and benefit grows.

The focus for Paperless Manufacturing isn’t on a functionality list, but on what you can do with the software. It supports and uses your current processes.  Designed around workflow, rather than functionality, the system is more cost-effective, shows greater productivity gains almost immediately and preserves your manufacturing profitability.

Unleashing Paperless Manufacturing on your Shop Floor

In the end, Paperless Manufacturing offers a significant advantage to manufacturers willing to focus on results instead of requirement lists.  From revision control and document management to shop floor visibility and control, scheduling, data collection, audit records, and improved quality control, paperless manufacturing supports your production today and well into the future. 

Data consolidation, another important benefit of the system, provides the key for business analytics, extending the benefits of Paperless Manufacturing far beyond operations.  With a standard product platform and a far more rapid implementation schedule, the software provides almost immediate benefits. 

There will be companies more comfortable with a functionality checklist – willing to invest in a large-scale implementation over a period of years, a common occurrence with forms-based, traditional MES. Once the pain of learning the new software and changing their processes is over, they benefit.

These systems require continuous investment as production needs change and the software and shop floor processes and forms must adapt, but companies willing to invest the additional time and resources continue to benefit.

For others, the intuitive workflow-based Paperless Manufacturing system offers clear advantages. Complexity and increased cost is not a sign of a better solution.

Free Shop Floor AnalysisIn the end, it’s worth investigating both types of manufacturing software. Want to learn more, or see how Paperless Manufacturing can help your company?  Contact CIMx Software today for a free shop floor analysis. We’re always happy to help.

Topics: What is Paperless Manufacturing?, How can you evaluate shop floor software?

Written by Kristin McLane