A major goal of the Smart Factory is paperless manufacturing. Going paperless brings measurable benefits, optimizes planning and production, and ultimately increases the competitiveness of the entire company.
Paper-based processes are inflexible and inefficient
More than a decade after the introduction of the Industrie 4.0 concept, some companies still use paper-based processes: Production orders are sent to production on paper or error messages are recorded manually in the factory.
However, such processes have two major disadvantages: they are inflexible and inefficient. Once a production order has been printed and put into production, changes or adjustments can only be made manually. A person has to run to the factory, intervene in the ongoing process and exchange the relevant documents.
Missing information for CIP
Manual entry and forwarding of documents is time-consuming and costly for another reason: manually entered information is subject to the respective diligence of an employee. Subjective inaccuracies or errors are human.
In short, the manual form of data collection is only suitable to a very limited extent as an objective information basis for the continuous improvement process (CIP).
Increasing requirements for sustainability
Companies are also faced with an increasing number of reporting requirements. For example, capital market-oriented companies that are already subject to reporting requirements will have to submit their sustainability report in accordance with new standards from fiscal year 2024 (with mandatory reporting in 2025).
What is completely new is that medium-sized, non-capital-market-oriented companies will also have to submit a sustainability report from fiscal 2025 (with a reporting obligation in 2026). According to the EU directive ‘Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive’ (CSRD), among other things it must be explained how companies intend to reduce CO2 emissions. The information should be as robust as financial information.
peka-metall AG: Less paper, more transparency – “that’s motivating“
In paperless manufacturing, the impact of a production on the environment can be measured in a particularly striking way. For example, the Swiss company peka-metall AG, furniture specialist and market leader for pull-out systems and complete interior furnishings, was able to reduce the amount of paper used in production by more than 50,000 sheets annually through digital production processes.
An important effect of the digital processes: maximum transparency. Tibor Szögyer, Coating Manager at peka-metall, describes it this way: “The employees appreciate the transparency that has been created by this system. It also has a motivating effect in many respects and spurs them on to do better.”
Swarovski Optik: More production efficiency, lower costs
The advantages of paperless production are clearly described by the premium manufacturer Swarovski Optik on its homepage. The Tyrolean family-owned company has launched a comprehensive digitization project to integrate three international sites into a homogeneous digital network.
For Reinhard Anfang, MES process manager at Swarovski Optik, the integration of all production and logistics processes in a Manufacturing Execution System has been successful: “The changeover was very far-reaching, and sometimes we had to do some convincing. But the many benefits for us as a team became clear very quickly.” Since the introduction of the MES, SWAROVSKI OPTIK has
- Increased production efficiency, saving resources and costs – while maintaining premium quality, of course.
- Optimized teamwork – e.g. during shift handovers, etc.
- Kept energy consumption constant despite rising production volumes, and even reduced it in some cases, among other things by making production processes more efficient
- Retained great flexibility for the future. New plant and machinery can be integrated seamlessly
- Optimization potential was identified immediately, so that appropriate improvement measures could be defined in daily meetings
Use of real-time data
Perhaps the most important effect is working with real-time information: Machine data acquisition and store floor data collection (MDE/BDE) provide factory teams with all the information they need to perform analyses and evaluations. They can monitor the status of their production systems, machines and processes to the second and act more independently.
They can react just as quickly to deviations from targets or changes in order situations. Production control is optimized and organized in a more resilient manner. Factory teams are also given all the decision-making tools they need to optimize production in the long term through a CIP.
Introduce paperless manufacturing
Before a company switches to paperless manufacturing, it should first clarify which processes and activities are to be digitized. This ACTUAL situation is documented and results prioritized. The following questions can help here:
- Where are paper documents in use and what are they needed for?
- Which job information is required for the workflows?
- Which employees work with this information?
- By whom is this information provided?
- How is the data documented?
Then it is necessary to find a suitable software solution. The introduction of an MES – Manufacturing Execution System – has proven itself on the store floor. With a modular MES such as FORCE MES LITE or FORCE MES FLEX, all relevant tasks in manufacturing can be performed, from production planning to production control. Advantage of modularity: companies can proceed step by step and introduce the software according to their individually suitable rhythm.
Use of digital workflows
When planning paperless production, companies should also think about digital workflows right from the start. The idea is to automate processes, digitize forms and ultimately save time and minimize errors. The apps required for this should be able to be integrated seamlessly – for example, through an integrated connector to Microsoft Power Automate offerings.
Workflow automation and digital document management can help companies improve their document control and make it much easier to prepare for internal and external audits.
ERP system for the Topfloor
Most manufacturing companies work with an ERP system – Enterprise Resource Planning – for finances or order planning. Implementing such a “pot floor” system provides a solid foundation for paperless manufacturing. Operating orders can be made available in the system at the very beginning of the manufacturing process. Instead of printing out work papers and other documents, the relevant information is transmitted electronically to the Shopfloor.
Smooth interaction between the systems on the pot floor (ERP) and the store floor (MES) ensures continuous feedback at the planning and production levels. This creates transparency, enables fast reactions in the event of deviations from the plan and creates a consistent data architecture overall.
MES system for the Shop Floor
MES solutions capture technical data in such a way that it can be used at the business management level. They put the production data in context with the respective order. As a result, MES data also enables important conclusions to be drawn at the ERP planning level, for example on energy and resource efficiency.
An MES replaces traditionally paper-based records with digital work instructions, electronic forms and automated data transfer. Work instructions are provided to factory teams in real time. The risk for errors due to outdated or incorrect information is significantly reduced.
By digitally recording production data and material movements, companies can seamlessly track and trace the entire manufacturing process. This supports compliance with quality standards, product traceability and regulatory requirements.
Paperless manufacturing offers numerous benefits and opportunities for companies to make their production more efficient, cost-effective, safe and sustainable. IT systems such as an MES enable the transition to paperless manufacturing processes, resulting in increased efficiency, improved data quality, faster response times and cost savings.
MES and ERP systems are central to the integrative and smooth interaction of the pot floor and the store floor. Companies increase their productivity, secure their competitiveness and also arm themselves for future challenges of digital transformation.
Advantages at a glance:
- High objective data accuracy and reduction of subjective errors.
- Improved tracking and precise analysis capabilities
- Fast responsiveness to plan deviations and new circumstances
- Cost savings through accelerated processes without paper
- Increased productivity and competitiveness