The work that goes into manufacturing even the simplest of products is a mystery to most people. The fact that a can opener is on the store shelf when they need it is good enough. But industry insiders know more.
There’s an entire microcosm of people, processes and technologies involved in getting that one product off the shop floor and into the market. Paperless processes have most definitely had a huge impact on improving quality, shrinking cycle time and reducing waste for home goods manufacturers—but something bigger in this paperless context—an entire plane, for example, can better demonstrate the increasing impact the evolution of paperless manufacturing has had.
Just how do you manufacture something as large and technologically advanced as a plane anyways? Just getting all the structural pieces and internal systems together is one thing, not to mention the safety standards involved in green-lighting an entire airplane for operations. According to this 2015 Airbus case study from the Industrial Internet Consortium (a global public-private organization formed to accelerate the development, adoption and widespread use of interconnected machines and devices, intelligent analytics and people at work), the manufacturer has adopted smart tool technology to accelerate efficiency and improve product safety. Because these smart tools self-adjust and log data along the way (once the responsibility of the operator), operators have more focus for the critical task at hand. And, manual error can be caught in real-time before manufacturing time and money is lost.
Early paperless processes enable manufacturers to leverage more sophisticated, data-driven systems.
“Developing an airplane involves tens of thousands of steps that operators must follow with many checks in place to ensure quality.” In addition to using smart tools to make those tens of thousands of steps less burdensome, costly and up for error, Airbus also leverages a virtual environment to manage the lifecycle of their A350 XWB aircraft. 30,000 registered users, and around 10,000 people – including engineers from both Airbus and the supply chain – use it on a daily basis to access detailed, up-to-date information on the program.
So, what did the early years of paperless look like?
Early paperless manufacturing improvement was linear and absolute.
When the word “paperless” was first uttered in executive meetings and on manufacturing floors it referred to eliminating unnecessary manual steps in a single process. Electronic documents replaced physical blueprints, routing sheets, inventory lists etc. while workflow automation defined paths for these documents to travel electronically to each successive stage of the manufacturing process. Things were beginning to get done faster, yet process silos across departments and even within business groups still existed.
The paperless middle-ground enabled two-way communication and increased efficiency, productivity and insight gradually. As communications technology improved, paperless automation of the manufacturing environment also progressed. Tools for electronic collaboration and web-centric data began allowing greater visibility and into different segments of the process. The ability to get near real-time feedback on design, financials, and shop floor activity provided teams with a new level of awareness and opportunity for input and influence beyond the space their bodies could physically occupy. The ability to increase efficiencies between teams and partners in different locations also witnessed improvement.
Paperless adoption today.
Manufacturing processes efficiencies continue to expand as the adoption trend continues. In ten years, what we see as great progress today may be comparatively slight. But if today were a tick mark on the automation timeline, it would represent the point at which paperless processes within manufacturing are reaching critical mass. The ability to interconnect every person and element involved in the manufacturing process across teams, sites and entire continents is here. Not only is data able to get from one place to another faster, it is allowing the manufacturing process to be infinitely dynamic and improvable.
What paperless processes are in line next?
Mobile devices and manufacturing-specific mobile apps are poised to revolutionize the manufacturing industry from a process perspective, once more. Just how significant each paperless advancement will be in relationship to the last remains to be seen. But, like the view from a plane as it climbs in the sky that bigger picture will soon become abundantly clear.
If you’d like to learn more about how iDatix is helping manufacturers adopt paperless practices that accelerate efficiencies and catapult them ahead of the digital curve, contact us!