Digitalization: The Paperless Production Of The Future

Every manufacturing company has certain information that must be documented – from the production order to the personnel area. But what are the prerequisites for the introduction of paperless production and how will future manufacturing actually be?

In many companies, documentation is still paper-based today: production orders, recording quality checks, work instructions, and protocols are often recorded manually. As part of the fourth industrial revolution, countless solutions are being offered to convert existing analog technologies into digital systems. They offer great potential for changing work processes and integrating new forms of work organization. And the changeover to paperless production is definitely worth it because the information is available in real-time, the time required for documentation is minimized, routes and potential for errors are reduced, and the documentation of process results is largely error-free.

Since manufacturing companies are required by law, product liability, and standards to provide complete documentation and traceability, this documentation is essential. And despite advancing digitalization, the written documentation is still often done manually. If at all, digital recording takes place in the second step.

For the company, this means enormous human and inefficient efforts. Because manual documentation in production brings with it some potential for errors: In hectic production operations, for example, data is recorded illegibly or without defined standards. Important documents can also be lost quickly.

All of this can be avoided by introducing paperless production, in which the paper is gradually abolished and the individual production processes are digitized step by step. All processes in production can be digitally mapped, regardless of whether it is processing times, quality checks, or feedback on processes. This saves the time-consuming and error-prone collection of information and there is more time for activities that support the value creation process.

A Head Start With Electronic Data

Retrofitting benefits not only large corporations but also small and medium-sized companies. After all, a production based on paper forms can no longer withstand the increasing demands in the industry. A quick ability to act and react to market changes as well as customer-specific requirements are important for competitiveness. In the age of the Industrial Internet of Things, customers expect a flexible partner who works efficiently and offers transparency at all times. But looking for important information in innumerable folders and files is not possible. A production can only be functional and future-proof if all data is available electronically and in real-time. For this reason, a central data pool should be created in which all information is bundled. This enables an enormous streamlining of the information flood and shortened throughput times.

The Technical Must-Have

The path to the digital factory often seems uncertain for companies. The comprehensive networking of all elements of production does not have to take place overnight. It can be established step by step, initially only at one location or within a team. In any case, the digitization of previously paper-based processes is the first important step towards intelligent production.

A large amount of data and the targeted use of several components are required to realize paperless production. The first step involves the implementation of a production management system. The basic requirement for this is a stable LAN and WLAN infrastructure. Individual technical components are also required, such as the integration of product and CAD data, in order to display the information, for example, via an intuitive interface. CAD data are used to create two- or three-dimensional representations. In addition, by importing the data into the machine, important information about the end product is already passed on.

However, the linchpin of digital production is the ERP software, the electronic solution for business resource planning. The ERP system comes into play at the beginning of the manufacturing process, such as when creating business orders. Documents that are only available in writing and not electronically are scanned manually and then transmitted in digital form to the IT system. Thereupon the responsible department management or the management is informed. Here, too, approval is no longer in writing, but electronically and is forwarded directly to production, which can now begin production. This saves precious time, because the transmission of the electronic data takes only a few seconds, while the approval in paper form takes significantly longer.

Paperless: The Basis For Further IIoT Interfaces

The digital transfer of analog processes and a consistent management system create the conditions for a dynamic, future-proof company. This creates opportunities for advanced IIoT applications, such as electronic production planning and control.

So-called cyber-physical systems (CPS) serve as the technical basis. that enable intelligent data exchange between the individual machines. The focus is on sensors that are attached to the respective production components. They collect measurement data along the value chain, which are played via a network to software, which in turn processes it. The advantage is that the production systems and CPS can exchange information with each other and with the production pieces, for example in which process stage the order is and the status of the next work steps. Despite the high degree of automation, employees have the freedom to intervene in the control of each machine and to react flexibly to problems. You get to-do lists on your machine or on your mobile device, such as a smartphone or tablet, Information about the current production status and changes in the process. Production thus develops into an intelligent, networked system in which all elements along the entire value chain communicate autonomously with one another.

The digital transformation opens up completely new possibilities for manufacturing companies: individuality, higher production speed, and a service tailored to the customer. Sooner or later, there is no way around IIoT solutions to prepare companies for these smart systems.

The App Technology Also In A Professional Environment

However, the success of a paperless production facility can be slowed down when employees are confronted with more and more complexity and time. Therefore, the introduction of modern, integrated app technology as a digital guide is recommended.

Practical application in everyday work, as well as an intuitive interface and simple operation, even for non-IT-experienced employees, should play a central role in the selection. There are already some applications that are tailored specifically to manufacturing systems and are achieving great success. Because apps are no longer only present in the private environment. After all, IT doesn’t have to be complicated in production. Mobile or browser-based applications often impress with their simple, user-centered operating architecture. They are a smart solution to make the workflow in the workshop more efficient and to simplify communication with each other and with the connected machines. The IIoT app on the smartphone or PC transmits machine and production-specific information safely and transparently to all people, systems, and locations. Alerting in the event of technical malfunctions or maintenance as well as mobile access are also possible at any time. Each company decides which functions are used. Central advantages are:

  • The relevant sensor data at a glance
  • The clear interface
  • As well as the high data topicality

Communication can be organized consistently and in a standardized manner.

For example, tools that are already available offer messenger functions, knowledge databases, and eLearning platforms. For example, employees can provide explanatory videos, digital models, and documents to illustrate complex manufacturing processes. The individual manufacturing structures are stored in a navigation tree and can be individually adapted to the company. The assignment of access rights and secure authentication is further important factors to ensure security, particularly with regard to data protection. Companies can only benefit from the advantages if cybersecurity and data protection are integrated right from the start.

IT Security In Digital Production

Digital factories are therefore required to develop a security concept that meets the requirements of Industry 4.0is adjusted. The goal should be to protect networked production IT at all times. This is a crucial criterion for companies, particularly in the age of the EU General Data Protection Regulation. In the past, a well-closed and guarded production hall was essential, but today, in the wake of the digital revolution, it is important to store, process, and transmit data securely. A high degree of IT security is required for the reliability of the systems and for the protection of operational and personal data. This requires trained and qualified personnel because risks can often be traced back to a lack of knowledge and negligence. This means that not only individual participants, but the entire company network are required. All subsystems that process, use, or store information, should be closely examined. These include end devices, operating systems, but also servers and cloud services.

Future-Proof Through Perfect Organization

It is completely understandable that the changeover to paperless production with all its facets will not succeed overnight, because there is a lot on the agenda: from the early sensitization of the employees to the benefits of Industry 4.0 to the technical equipment and the precautions regarding There are a lot of things to consider about possible IT security gaps. But the pressure on companies is growing, because the future of production is becoming increasingly complex, wage levels are increasing and the general market conditions are constantly changing.

Accordingly, a high level of adaptability and flexibility are the prerequisites for being successful in the future. This can only be achieved if all production processes are recorded electronically and the company transforms its production into a smart factory. Because once the manufacturing data is available, it provides a completely new perspective for process optimization and change options. A tailor-made software solution is an essential factor in making the changeover successful and achieving long-term success. It creates relief and frees the staff from unnecessarily lengthy work steps for the necessary documentation so that the employees can concentrate on the actual core processes of production.

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