The benefits of paperless work orders
Traditional paper work order background
Paper work order process and flow
Work orders (also called jobs, production orders, shop orders, etc…) get printed and issued to the production floor to fabricate or assemble a product or batch of products. These work orders are typically created in a company’s ERP software and include a bill of material (BOM) and a bill of operations (BOO sometimes also called routing). The work order is routed step by step through the manufacturing process to gather the necessary material and tooling, and then routed to each work centre required to produce the product in question. In many cases, the work order also contains in-process inspection sign-off or inspection operations that need to be singed off by production staff. Work orders are also used to capture costing, since companies are also interested in knowing the actual cost of the products they produce, material and labour tracking become very critical.
Drawbacks of paper work orders
There are several drawbacks to using paper work orders, there are the obvious issues associated with printing and filing tons of paperwork, but losing that paperwork in highly regulated industries like Aerospace can be a cause many other problems. However, there are other issues that paper work orders create that we don’t often think about:
Accuracy of time and material
Although material can be made fairly accurate, time is very difficult to track. If you have employees simply write the time they spent working on the job, then they are relying on memory and estimates which will cause errors. Having employees clock on and off jobs is better, but is still prone to errors as employees will forget to clock off or on jobs and are often clocked on to the incorrect jobs.
If you are not having employees clocking on and off work orders, then best case scenario the status of your order will be 1 day old and as discuss in the previous point, might not be accurate. If a company uses clocking, then it may also be difficult to judge status of very long operations; for example a operation might have a standard of 8 hours, if an employee has been clocked on that operation for 4 hours, does that mean that he is 50% complete? Absolutely not, how long does it usually take to do this job? Maybe your standard is wrong? Maybe that employee has never done that operation before and is struggling. If you’re a job shop and the job is custom, your estimate might be completely wrong.
Many work orders also include inspection sign-off or check lists, these may be done by the operator doing the job as a self inspection step, or may be done by an inspection department. I recently visited a customer who showed my a check list with a straight line through all the points that need to be verified, the nature of these types of inspection check lists make them perfect pencil whipping candidates, which considerably reduces their effectiveness. Because of the nature of a paper work order, inspection operations might simply say: “Inspect”, vague direction like this will cause variation in the ways that each one of your inspectors inspect parts.
Use of standard work
If you’ve read any of my blogs before, you know how much importance I place on standard work, for more detail you can read this blog and you can read more about the visual work instruction software that YMB Consulting is partnered with by checking out the VisualFactory portion of our website by clicking here. Many companies use the work order routing to include bullet point instructions on each step, these are often confusing, not detailed enough and employees often simply ignore them.
Process improvement effort
All the data that is captured on traditional paper work orders is often entered in a database and then used to prioritize process improvement / lean manufacturing initiatives. However, since the data accuracy is so poor and takes so long to enter and review, companies are focused a trying to review problems that occurred in the past while the problems that are occurring today are being ignored or improperly documented.
Paperless work orders background
Although it is possible to PDF work orders and make them paperless, that is not the type of paperless work orders this blog is about. Some ERP software have implemented some aspects of paperless work orders by introducing job clocking, however most companies still needed to print the work orders for inspection sign-off and to show employees routing and bill of material information. However, true paperless work orders have become possible with Manufacturing Execution software like VisualFactory, which in turn has also become a very powerful lean management tool. Since I am very familiar with VisualFactory, I will use it as an example in the type of advantages that paperless work orders can give your company.
Advantages of paperless work instructions
It is obvious that implementing paperless work instructions will eliminate the printing, data entry and filing of work orders; however, there are several other advantages to paperless work orders, the primary ones are:
Live production status against standard and performance against targets
This is by far one of the most powerful features of paperless work orders, since employees are clocked on live in the system and the system gives you real time visibility to what is happening, you can see performance against standard of all the work orders currently in progress. This feature will completely change the way your supervisors manage their work force, by focusing their attention on issues as they are occurring instead of investigating after the fact. This feature is not restricted to supervisors, but you will find that showing all your employees how well they are performing against standard in real time will significantly improve their output. By also allowing the system to track performance against targets, the system will finally eliminate the need for these nasty tally sheets that are always wrong.
Accuracy of time and material
This feature will vary depending on the system you use, but with software like VisualFactory who will keep track of labour as employees are performing each step of the process, the accuracy of the time captured will be very good. VisualFactory is able to capture time this way since it tracks the amount of time between each work instruction step as employees use the interactive work instructions module of the software. This feature allows for a much more detailed analysis of the production processes without having employees clock in and out of operations.
Many systems like VisualFactory will also prompt employees to scan the serial number of critical components to confirm that the correct components have been used. This feature helps confirm that critical material has been recorded for warranty purposes, but also helps ensure that the proper configuration has been built in an environment where products have a lot of customer specified options. Also, it can help confirm the presence of installation kits or any other loose parts that are shipped with your product.
Use of standard work
Any system like VisualFactory that allows for paperless work orders that also includes interactive work instructions is very powerful. In the same way that your car GPS only gives you the information that you need when you need it, VisualFactory takes workers step by step through the assembly process as they are assembling the product. Using standard work in a way that is so integrated with the work order helps standardize your assembly process and reduces errors associated to workers memorizing work instructions. Features like this incorporated to your work order will also ensure that your employee is building to correct product in a environment that contains a lot of customer options.
Employee certification / self inspection
Since VisualFactory’s paperless work orders also contain interactive visual work instructions, you are also able to capture inspection checks and measurements. The system can be configured to have the operator enter data manually or interface with automated test equipment; either way, since the system knows the pass and fail criteria of all inspect points, it will reject operations that don’t meet specification. This type of environment not only standardize the inspection process, but allows for your inspectors to transition to more of an auditing role and your assembly staff to become certified operators. This feature becomes very powerful in high mix low volume production, as inspection steps can finally be standardized which will help reduce your escape rate.
Controlling employee certifications
Many companies use the cross training matrix process to keep track of training requirements within departments, however nothing in the standard process prevents operators from doing work they are not properly trained or certified to do. VisualFactory keeps track of employee training levels and can associate training requirements to production tasks. This feature is the only way to ensure that only qualified employees are performing critical steps, if an unqualified employee tries to perform the work, the system will kick him out.
Controlling the use of calibrated tooling
Traditional paper work orders may have checks to ensure that employees are using calibrated measuring equipment or other tooling during critical process or inspection steps. However, over time employees will stop looking at the calibration date and pencil whipping becomes a very real problem. With VisualFactory, the system can be setup to keep track of all your tooling calibration and request that a tool that applies a barcode as one of the steps in the process, if the tool is out of calibration, it will prevent the employee from proceeding to the next step. This added feature makes your paperless work order able to meet very strict quality requirements without requiring much effort from your quality department.
Problem management system
Some Manufacturing Execution System’s like VisualFactory also offer the ability to record production problems as they occur. Production workers simply log problems and their urgency in the same interactive work order screen. The problem will then be displayed on the company’s dashboard and e-mailed to the appropriate support team member. This is personally one of my favourite features, as it expedites the resolution of problems by making them visible and showing current status of all problems. The data recorded can then easily be used by your continuous improvement team to prioritize your lean manufacturing initiative.
There are many different types of paperless work order, when reviewing what type of system you are purchasing make sure that you fully understand what features are available as all systems are not created equal. However, if you would like more information on other features that VisualFactory can offer, or you would like a live demo of the software, please feel free to contact me for a free demo of the software by clicking here.
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