They Kill Trees for That? How to Cut Paper in Your Plant

View article online.

By Doug Fair

In the last several years, I have visited many manufacturing plants including those for packaging, medical devices, electronics, consumer goods and food. One thing I keep noticing is that many companies cannot cut their addiction to paper-based data collection systems.

It seems strange, considering the advancements in information systems and mobile technology, to see that paper check sheets are not only alive, but thriving. In the age of Big Data, why is so much valuable business intelligence being stored in filing cabinets? Consider this:

  • A full four-drawer file cabinet holds 18,000 pages (Source: NAPO)
  • It costs about $25,000 to fill a four-drawer filing cabinet and more than $2100 per year to maintain it. (Sources: Gartner Group, Coopers & Lybrand, Ernst & Young)
  • The average office spends $20 in labor to file each document and another $120 in labor searching for each misfiled document, loses one out of every 20 documents, and spends 25 hours recreating each of those lost documents. (Source: Price Waterhouse Coopers)
  • The average document is copied 19 times (Source: Price Waterhouse Coopers)

Although slightly different, each company’s paper habits are oddly similar. They have checkboxes for confirming actions were completed, blank spaces for traceability fields like shift, order number, line number, etc., and placeholders for noting the time and date. Generally, the bottom of the page has a bold line for the operator to enter initials or a signature.

I’ve seen separate forms for safety checks, machine setups checks, production checks, shutdown checks, quality checks and just about any type of data collection you can imagine. Some plants have operators write down statistical process control (SPC) data on paper first, then manually type the numbers into another system for statistical analyses. Needless to say, paper-based systems are causing identifiable and nonidentifiable inefficiencies for manufacturers across every industry.

Amazingly, the management of paper is one of the most time-consuming tasks. Usually, forms are gathered up by an administrative assistant and delivered to the quality manager who then performs a cursory review of the data. Then, a second administrative assistant collects the pages from the quality manager and—cell by cell, page by page—painstakingly enters the data into an Excel spreadsheet.

But more shocking is what happens with the paper after the data are entered into Excel. In several of the plants, an on-site library and a full-time librarian are staffed to manage all that paper. After aging a year or so, the paper is shipped to a warehouse, where it sits for another seven or more years just in case someone might need it.

Paper is not only inefficient, but it is exceptionally expensive and difficult to manage. What’s the solution? Many companies are replacing their paper-based systems with manufacturing intelligence systems, such as InfinityQS’ ProFicient. Instead of writing numbers down on a sheet, they are automating data entry directly from plant-floor measurement devices or manually entering the data via scanner, touch pad, keyboard, smart phone or mobile device. Instead of storing paper in a library or shipping it to a warehouse, the data are stored in a database. For archival purposes, the data are backed up on small, portable memory storage devices.

Think about it: if paper is replaced by software, not only can you easily access the data without rifling through thousands of pieces of paper (and incurring all those paper cuts), but you can also instantly pull charts, graphs and analyses of the data. If you have ever suffered through an audit, you know how time-consuming and challenging it is to dig up data—especially when it is stored only on paper. Instead, using software enables you to select a few fields, and let the database queries and statistical analysis engine do the work for you, producing an accurate, detailed report with the precise data necessary for the audit.

The result? No more paper. No more library or librarian. No more warehouse storage facilities and no more transporting paper to and fro. Basically, replacing paper with an enterprise quality solution that has automated data collection capabilities will make your quality system simpler, more efficient, faster, easier to manage and less expensive. And who doesn’t like that? 

Take the first step from quality to excellence