Lean Manufacturing: Greater productivity isn’t delivered by hand

In the fifth of our ‘Lean manufacturing in the digital age’ series, we explore how a reliance on manual and paper-based processes can hinder your ability to deliver more strategic value to stakeholders, suppliers and customers.

We live in an increasingly digital world. Banking, entertainment, communication, photography, education, all have been revolutionised by digital technologies.

In every area, society has almost completely transitioned from analogue to digital. All perhaps except one– the office. Enter any workplace and you’ll still find desks cluttered with papers, filing cabinets full of documents and boxloads of binders.


Business Silos Spreadsheets Digital Data Digital Transformation - Stock Image


The total amount of time employees spend searching for information, updating documents, filling in forms and archiving records is difficult to calculate. What’s not is the amount of money being wasted.

Businesses lose almost £2m a year on average due to their continued reliance on manual and paper-based processes, according to research by Vanson Bourne, with supply chain, procurement and finance professionals spending almost a third (31%) of their time dealing with such processes.

Far from being isolated cases, around two-thirds of businesses are still reliant on manual and paper-based processes, according to the same study, despite most being aware that it was actively hindering their ability to collaborate, innovate and become more productive.

The pinch is being particularly felt within procurement and supplier management departments, which are generally regarded as being less digitally mature compared to other functions, such as marketing, human resources and accounting.

More efficient, innovation-focused employees 

In an effort to move the needle, businesses are increasingly investing in technologies such as data analytics, cloud-based platforms, artificial intelligence and digital assistants like chat bots.


Quantum Computing Digital Transformation AI Artificial Intelligence Microchip Machine Learning - Stock Image


To date, however, most have still only managed to digitise around half (45%) of their processes. That’s worrying because the benefits of becoming more digitally connected are well publicised, especially in regard to delivering more strategic value.

A smart IT ecosystem enables a business to introduce software automation and alleviate its workers from time-consuming and laborious reporting duties and admin tasks, freeing them up to focus on process innovation and continuous improvement.

Furthermore, eliminating the need for employees having to continually return to a workstation or computer to input information allows them to become more efficient and transition from being reactive to predictive.

Armed with a greater awareness of what is happening, also means teams are more able to accurately forecast what may happen and implement an appropriate plan of action.

Digitising paperwork offers a level of visibility, transparency and traceability impossible to achieve with paper-based systems, allowing bespoke and custom reports to be generated at a moment’s notice – and the data contained within is always in real-time, not post-action.


Digitalisation Analytics Data Digital Big Data ERP -Stock


Greater traceability, improved resource planning and eliminated manual processes is exactly what one food manufacturer has achieved, resulting in a 10% reduction in their overheads and the potential for a further 10% in the near future.

Success Story

This manufacturer has been supplying fresh and frozen filled and unfilled pasta products to retailers across the UK, Ireland and Europe, as well as the foodservice and manufacturing sectors, for almost 25 years.

Being part of a large privately-owned agri-food company brought many advantages to the business, not least the acquisition of new customers and an increase in capital.

However, like many organisations, the manufacturer faced challenges as it made the transition from a small to medium-sized enterprise.

An increasing amount of regulation, expanding facilities, entering the retail sector and market demand for ever-more sophisticated products all brought greater complexity and were key factors in its move from a basic accounting system to a fully functional, turnkey ERP solution.


Being overly- focused on time-consuming minutiae can be a problem for those manufacturers which have eschewed mainstream ERP systems.


Having researched several vendors, its financial controller was particularly impressed by the Access ERP solution, provided by award-wining software provider Access Group.

Growing pains

Being able to meet unforeseen requests for detailed product information is a critical aspect of being a responsible food manufacturer.

Previously, the business was meticulously documenting all the relevant information but its reliance on manual and paper-based processes made the data time-consuming to manage, difficult to extract and disconnected from other business areas.

This was particularly evident in its new product development (NPD) process, a critical function that involved a large number of internally produced templates containing information such as detailed ingredient data and packaging specifications, alongside associated quality assurance evidence such as test results, chemical analysis and nutritional material.

Previously, all this information was created, collated and re-keyed by separate teams. The process was not only onerous, but open to data errors that could impact product quality.

Additionally, a lack of integration and visibility on the stock/warehousing side of the operation meant that data points such as whether any given pallet was dispatched on a given day was hard to determine and never fully up to date.

Centralised, accessible, current

Access ERP centralised information from all these sources. It integrated hand-held barcode scanners, NPDs and stock data with the central accounts, for example, enabling the team to see, in real-time, the full chain of events from initial order through to dispatch to retailers.

“I’m confident now that the information we’re using is accurate and up to date, and it’s much more accessible,” says the financial controller.

“Say I wanted to find out what was produced on a given day, with full detail of batch and serial numbers. Previously, this would have taken hours – now it’s there at a click of a button.”

They conclude; “I’m very happy with our Access ERP solution. It’s increased visibility, traceability and by eliminating manual processes, has given us the potential to cut overheads by 20%. And I’m delighted to say that we’ve already realised 10% of that.”

Software enables your workforce to work smarter, wherever they are based. It minimises the time spent on admin, decreases room for costly errors, increases productive collaboration whilst allowing you to see live and tangible business insights. 

Find out more about technology’s role in the future of manufacturing by visiting The Access Group and The Manufacturer’s Lean resource hub.


Check out the other articles in our ‘Lean manufacturing in the digital age’ series:

  1. The key to Lean Manufacturing in the digital age
  2. Is Frankenstein’s monster disrupting your Production Planning?
  3. Don’t let Legacy Software be the albatross around your neck
  4. Does your Supply Chain contain more holes than Swiss cheese?
  5. Greater Productivity isn’t delivered by hand
  6. Could the loss of one person sink your business?
  7. Supply Chain Transparency – helping manufacturers to deliver the goods
  8. Digitally Empowered Workers are key to unlocking greater productivity

  9. Operational Agility – is your business more sloth than monkey?
  10. R&D: You miss every shot you don’t aim for