Paperless manufacturing: The key to getting fit for growth

Despite debating the merits of paperless for the past two decades, very few manufacturing firms have actually adopted an entirely paperless operation. Mark Hughes says it is time to stop talking about it – and start adopting.

Advances in technology, as well as changes in legislation and the rapidly evolving marketplace, are only set to amplify the need for paperless manufacturing in 2019.

Today, more regulatory and compliance authorities are demanding the automated generation of digital records, putting increasing pressure on manufacturers to go paperless.

For UK businesses, minimising unnecessary checks and preventing disruption to supply chains post-Brexit will be heavily dependent on their ability to participate in paperless customs procedures.

While investing in the right software will be crucial in helping to stay agile and responsive to market change, these systems are driven by data. This data must be stored electronically so that it can be accessed by anyone across the organisation, at any time.

Increased accuracy, seamless electronic recordkeeping, and easily shared data are just a few of the benefits to be gained from embracing technology and eradicating paper.

Businesses that fail to automate their operations will run the risk of being unable to navigate today’s turbulent economic and political landscape, let alone capitalise on growth opportunities.

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Eliminating inaccuracy

Compliance has and will continue to be of great importance for businesses. Breaching GDPR guidelines, for example, could cost firms an eye-watering 4% of annual turnover.

Accuracy and transparency is a necessity when it comes to compliance, which means that sticking with paper record-keeping is leading to multitudes of inaccuracies, which is costing the industry millions of pounds each year.

Food and beverage is an industry where accuracy is particularly crucial. The frequency of high-profile, large-scale food recalls has become too commonplace for comfort.

You need only look at the UK government’s Food Standards Agency website to see that the volume of food and allergen-related recalls shows no sign of reducing – in 2018, 189 recalls were issued.

Businesses that are forced to recall large amounts of product over safety, hygiene, or labelling concerns can incur catastrophic damage, both in monetary and reputational terms.

This reinforces the need for optimal levels of traceability, quality, and regulatory compliance to minimise damaging product recalls, as well as risks to consumers.

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Navigating the regulatory and recall processes is only set to become harder as Brexit approaches.

Paperless manufacturing will be crucial in the wake of the UK leaving the EU, as British businesses could face an increase in administration, an extra hindrance for firms that haven’t fully automated their business processes.

Overcoming the obstacles

While the benefits of going paperless might seem obvious, manufacturers still have yet to completely remove paper from the factory floor, decades later than was initially predicted.

Despite various technological advances, manufacturers still appear to be unable to overcome the obstacles standing in their way to an entirely paperless environment.

Indeed, the transition from paper can prove daunting. There is a perception that digitalisation will require a complete system overhaul; but digitalisation doesn’t have to be complicated, the move to paperless can often begin with a single process.

Concern that current workers lack the skills needed to adapt to this digital transition is another barrier to a paperless work environment. New technologies often require extensive training and many businesses worry that their existing workforce will not be equipped for these changes.

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Despite this, manufacturers should be aware that the new workforce demographic is excited to embrace the latest digital innovations.

According to research*, 41% of young people overall want the opportunity to work with the latest innovations, including voice-activated technologies that connect them with resources on-demand or that automate tasks.

Indeed, 33% of millennials say they want to be at the cutting edge of new developments and to interact with new technologies in ways that boost their productivity in the workplace.

The way we interact with machines, robots and the world around us continues to evolve, speeding up everyday actions and making these easier. Switching to a paperless environment, bolstered by software and tools, will help deliver a more seamless user experience for employees on the factory floor and in other areas of an organisation.

Say goodbye to paper

The need for paperless manufacturing simply cannot be ignored. Those that refuse to embrace it run the risk of falling behind in today’s increasingly digital landscape.

Even long-established companies are overhauling their day-to-day operations – WD-40, a globally renowned manufacturer of household products, has completely automated its order processing, shipping and invoicing.

In doing so, the firm has streamlined its business processes into a single system. This has allowed the business to not only free up employee time, but also enabled improved inter-office communications between the company’s multiple dispersed sites.

Southco, a manufacturer of engineered access hardware solutions, began its global digital transformation journey more than a decade ago, with the implementation of various automated processes across its factories, integrated and managed by an effective enterprise management solution (EMS).

By moving away from paper and connecting software with processes, the firm was able to transform its facilities into smart factories and as a result reduce product defects, downtime and waste.

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Another firm embracing paperless manufacturing is BV Dairy, a dairy producer that went paperless with Epicor DocStar – an enterprise content management (ECM) solution.

DocStar began to yield benefits shortly after implementation, freeing up time in the accounts department and releasing staff to perform more complex tasks, thereby helping fuel corporate growth.

The system also removed employees’ daily need to manually sort through over 100 delivery notes, saving 10 hours per week.

Under the new system, delivery notes are now scanned in, cross-referenced, marked as received, and stored in both DocStar and Epicor ERP (enterprise resource planning) to permit cross-referencing and searching from each.

The new system has increased the producer’s accuracy, efficiency, traceability and flexibility, and helped streamline processes.

Get it right

While the benefits of going paperless are many and obvious, to take advantage of them manufacturing firms must ensure they have the right IT infrastructure in place.

To ease the path to growth, solutions such as ERP can help organisations manage and simplify their business processes by unifying all their data under one simple interface.

Manufacturing execution software (MES) can also help by eliminating inefficiencies, and utilise accurate, real-time insights to enable better business decisions.

Technologies such as these will be key to saying goodbye to paper once and for all in today’s increasingly digital era.


Mark Hughes, Regional vice president, UK and Ireland Epicor Software

*The research was conducted by Morar Consulting on behalf of Epicor in December 2017. The research questioned 2,450 business decision makers and employees in businesses in 14 countries across the globe, about their growth performance in the past 12 months.