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Putting an end to paperwork - how to make your production digital

In part 2 of our series of articles "Putting an end to paperwork", we want to focus on the area of production. Especially in the SME sector, there are many companies that have incredible expertise and produce great products. Many of these companies have the actual production process very well under control and rely on the latest machines with more and more automation. So far, so good - but in order to get the product on the road at the end, a message has to be sent to the ERP system so that downstream processes such as order picking and packing and, of course, invoicing can be triggered. Over the last few years I have visited many companies and seen a lot. Some things were good, some very good and some not so good. In the following, I would like to discuss four types of companies or typical scenarios for feedback in production. There are certainly further types and one could also distinguish between different sectors. But that would take us too far for this blog post. Let's start with the:

Paper company - Here the process is largely manual. The production papers are either printed from the existing ERP system or partly still created by WORD/EXCEL. Now the papers run through the production process and are provided with all kinds of handwritten information in the departments. This includes required times, raw materials taken, QA information, etc.  At the end of the day, the papers end up in piles in the office of the work preparation/production management and wait there to be transferred into the ERP system or entered into a self-created EXCEL list. Sometimes the papers are simply filed away. In these companies in particular, keeping up is often so difficult that there is no time left for a subsequent evaluation. As long as your product is unique, that's no problem. But woe betide anyone who has to deal with strong competition. How do you make an informed decision about your bottom price if you are missing individual pieces of the puzzle for the overall picture? No chance!

A second type of company is the MS Office company - as a positive increase from the paper company, the Office company is already one step further. It is already digital! Although they still work with production papers, the employees also have access to a PC or terminal. There, information such as production times, finished parts, etc. is recorded in EXCEL tables or self-developed access databases. Now the production management can actually access the data at any time and manually transfer it to the ERP system or simply evaluate it. However, as it is often the case in day-to-day business, there is little time for "manual batch processing", so this information is also rarely used for subsequent post-calculation. What a pity!

Let's look further at the PDA company - here we are already talking about a continuous, digital process. A production data acquisition (PDA) solution is connected to the existing ERP system. In the production halls, there are firmly defined areas with conventional PCs or industrial terminals, which can also hang on the wall, for example. The production workers can log on to the PDA and start, pause and finish production orders there. Finished products and rejects can be reported and often barcode labels or other stickers can be printed automatically. Many entrepreneurs are aware of the advantages of a PDA solution, but have shied away from introducing it for a long time. Many points come into play here. One problem is the acceptance of the production workers, who are afraid of more control and do not know the added value for the company. On the other hand, it is also the decision-makers who do not trust their team to handle a PDA solution. Fortunately, with the advent of smartphones (which many production workers now use privately), the problems of acceptance and trust are increasingly becoming a thing of the past. A great development!

Let's look one step further at the - I call them PDA+ company. Now we are taking digitalisation one step further. The PDA company described above is already working very well, but here the related drawings, documentations or test orders are still printed out. Background: The PDA terminals are usually only available centrally and in small numbers. However, the employee needs the information at his or her machine or workplace - so the information is printed. The PDA+ company puts an end to this! Thanks to modern technology, PDA solutions can be made available browser-based, for example. This means that pretty much any device with a common browser can be used as hardware. This means that tablets can also be used, which have the advantage that they are cheap to obtain and are hardly susceptible to dust. Even simple consumer devices can be converted into a terminal suitable for industrial use by attaching a shock-resistant protective cover. The advantage is obvious. In conjunction with professional WLAN coverage, you can now operate a PDA terminal anywhere in your production area. Due to the low hardware investment, you can simply use more PDA terminals. Depending on the size of the company, the industry and the product, there is no reason why each employee should not have his or her own device. And if the person has several machines or areas available for the production of the product (production variants), the tablet can simply be taken along. And why? In the PDA solution, we no longer want to just report production times and quantities. All* documents that have been assigned to the production order by the work preparation department can now also be viewed. The production folder is now completely digital!

Now you will say "Very good. But in our company, the production documents are with the goods and are passed from area to area. How do I now mark the material with the corresponding order if the papers are only available digitally on the tablet?" We will take a closer look at the answers to this question in a following article. However, we can already tell you that there are of course simple ways to do this.

Our recommendation - become a PDA+ company! As in part one of our series of articles, our advice remains: put your processes to the test. Take the time and have a closer look. Talk to your team. You will hear phrases like "we don't need anything different" or "we've always done it this way" but in most departments there is that one employee who would like to work more effectively. Use this motivation and start with a subarea as a pilot project.

Now it's up to you. Of course we have many years of experience as an SAP partner, but at the end of the day you are the users who master the challenges of a manufacturing company on a daily basis. We are very interested in whether you share our opinion and have created a small PDA survey for this purpose. It takes just 10 seconds and can be completed anonymously. Thank you for your support!

For those who want to get started right now - we have compiled all the important information about the SIGMA PDA+ solution for SAP Business One under the following link. Sounds good? Then just give me a call (+49 371 2371-216) or send me an email and we'll discuss the next steps.