Pursuing A Paperless Process: One Company's Journey

By George Allman on 30 January, 2019


Twenty-five years ago, Liberty Electronics’ system for creating and distributing work instructions was 100% paper-based. At Liberty, as with most companies in the industry at that time, engineers created work instructions for each assembly, printed out each document, and distributed them to manufacturing personnel. These manufacturing employees, in turn, depended on these paper documents in order to assemble components according to contract. Upon completion of an order, the documents often had to be filed for reuse at a later time.

Naturally, this system lent itself to confusion: there was no streamlined way of ensuring that each employee had the most up-to-date information. The system also led to time and material waste as many copies of the work instructions were laboriously printed and filed away, only to be discarded when new revisions were made. Thankfully, with new technological possibilities, the work instructions and processes are more orderly, efficient, and secure, and the company is now about 95% paperless in its manufacturing operations.

Engineers still design work instructions (the specific set of directions for each assembly) and processes (the methodologies to be used in manufacturing) with the same care and attention to detail as in the past. They utilize word processors and photo and video editing software to appeal to various types of learning styles. Engineers carefully design the work instructions by collecting as much information as possible and put it together in an accurate, streamlined format. This aids the manufacturing personnel as they build the assembly to client specifications.

It is primarily after these documents are created, however, that the system differs from the procedure of the past. Instead of printing out copies upon copies of the work instructions for each operator, the documents are converted into a PDF and loaded into a PLM (Product Life Management) system. A server stores an encrypted file of the instructions for each assembly, and makes the instructions available to personnel with the proper credentials. This means that assembly technicians can now log in (in some cases with dual-factor authentication as required by DOD and NIST regulations) and view the specific instructions for their own project, eliminating confusion and strengthening security. This also means that when engineers make a change to the instructions, only the most up-to-date information is immediately available to every employee working on the project. The PLM system prevents unauthorized changes and creates a configuration control log that keeps track of each revision and keeps everyone informed on the most current information.

Because this database is electronic, employees can view instructions and routers or travelers (a record of completion of significant assembly, verification and test steps) from the computer monitors at their workbenches. For some projects, operators can utilize a tablet, which offers more portability if the assembly process requires it. Both computers and tablets have the added benefit of tracking the employee’s progress and performance on the assembly and keeping both the employee and the team leaders informed on the manufacturing process. This creates excellent two-way communication on the status of the product, and provides data to drive accountability and improvement.

This new, paperless system of work instructions and processes streamlines the operator’s access to information. While it is a more structured and secure operation, it is also a more freeing one. The instructions are more accessible, understandable, and usable, so each employee can now focus on their own project with exactly the right amount of information---and with the most current information---that they need. Utilizing current technology for these processes eliminates confusion and paper waste, saves time and space, and strengthens security around each project, leading to a more cohesive operation as each department works together to get the job done.

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Topics: Operational Efficiency, Innovation, Company Culture, Cost Control

Author: George Allman

George Allman is a Manufacturing Engineering Supervisor that has been with Liberty for 21 years. He works primarily in process and fixture development within Liberty’s Mil/Aero Business unit, and also helps to support new business growth and development in various capacities. He is a member of the Society of Manufacturing Engineers, serves as an advisor/mentor to local STEM student groups, and is a frequent speaker and contributor at various events within the Additive Manufacturing community.
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About Wired Success 

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