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Less Paper, More Reporting

With the evolution of increasingly self-driven automation systems and the advent of Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), companies have constantly progressed towards reducing human interaction in their everyday operations. Operators who were once responsible for manually operating valves and switches, adjusting process parameters, and monitoring safety, now merely keep checks while the plant’s DCS runs everything. Industrial automation has brought plants to a point where the human element is limited to managing workflows, monitoring production, and reporting. And so, while a plant can work away incessantly, its full potential could remain undiscovered through the inefficient reporting systems still in use by plant personnel.

Paper-based reporting can get inefficient, time consuming, and costly – when industry 4.0 is enabling unified data integration and contextualization for decision makers. Manufacturing companies have started implementing paper-less technologies at their factories and plant-sites, which helps them see data in real-time, enabling quicker and better-informed decisions. In that context, digitalization of production processes is a key competitive advantage for early adopters, and can help you overcome inefficiencies inherent to manual reporting methods.

Current State

Imagine a factory shop floor, where several processes are carried out simultaneously and a large amount of data is generated. During production, operators set up lines and manually note down production start and stop times, and the quantities produced in every shift. Maintenance personnel ensure all assets perform optimally, while logging plant health and their maintenance activities. Quality Control personnel monitor material input and output – ensuring they meet defined standards, and maintaining product quality and incident records. Supply Chain handles day-to-day logistics, scheduling, invoicing, and reporting. The process team monitors current processes, making adjustments to make production even more efficient.

In most of these cases, reporting methods vary across departments. Recording data generated by each department is important as it helps maintain visibility across the shop floor. It is also essential as it gives you a complete paper trail for auditing and investigating each incident.

What needs to improve?

Processing data on traditional paper-based ledgers is an inefficient and laborious task in this modern age. Auditing a single incident takes a few weeks on average to identify root causes. This is primarily because auditors go through the data of several departments before they can pinpoint the main problem. This process gets even more challenging when the same ledgers are accessible by multiple units and data integrity cannot be assured. Additionally, human error while processing data is also likely to hurt a report’s authenticity. This results in lost production time and therefore lost revenue. Real time insights on reported data by contrast would provide you instantaneous insights and tools to drill down data to swiftly identify causes and effects.

How to get there?

Paperless reporting systems can be implemented in just 5 simple steps:

  1. Identify data points

It is important to start by identifying where your data is being generated and what data needs to be recorded. Every department records data in one way or another; through employee time stamps, check sheets, progress reports, review reports, and weekly production reports to name a few. It is also important to note what data is not recorded and determine if it is of enough value to require documentation.

  1. Standardize the data

You will need to design a process of entering and recording data either through text or numeric fields. Data organization also takes place at this stage.

  1. Centrally collect the data

At this stage you will decide where to centrally store the data. Options for this include keeping your data at the plant or in the cloud; most organizations find plant level data centralization a safer option.

  1. Analyze and transform

Analysis tools and platforms like Power BI, Tableau, and INTECH’s plantOS help explore, contextualize, and analyze data. Collaborative sharing options allow for easily sharing analysis results and snapshots with concerned departments.

  1. Share and collaborate reports

The reports will be shared across departments and can help management in taking decisions.

A system like this can either be implemented in-house or by hiring an IIoT consultant. Because of the complexities involved, it is a good idea to have an IIoT consultant with hands on experience of OT who can help you identify and streamline all the data sources and transform them into useful reports.  INTECH’s Plant Information Management System offers similar services, you can find out more about it here.

Core benefits: Visibility

One of the most obvious benefits of a digital reporting system is visibility. Visibility makes it easier to carry out extensive studies of plant floors, devices, machines, processes, and integrations. This will improve planning, scheduling, and human resource management for plant managers.  You will also get standardized reports generated by each department, ensuring data integrity. All this will result in improved lead times, as operations get closer to true cycle times.

Stricter restrictions on data manipulation allows for greater accountability and transparency as employees’ schedules and targets are electronically monitored. Information for audits is readily available saving time for everyone. Greater visibility will allow organizations to safeguard critical data, ensuring not everyone has access to important information.

Core Benefits: Efficiency

An added benefit of digital reporting is improved efficiency. Communicating schedules ahead of time and planning around employees’ availability will increase overall productivity, giving employees more time to focus on strategic objectives. Seamless communication will allow cross functional collaboration. The mystery about production levels will be solved as stakeholders will have access production levels on their devices. With all the data gathered, identifying probable equipment failures or product defects on time will lead to quicker fixes without affecting deadlines. Lastly IOT consultants can identify and address hidden but persistent operational and design issues, allowing for overall improved product quality.

Core Benefits: Cost Savings

Having little need to purchase, store, and discard paper and paper products for reporting will significantly cut down on plant overhead costs. The procurement department in particular will be able to reduce inventory and storage costs for materials and equipment as the system can accurately predict when raw materials and spare parts are required.

Future Considerations

Visibility paired with a robust decision support system acts as a stepping-stone in implementing more advanced IIoT solutions in your organization. Once you have all your data in a single place, it will be easier to create digital twins and prediction-based models for different functions. These applications can give you suggestions on how to improve your current and future production processes.

A further advancement is incorporating the use of AI and Machine Learning to analyze data and identify trends and anomalies that might be of interest to operators and managers. This information, shared contextually, will lead to greater collaboration across the plant. An intuitive collaboration framework will allow everyone to focus on strategic goals and focus on solving issues together.

Lastly a fully digital plant can easily integrate into ERP and business information systems, making it easier for executive management to make profitable long-term decisions for the plant as well as the whole organization.


Authors: Osman Ahmed, Sana Ahmed
Reviewed by: Ahmed Habib
INTECH Process Automation

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