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Getting Off of Paper in Manufacturing

It should come as no surprise, but many manufacturers, regardless of industry, STILL use pen and paper to record what’s happening in the plant. This traditional method of data collection is problematic because the data collected is not timely and not accurate.

People on the floor are writing down data on a piece of paper, every hour. Maybe at the end of every shift. That data is then transferred to a whiteboard, day by hour board, or production board, or maybe, it’s transferred directly to Excel. Someone performs the calculations in Excel and eventually distributes the report to the key people.

It’s a very step-by-step, manual process, riddled with the potential for error.

Collecting data via pen and paper is not timely because you don’t know what’s happening right now. And, it’s not accurate because no matter what, there will be the potential for human error. Manual reporting is also not lean. It takes a lot of time and effort to record and calculate the data when those efforts could be better spent on doing something else, another task that fully utilizes the person’s skill.

However, as much as we dislike the process of collecting data via pen and paper, there is one key benefit. Manual reporting can be good for developing a discipline around using data. Collecting and looking at data from the floor to make better decisions is very useful, and this will help to create a culture of continuous improvement. Your people writing down the data on a daily basis will have a good connection with that data, enabling them to contribute to the decision making process. They’ll think about how the plant is running and improvements that could be made. And as an operator, you’ll know if you’re doing well or not.

That’s where the benefit stops, though.

As with any manual process, there are severe limitations. Manual reporting can only take you so far and requires a lot of discipline. Even if you do record data on paper or whiteboard, it’s still very subjective. What downtime means to one person, or one plant could mean something entirely different for another person or another plant. And, the amount of detail one person is going to write down is going to be different than another.

If the machine goes down, one operator may write down, “The machine went down.” and leave it at that. Another operator may say, “The machine went down at 10:32 am as a result of a jammed part. Maintenance has been alerted and will be fixing the problem in 10 minutes. Then, the machine will be back up and running.”

Management could potentially spend a lot of time policing the details, constantly asking people if they’ve written everything down, over and over, and over and over.

So you see, that level of detail is subjective, but also, could provide management with a skewed picture depending on who was working at that time. That’s what we mean when we say manual reporting by writing data down with pen and paper can be severely limiting. So, while there may be some benefits in the way of creating a data-driven culture, those benefits are going to stop being beneficial at some point.

Manual reporting can only go so far for an organization.

Digital Innovation Replaces Outdated Manual Reporting

Digital transformation will take those efforts further. The data will be timely, you can see it in real-time, more consistently, and it will be consistently measured all of the time. And the biggest benefit? You’ll have greater visibility into the data and what’s happening at the plant.

You, or anyone else, don’t need to be standing directly in front of the whiteboard, looking at the person’s Excel sheet, or analyzing their handwritten notes to know what’s happened and what’s happening right now. Even better, you could get that data from your phone or scoreboards available on the floor.

There is one drawback, but it is not a deal-breaker by any means. This drawback simply requires more thought as to how to approach the potential problem. When data collection is electronic and automatic, people tend to think that it’s like big brother, monitoring their every move. People think you’re watching them and that if they do one wrong thing, they’ll be written up or fired based on what’s showing up in the data.

While data could be used this way, it never should be. This all circles back to good company culture and encouraging leadership. When moving to automatic data collection, leadership should message this correctly. Instead of a tool for discipline, it’s a tool for improving the plant, together, with the help of ALL employees, and will not be used for punishment.

Culture is an important part of manufacturing analytics success.

So, it should come as no surprise that we advise against manual data collecting. Getting off of pen and paper in manufacturing can propel your organization forward, both from a cultural perspective and real-time visibility into the plant perspective.

Picture of Bryan Sapot
Bryan Sapot
Bryan Sapot is a lifelong entrepreneur, speaker, CEO, and founder of Mingo. With more than 24 years of experience in manufacturing technology, Bryan is known for his deep manufacturing industry insights. Throughout his career, he’s built products and started companies that leveraged technology to solve problems to make the lives of manufacturers easier. Follow Bryan on LinkedIn here.