The guide to paperless manufacturing.

written on 04.05.2022

Worker on the shop floor with tablet.

In traditional manufacturing, many support processes are manual. From work instructions to the documentation of quality controls, the recording of defects and the tracking of components, in many places paper and pencil are still used.

But the trend is increasingly shifting towards more transparency, traceability and a networked way of working to ensure faster throughput times with higher quality. To achieve this, the digitalisation of manual work processes plays a crucial role.

In this blog post, we will show you a comparison of the two scenarios: how the work in manufacturing differs when working paperless instead of paper-based.


Does this sound familiar?


“Where is the list of material withdrawal filed? I can’t find the worksheet.”

“It should be in Hall E in the warehouse…”

Why strive for paperless manufacturing? 

If information and data are recorded and processed via manual work processes, mostly via e-mails, Excel or paper checklists, this leads to high administration and coordination costs. For example, a production note is required for each work step, which must then be transferred to the system and filed. Furthermore, evaluations are very difficult to carry out.  Furthermore, the use of paper causes considerable costs, space has to be created for filing and the environment is polluted.

The benefits of using digital tools and processes can be summarised as follows:

  • Less environmental impact when work steps become paperless
  • Cost savings as less paper is needed
  • More flexibility in order taking
  • Faster throughput times
  • Traceability of the status of the product, in which production step it is or where it has been installed
  • Real-time documentation of the individual work steps
  • Mobile data capture via tablet and smartphone directly at the point of action
  • Documentation without media discontinuity for photo and video recordings
  • Dirt and dust have no influence on the readability of the documents
  • It is traceable whether tests or tasks have been completed

Scenario Paperwork vs. Working Digitally:

If, for example, management has a question about the most frequent defects of the last quarter or a customer requests a past test report, many production companies face a time-consuming search. Stacks of folders have to be sifted through before the right reports are at hand.

With paper-based documentation, a lot of time is lost in searching, typing and evaluating information.

In contrast, things are quite different in digital production. Checklists, reports or reports do not have to be requested and sent by email or similar, but everyone can access the database directly. And if something needs to be sent to external parties, PDF reports are also available with just a few clicks. Optionally also directly in the corporate design for a professional appearance.

Challenges with the paper-based way of working:

  • Analogue processing brings high administrative effort
  • Prone to errors
  • Time-consuming filing and retrieval of reports
  • Inconsistent information collection and media discontinuities
  • Intransparent work and testing processes

Advantages of paperless manufacturing:

  • Enormous time savings in the collection and evaluation of information 
  • Reports are available at the touch of a button
  • More comfort and clarity for employees
  • Immediately available evaluation of all recorded data
  • Consistent documentation

Digital paperless manufacturing does not mean replacing paper with Excel lists and emails. Rather, it is about implementing a solution that replaces manual processes of this kind as well.

Instead of long information channels, e-mail traffic and administrative work, everyone has information available at the click of a button. Without having to wait long.


Management: “Where did the most frequent problems and errors occur last month?”

Whereas in the traditional way of working, information had to be prepared for the management again and again in a time-consuming manner, it is easier in paperless production: if required, one simply takes a look via insightful dashboards.

Examples of tasks that can be carried out paperless:

In production, many areas of responsibility are lined up one after the other. The employees carry out the assembly according to the work instructions, collect data for other departments such as product development and document the regular quality controls.

Example: Paperless issue management

If an issue occurs in production, it must be documented for further processing and forwarded to the responsible person. For this initial recording of the issue, there is usually a issue form that is filled out in the conventional way of working. Usually a photo of the defect is also taken. And this is where the first problem arises: Media disruptions. Often the photos are taken with digital cameras or the like and are therefore digital and separate from the corresponding paper form.

With digital defect management, things look different: The deficiency is recorded directly on the smartphone or tablet via an app. Photos can be added directly in the same form and the defect report can be forwarded to those responsible with just a few clicks.

Example: Paperless work instruction  

Work instructions in assembly and production guide employees step-by-step through their work processes.

With digital instructions, new possibilities arise: Visual elements such as photos and videos help to better understand the work instructions. And workers can see in advance how the product should look when it is finished.

This saves time when learning new tasks and thus ensures more efficient onboarding of new employees. Especially in times of a shortage of skilled workers, this is a feature that should not be underestimated. In the long term, this also leads to fewer rejects and less rework, as parts are rarely assembled incorrectly. Another advantage is that digital work and inspection instructions also make it easier to monitor whether the work and inspections have been carried out correctly and completely.

Documentation is done via a mobile device and staff no longer have to carry paper checklists from one ward to the next. The right instruction is always in the palm of their hand.


The three-step guide to paperless manufacturing.  

So we now know what differentiates a paper-based way of working in manufacturing from a paperless one. But how do you achieve paperless manufacturing? We will now go into this point in more detail.

One thing in advance: introducing paperless production sounds like a big, risky change. But don’t let that scare you off. The good news is that it pays to start with small steps. You don’t have to change everything at once, but can start with a small pilot project.

Step 1: Preparation.

Determine which processes and activities you would like to digitise in the future. To get a clearer picture, the following questions can help:

  • Which paper checklists are in use?
  • Who works with them?
  • Which use cases can you identify?
  • Which use case is best suited for the pilot project?

It is important to communicate the added value for all operators and stakeholders even before the introduction of a digital solution.

Step 2: Introduction of the digital solution.

Start by selecting a suitable digital solution.

Then start a pilot project. A single, clearly defined application is best suited for this. For example, quality controls during production, conveyor belt inspections or outgoing goods inspection.

With a proof-of-concept or a pilot project, you can test on a small scale how well the solution is suited to the requirements in your business.

As a summary of the proof-of-concept or the pilot project, you can see what works best for your operation. Based on these findings, you can plan the digitalisation of further processes in manufacturing.

Step 3: Digital manufacturing.  

In the next step, you can roll out the digital solution to further areas of application up to the entire production.

In this way, you can convert the entire production process, from inspection processes and assembly-related checks to work instructions, step-by-step to a paperless digital way of working.  

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