When I visit manufacturing companies around the UK, I see lots of traditional manufacturing travellers and work instructions causing problems in otherwise innovative and successful businesses.
So, in this article, I want to dig a bit deeper into travellers. Why are they used and what alternatives do manufacturing companies have?
What Are Manufacturing Travellers?
A traveller is a paper document pack that follows a product throughout the factory. It is used to record every manufacturing operation that has been completed. It is also used to record batch numbers, serial numbers and key numeric data from the manufacturing process. Recording this information is a critical step that must be completed in industries that require traceability of the processes and components used in the manufacturing process.
The traveller is basically a checklist of what needs to be done to get materials from Goods In, through the factory and dispatched to the customer. It is also a record of what has been completed in the factory.
Why Are Travellers Not Working?
Travellers are a great initial solution to the problem of instructing the shop floor what to build and how to build it. However, the main problem with paper-based travellers is that they cause lots of duplicated work. Each production operator must fill in details as they work. This is done by recording measurements, signing their name or using their stamp to mark operations as completed. As a result, someone is required to copy all the information from the paper forms and enter it into an IT system, eg. an excel spreadsheet, so that the information can be shared with customers. As well as wasting time by duplicating data entry, it also greatly increases the risk of mistakes occurring.
Travellers are also quite limited in the information they can give to operators for what they should be doing. They are just a checklist. So, when a complicated production operation needs to be completed, the traveller must reference another set of work instructions for the operator to find and use to assist with the build process. As a result, time is wasted referencing the correct documents. It also leads to lots of unnecessary paperwork on the factory floor.
Moving Beyond Travellers
Modern paperless manufacturing software can resolve all the problems associated with manufacturing travellers and also make efficiency improvements.
Paperless manufacturing software can make the process for production operators as simple as entering a works order. They can then be guided through visual work instructions step by step. Operators can also be prompted to capture component serial numbers for traceability, product measurements and perform quality inspections as they progress through the build process.
By taking operators through each step in this granular way, mistakes are reduced. Taking things a step further, if devices can also be used to capture product information like barcode scanners or smart tools, the capture of shop floor data can be extremely fast and accurate.
Staged gates are a key part of complex manufacturing processes. This means that the build of a product shouldn’t be allowed to progress unless all operations and inspections have been completed. This can be easily integrated into paperless manufacturing systems by adding logic into the system. This prevents production from continuing if critical steps are missed or do not meet a specification. It also prevents mistakes from progressing forward and reduces rework at the end of production lines.
Manufacturing travellers help establish good processes for tracking production processes. However, they can also be the source of inaccuracy and duplicated work. Using a paperless manufacturing system can increase accuracy, reduce duplicated work and increase production efficiency.