Are Your SOPs Slowing Down Your Digital Transformation?

by Jason Bullard, on Nov 1, 2023 12:06:53 PM

Manufacturing operator viewing paper based instructions

Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) are an integral piece of the operational puzzle in any manufacturing environment. They provide the step-by-step procedural guidance and support that enables operators to do their job. When it comes time to plan and execute a digital transformation, however, SOPs can loom even larger. For some manufacturers, it is a frustrating irony to discover that outdated or inflexible SOPs are simultaneously one of the symptoms highlighting the need for a digital transformation and one of the issues that can make that transformation difficult to accomplish.

The intersection of SOPs and digital transformations is an important and all-too-often neglected feature that can complicate or delay a needed upgrade in a manufacturer’s technical capabilities. Understanding the limitations and challenges of traditional SOPs and how modernizing SOPs can accelerate and optimize your digital transformation should be a priority for manufacturing decision makers.

Traditional SOP challenges

Whether they are paper-based work instructions or some form of quasi-digital document management or display system that is not connected to a central system, traditional SOPs come with significant limitations that manifest as operational inefficiencies. Traditional SOPs are typically not as detailed as they could or should be and are often generic, failing to reflect important nuances between different models or builds. They are almost always challenging to keep updated and may require substantial investment in personnel or resources to do so. And because they lack the display flexibility and multimedia functionality of the best modern connected digital solutions, complex schematics and processes can be difficult to convey and operators may struggle to learn and execute certain tasks. All of which leads to slower and less efficient production, more mistakes and quality issues, higher costs, and potentially higher levels of operator discontent. They can even impede agility and innovation. Manufacturers with outdated and/or unclear SOPs may find that their much-needed digital transformation is a costlier or more complex proposition.

Benefits of modernizing SOPs for digital transformation of the manufacturing floor

The good news is that updating your SOPs can not only facilitate your digital transformation, but will carry over into the new system in a way that confers greater clarity and efficiency. For example, a company with an intimate and intricate understanding of its processes, with SOPs completely up to date, will find that they are easily able to create a digital twin of their SOPs with Epicor’s Connected Process Control solution. The better your SOP documentation, the more you will be able to accelerate your digital transformation and enjoy the myriad benefits that come with that leap forward.

Instead of paper-based or disconnected static SOPs, digital SOPs offer:

  • Greatly enhanced accessibility and convenience. They can be accessed from virtually any location: not just the shop floor, but remotely in the field.
  • Remote collaboration for development. Digital SOPs can easily be shared, edited, and approved by multiple parties.
  • Real-time updates reduce the risk of outdated information being used in production.
  • Greater consistency and standardized process control for builds.
  • The ability to embed quick links and other pertinent information such as safety guidelines and PPE, helpful drawings, etc.
  • Multimedia integration to accelerate understanding (e.g., GIFs, videos).
  • Notifications and alerts, including automatic notifications for deviations or critical issues. Alerts can be configured to go out whenever changes are deployed or when procedural missteps have been made.
  • Significant cost savings. Simply going paperless and eliminating the time required to manually update binders at the station level has a massive benefit in time and cost savings.
  • Compliance and auditing functionality makes it dramatically easier to track and maintain records.
  • Sophisticated data analytics. Integrating SOPs with analytics can help provide a deeper understanding of how well procedures are being followed, identify trends in efficiency and operator performance, and allow manufacturers to continuously refine and improve processes over time.

The bottom line is that digitizing SOPs in manufacturing enhances efficiency, accuracy, and compliance while reducing costs and even the environmental impact associated with traditional paper-based systems. For manufacturers looking to invest in their own digital transformation, detailing and auditing their existing SOPs is a valuable first step in a process that is crucial for modernizing manufacturing operations in the era of Industry 4.0.

Topics:OpinionLean ManufacturingDigital Work InstructionsConnected Process Control

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