Is Document Process Automation The Next Step In Lean?

June 30, 2005
Manufacturers are automating documents to improve processes in accounting, distribution and on the shop floor.

Paul Savage is director of Channel Sales, Formscape Software Ltd.

Lean manufacturing initiatives both on and off the shop floor have helped companies reduce costs and improve productivity. To build on gains achieved within lean manufacturing, companies are now looking at ways to use ERP software to automate the documentation process.

While documents remain integral to processes such as shipping, distribution, financial accounting and communication with the supply chain, currently ERP solutions treat these documents as exceptions. Manufacturers are now turning to Document Process Automation solutions to automatically input, share, store and deliver high-quality custom business documents across paper and electronic formats. Automation used in finance, shipping and distribution can provide self-service for improved supplier and customer satisfaction and also improve cash flow.

Improving Accuracy, Productivity And Branding For Financial Documents

By combining automated document processes with integrated enterprise-wide ERPs, manufacturers are creating straight through, automated order-to-invoice processes that streamline the entire financial operation. These solutions help manufacturers more easily comply with stringent customs regulations by including tariff codes, weights and measurements within invoices without the need for manual data entry.

Document Process Automation utilizes sophisticated document formatting capabilities that produce corporate branded documentation, such as orders, purchase requests, delivery notes and invoices and automatically deliver the documents via email, fax and over the Web. Inbound document imaging capabilities scan in documents, including materials certifications for online storage and instantly cross-linking them to information about a shipment within the ERP. Integrated storage and retrieval make all outbound and inbound documents instantly available on a self-service basis to enable employees or customers to instantly view documents to answer questions or resolve disputes.

Streamlining Shipping and Distribution Processes

Within the shipping and distribution processes, manufacturers use Document Process Automation solutions to create highly complex labels that meet FDA and international regulatory requirements as well as customize shipping documents that help speed and streamline distribution processes.

Labels, product documentation, and packaging for discrete manufacturers can be extremely complex. For example manufacturers of lifesaving medical devices need to produce products in a wide range of configurations, with a large amount of detailed documentation included in the shipment. In addition, to ensure proper implantation of the devices, very small and precise labels in multiple languages need to be included. The documentation must also address FDA and international regulations that require devices to ship with information regarding the source and details of its manufacture. Document Process Automation can create content that supports all of the design, language, and format requirements and simultaneously ensure consistent control and quality, regardless of system, printer or location.

Improving Shop Floor Processes

Document Process Automation can streamline processes on the shop floor itself through pre-sorted pick/pack lists, work order management and easier access to related documents.

For discrete manufacturers, Document Process Automation will sort items on work orders, pick lists, and part labels in the order that the actual parts appear in the stock room so workers can pick the order or put labels on parts without backtracking, thus improving efficiency of the work process.

Work orders are often accompanied by packets of related documents, such as certifications for raw materials, design documents and specifications. If manufacturing is distributed geographically or subcontractors perform portions of the manufacturing, it can be easy to lose the documentation or include the wrong documentation. Document Process Automation solutions can eliminate these problems by making copies of all necessary documents available online over the Web to authorized users.

Automating Documents to Improve Efficiency

Lean manufacturing is about streamlining every aspect of manufacturing operations, both on the shop floor and off. While manufacturing organizations have used ERP solutions to simplify many processes, documents have remained manual. With Document Process Automation, manufacturers are now automating documents to improve formerly manual document processes in accounting, distribution, and on the shop floor and thereby further enhance the efficiency of their overall operation.

Paul Savage is director of Channel Sales, Formscape Software Ltd.

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