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Converting to the paperless factory.

Converting to the paperless factory New systems for electronic shop documentation offer dramatic benefits, and add an important dimension to computer-integrated manufacturing.

If anything clogs progress in our shops and factories, it's paperwork. Process sheets, tool lists, part drawings, gaging instructions--these and dozens of other paper documents accompany and often retard every job going through.

Problem is, paper documents get lost and damaged. In many cases, they're late arriving at workstations where they're needed. And it seems that the minute a document is released, it's obsolete.

Now an emerging technology promises not only to bring relief, but also to provide new, extra benefits as well. Called electronic shop documentation (ESD), it's a type of computer-based system that replaces paper documents with electronic ones. By doing this, ESL speeds and simplifies management of shop data, perpetuates experts' knowledge, and provides other important benefits.

About a dozen different brands of ESD systems are available. They differ in features and capabilities, but generally speaking, each consists of local-area network, one or more computers for document development and data input, operators' terminals, and software. In recent months, a number of ESD systems have been expanded so that operators not only receive documents but also upload data manually or automatically.

Many ESD systems are expansions of DNC networks. In these systems, the computers, cables, and file servers are the same as those that handle NC-program traffic.

Within the past few years, several developers have brought out systems that operate independently of DNC. Cimlinc's ID is one; others include IBM's Shop Assist, EDMS from Unisys Corp, and various products from DocuGraphix Inc.

Connected along one leg of a typical H-shaped ESD network are various managers, engineers, and programmers who create, store, edit, update, and transmit documents. Along with NC programs and tape images, these may include graphics and graphics/text combinations such as part drawings, done in CAD or scanned from hardcopy; tool drawings, perhaps including preset data; drawings and instructions for jigs and fixtures; and assembly drawings and instructions.

Other documents that can be handled on an ESD system are travelers or job tickets, move tickets, process plans of various kinds, tool lists, machine or station setup instructions, and test or inspection procedures. In fact, virtually any kind of paper document used in a manufacturing enterprise can be replicated or adapted for the electronic medium.

On the other leg of an H-shaped network are operating personnel who use downloaded information. Since ESD sprang from DNC, early systems focused on information for machinists: tool lists, fixture setup instructions, and the like. ESD systems have been expanding, though, to convey information to people who perform other metalworking processes, including sheet-metal fabrication, stamping, and welding.

Further, these systems can be used by shop personnel who perform processes other than metalworking. Documents of many diverse types are being transmitted electronically to testers, inspectors, assemblers, finishers, packers, material-handlers, and others.

How it works

Methods for using ESD systems vary somewhat from one brand to another, but generally speaking, here's how it works:

A manager, engineer, or other originator prepares a document--say for example, a machining process sheet--on his or her computer. A document's format may be dictated by software constraints, or drawn graphically to replicate a familiar paper document.

The originator fills in or updates the document with current data, and assigns it a permanent label. In most cases, this is a job number, job name, or batch number. The originator then files the document.

When a machine operator is about to start work on a job, he goes to his ESD terminal and calls for current information about the job. This action brings up a menu that shows all electronic documents stored anywhere on the network under that particular job number.

Selecting from the menu, the operator presses one or two keys to bring up the machining process plan. This likely contains graphics as well as text instructions. In advanced ESD systems, an operator makes use of split screens or windows to scroll through files, and to view different drawings and text blocks simultaneously.

After the operator has completed the machining job and no longer needs a document, he presses a few keys to return it to its file storage location on the network. File originators are continuously updating graphics and text, so operators always have access to the latest versions.

In some cases, ESD systems are configured so shop personnel can upload data, either manually or automatically. Data entry is made manually by keyboard or keypad, barcode wand, OCR wand, magnetic-stripe scanner, electronic gage, or manual CMM. Also, data may be uploaded automatically from machine or cell controllers, counters, sensors of various kinds, and automated gages and CMMs.

Potential users of uploaded data include managers and engineers concerned with production control, tool wear, quality assurance, machine usage, station productivity, or machine maintenance. Further, data relating to labor time and material consumption may be fed to managers of payroll, job-costing, billing, inventory control, purchasing, and MRP or MRP II.

Major benefits

According to users as well as suppliers, ESD systems offer important benefits, particularly in companies that traditionally have required many paper forms and handbooks. High on the list of benefits is the fact that with ESD, operators receive only the latest instructions and drawings. Data are organized for ready reference, and documents can't easily be lost or damaged.

Moreover, entering and changing data in ESD documents is faster than on paper, saving time in offices as well as shops. Operators needn't wait for setup sheets, tool lists, etc, to be delivered to their machines.

In addition, data are easily shared by personnel in widely diverse functions, from product engineering to billing. Time and costs of duplicating and transferring data are minimized, as are chances for errors.

In systems with data uploading capabilities, reporting is more simple, accurate, complete, and consistent than in manual, paper-based systems. Here again, possibilities for mistakes and incompleteness are minimized.

With benefits such as these being reported, you'll find it worthwhile to at least give ESD a look.
COPYRIGHT 1989 Nelson Publishing
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1989 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:electronic shop documentation; includes related articles
Author:Quinlan, Joseph C.
Publication:Tooling & Production
Date:Jul 1, 1989
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