Leveraging Microsoft SharePoint for Manufacturing

MI-data overloadRemember the days before computers were involved in almost everything that happened in the office. Wasn’t it a different world altogether?

Still Using Paper? It’s a communication format that has existed for centuries now, and it definitely has practical uses. However, with the digital revolution, more and more information is being stored in an electronic format that is much easier to share and modify. It’s also quicker. Can you imagine a company like UPS using paper for all of their transactions and messages between corporate offices? Probably not. Manufacturing facilities led the way for a few important technologies, like industrial-scale automation that was discussed in sci-fi novels just a few decades ago. The corporate business world can learn from manufacturers in terms of production, and vice versa. For example, many facilities still rely on paper for documentation and tracking, which is virtually non-existent in corporate settings. Manufacturers can benefit from the way businesses handle documentation and information sharing through collaboration platforms like SharePoint.

SharePoint is Tried and True

After two decades of IT innovations, you’ve probably heard more hype about how technology can help than what actually turned out to be true. Getting too close to the cutting edge has resulted in real wounds, but some technologies persist. One of those technologies is SharePoint, which is included as part of Windows Enterprise Server. SharePoint has become a cornerstone for businesses’ internal communication, collaboration, information and workflow. The time for the manufacturing industry to embrace SharePoint is now.  Not only does SharePoint offer workflow and information management  benefits, it will also support ISO 9001:2008 certification for your facility.

Better Control

SharePoint gives manufacturers more control to establish standardized workflow processes and maintain quality which ISO defines in 9 principles:

  1. Customer focus
  2. Leadership
  3. Involvement of people
  4. Process approach
  5. System approach to management
  6. Continual improvement
  7. Factual approach to decision making
  8. Mutually beneficial supplier relationships

The benefits of each principle might go beyond what your facility experiences with a new technology rollout, but using SharePoint will provide everyone with a consistent workflow platform for an improved ability to be on the same page, at the very least. Aligning knowledge and information provides quantifiable results for every aspect of your manufacturing and business cycle.

Automated Workflow

We know the proven benefits SharePoint offers manufacturers because we help create the SharePoint platforms manufacturers use. We converted a global food manufacturer to SharePoint to increase visibility and access to its critical safety, downtime, quality, and other operational data. The manufacturer had previously developed and implemented paper-based, comprehensive workflow processes for handling incidents related to producing of poor quality product, injury to plant personnel, safety violations, and equipment/line downtime events. The workflows were managed using paper-based documents that were updated and accessed by the various team members as incidents occurred, and included the following functionality:

  • Recording of the basic facts about the event
  • Notifying the relevant plant personnel of the event
  • Investigating and collecting further information about the event
  • Checking to see if the same type of event had occurred in the past
  • Informing higher level management of more severe events
  • Developing corrective actions to prevent the event from occurring again
  • Sign-off and approval of the corrective action
  • Follow up and verification that the corrective action was successfully performed

The existing paper-based system had several drawbacks. Only one person could work on the system at any given time which caused inefficiencies and frustrations. Like any other document based system, there was a chance that the master documents could be lost or misplaced. In addition, it was difficult and time consuming to organize and distribute the latest information to team members, and remote access for updates was not possible.

In another case at a major tire manufacturing plant, we used a dashboard approach for their document management that displayed all of the metadata from their documents in a spreadsheet view. Their entire database of documents became easily searchable and sortable. More importantly, there was more precise document tracking and accountability through user controls. The automated workflow enforced a two step document approval process which adhered to the standards set forth for ISO 9001:2008 certification.

SharePoint provided an opportunity to automate the workflows and allowed for multi-user and remote access, better visibility of the information, and improved security with user password protection and tracking. The new process consisted of an automated, web based system that was accessible from any computer within the manufacturing site, without requiring installation of software on each of the computers. In addition, the system integrated with the manufacturer’s existing SharePoint sites, was automatically backed up and relatively easy to modify as improvements to the workflows were determined.

Switching from a manual, paper-based system to an automated, SharePoint-based system for managing workflows, streamlined one manufacturer’s processes and provided an easier to use system with greater flexibility and functionality. The system also provided an infrastructure for expanding to additional workflows. The SharePoint system can be easily scaled to other manufacturing sites and corporate-wide visibility becomes possible, since all of the manufacturing sites have adopted the same automated workflows.

SharePoint Benefits

Use of Microsoft SharePoint continues to increase as it is adopted by more and more corporate IT departments for the purpose of providing a company-wide infrastructure for collaboration, information sharing, and content management. Manufacturers -small and large alike- are also learning how to leverage the value that this tool can provide, from sharing of contact lists and files, to streamlining their manufacturing processes. The beauty of SharePoint is that it almost completely removes paper from the equation. The new SharePoint based system we integrated provided additional benefits to the company, which:

  • Allows the manufacturer to leverage tools (SharePoint and InfoPath) that they already owned, were deployed and were being maintained. InfoPath was used for form data entry within SharePoint.
  • Forces standard procedures to be followed for every type of incident. This is inherent in automated workflows, where certain actions are required before advancing to the next step.
  • Provides checks to see if an incident is a repeat occurrence so that personnel can investigate why previous corrective actions did not solve the problem. The previous system required manual review of the paperwork from prior events in order to try to find any correlations. The SharePoint system provided this analysis based on rules set up to find the repeat offenders.
  • Provides search capability of the centrally stored information, i.e. search for fork truck related events during past three years.
  • Allows centralized storage of all documents associated with an event, such as pictures, reports, etc. in order to reduce the risk of lost files, and provide easier user access.
  • Allows centralized listing of all events and their current status so that the users have access to the latest information, in near real time. Users no longer have to contact the document “keeper” to check on status or why the workflow has not been completed. All users throughout the organization have access to the same information.
  • Provides automated emails to personnel when there is a task they are assigned to complete or an item requiring their approval. Email alerts are issued only to those required, as configured within SharePoint, so that users who do not need to receive alerts are not encumbered with processing information they do not need. The system also automatically sends informational alerts to appropriate personnel alerting them of certain steps in the process.
  • Provides traceability for all actions taken so that historical retrieval of which user entered the data or approved a certain task is easily available without having to dig through paper files.

If you would like to know more about what SharePoint could do for your operations, check out our SharePoint Case Study & Whitepaper: Share and Share Alike.