Analog vs. Digital Work Orders

    8/18/21 10:00 AM

    digital work order

    Let’s break it down

    I like to take big, complicated topics and break them down to their simplest form. This gives me the clarity to evaluate new ideas, propose changes, identify problems, and such. For example, this is how I explain what Visual South does: “We work with SMB manufacturers to help them become the best company they can be. The tools we use to do that are ERP, consulting, and change management (usually involving processes and procedures).”

    If someone said we should sell office supplies to our customer base because we already have a relationship with them, I’d say, “no” because that’s not anything close to what we currently do. I can say that because I understand Visual South’s purpose for existing in simple terms.

    Now, let’s apply that philosophy to an SMB manufacturer. Why does it exist? What is the purpose that unites all the employees? I would argue the answer to both questions is this: To make a product. That’s why the company exists. All job functions in the organization eventually tie back to that answer.

    If an ERP system is going to help a company be the best it can be, the ERP must be aligned with the reason the company exists. Since the company exists to make a product, the ERP must understand how a company does that. When a company properly expresses how it makes a product in the ERP, that information flows through the rest of the ERP:

    • Material needs for all work (job) orders are consolidated and receipts are scheduled.
    • Capacity is consumed, and the shop floor is scheduled.
    • Material or capacity shortages are identified early on.
    • Accurate promise dates are given to customers at order entry.
    • Estimated costs of work orders are known upfront.

    I could go on, but I think these examples make my point.

    The key to all this efficiency is making sure the ERP understands how the product is made. I see many companies make mistakes at this point, so the information doesn’t flow through the ERP properly and the system’s usefulness becomes limited.

    Related: Work Order Management Process from Creation to Closing

    What is an analog work order?

    A telltale sign of information not flowing properly in an ERP is what I call an “analog work order.” Constructing a work order in an analog way means putting words on a piece of paper, an employee reads those words, and the employee performs the task at hand. An analog work order does not necessarily mean the employee is going to do the task wrong. It does not mean the product being made isn’t the best it can be. It just means the company forgot that the audience for the work order isn’t just the employee, it’s also the ERP system.

    The ERP system has work order functionality and methods to tell it what steps need to be taken in what order, how long each step will take, what raw materials are needed, how much of each material is needed, and where the materials are needed. I have seen part, or all, of this information put in a note field in a work order. An employee can read it, but the ERP system can’t do anything with that information. The other problems I’ve seen with this analog approach is that routing steps can be missing on the work order or are skipped. I haven’t seen everything, but I’ve seen a lot.

    What is a digital work order?

    A “digital work order” is constructed within the parameters of the ERP’s functionality. Therefore, the ERP produces a work order document that communicates to both the employee and the ERP system. The data flows through the ERP properly, making the system much more useful (providing those downstream users are properly trained on how to use that information).

    How to turn analog work orders into digital work orders

    There is no generic answer on how to do this; but there is a generic first step. Have an ERP expert analyze the current state of your work orders, and train the staff on the correct way to express how you do what you do to the ERP. The amount of effort needed to fix your analog work orders depends on the existing problems. We’ve worked with companies who needed to completely redo their structure, as well as with companies that just needed minor tweaks to produce substantial improvements.

    The good news is it can be done. Once you improve your work orders and turn them digital, the list of useful features in your ERP grows. If you need a hand getting there, we can help.

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    Jack Shannon

    Written by Jack Shannon

    Jack is the President of Visual South and has been working with the product since 1996 when he bought it in his role as a Plant Manager. Since 1998 he has worked for Visual South with roles in consulting, sales and executive management.