Beamex explains the compelling reasons for switching from a paper-based calibration system to a paperless alternative. In addition to the significant amount of paper saved, there are also important business benefits of going paperless

Paper is part of our everyday lives – whether in the workplace or at home, and global consumption of paper has grown 400% in the last 40 years. In manufacturing, consumption is far higher than it needs to be, especially given that there are technologies, software and electronic devices readily available which render the use of paper in the workplace unnecessary. Aside from the ecological benefits, there are also business benefits in minimising paper use.

Take the calibration of plant instrumentation devices such as temperature sensors, weighing instruments and pressure transducers. Many companies still use paper-based calibration systems, and are missing out on the benefits of a paperless calibration system.

With paper-based calibration, a maintenance or service engineer, whilst out in the field, will typically use a pen and paper to record instrument calibration results. On returning to the office, these notes are then tidied up and/or transferred to another paper document, after which they are archived.

While this type of system requires little or no investment in new technology or IT, it is very labour-intensive and means that historical trend analysis of calibration results is difficult. In addition, accessing calibration data quickly is not easy. Paper systems are time consuming and manual (typing) errors are commonplace. Dual effort and the re-keying of calibration data into multiple databases can draw on resources and is costly. Manual errors or manually modified results can also compromise the integrity of data. Illegible handwritten notes are also a problem, and can lead to transcription errors which can take months to identify and rectify.

Companies using paper-based calibration systems are also generating hundreds of thousands of paper calibration certificates each year. The alternative is to use software-based calibration management systems from companies like Beamex. This will help reduce paper consumption, whilst also improving quality, workflow and making other cost savings.

There are also practical reasons to go paperless. Often, in industrial environments, it is not practical to store or carry lots of paperwork. Furthermore, important paper records could potentially be lost or damaged in an accident or fire. So why would these companies generate and store separate paper copies of documentation, when such records can all be combined into a single electronic record?

With paper-based systems, paper records that need approval have to be routed to several individuals, which is time-consuming. With paperless systems, workflow improves, so there is less waiting time, as those individuals who need to sign off records or calibration documents can share or access electronic records simultaneously from a central database. The cost and time associated with printing copies of paper documents is also eliminated, as well as the cost of filing and storing.

Electronic records enable easier analysis of data, and historical trending becomes easier, faster and more reliable. Calibration intervals can also be optimised, as those instruments that are performing better than expected could have their calibration frequency reduced. In addition, costly downtime due to unforeseen instrument failures will also be reduced.

When using software-based systems, the whole calibration process – from initial recording of calibration data through to historical trend analysis – will take less time, whilst mistakes and manual errors will be virtually eliminated. Greater confidence in calibration data leads to a better understanding and analysis of business performance and KPIs (particularly if the calibration software is integrated with other business IT systems such as a CMMS).

Of course, in reality, many companies are neither completely paperless nor rely solely on paper-based systems – the process is sometimes a hybrid of the two. A key part of paperless calibration records is the capture of data at point of work, often in difficult industrial environments that would make the use of portable office computers impractical, and the manual entry of calibration results into portable industrial computers fraught with error. One way to overcome such errors is to use portable documenting calibrators for measurement and to provide intelligent, technician friendly interfaces on industrialised PDA or tablet based hardware when manual data entry cannot be avoided. The data stored on multifunction calibrators can be uploaded to calibration management software for safe storage and asset management.These electronic records can also be used for works orders, business management systems, data historians, and for control systems.

Paperless systems also need validating in the user’s own environment. Here, Beamex provides validation, education and training services for customers.