WIP tracking can help manufacturers improve their daily operations by combating inventory loss and reprocessing while improving process efficiencies. While these basic benefits are afforded regardless of whether a solution is manual or automated, manual WIP tracking does have its limitations. Automated WIP tracking stands to address those limitations with advanced technology.
What is WIP Tracking?
To understand what WIP tracking is, one must first understand what WIP itself is. WIP stands for “Work in Process,” defined as inventory or material that has entered the production process but is not yet a completed product. WIP tracking is the process of maintaining records of not only the WIP’s location but also what production steps it has gone through and which steps it needs to go through next, as well as the time it takes for each step to be completed. The primary benefits of WIP tracking include:
Reduction of lost or wasted inventory.
Tracking WIP allows workers to remain informed of where WIP is being stored between stages of the production process. In doing so, WIP is less likely to be misplaced or accidentally thrown away.
Reduction of accidental reprocessing.
Reprocessing occurs when WIP enters the same stage of production more than once. In the best-case scenario, this simply means that processing materials are used where they are not needed. In the worst-case scenario, reprocessing can destroy an incomplete product. WIP tracking helps maintain a record of which production stages have been completed.
Increased process efficiency.
By tracking WIP through the stages of production, operators are provided insight into how long those stages take and where bottlenecks occur. This knowledge can inform managers to make operational decisions to improve overall process efficiency.
Manual WIP Tracking (and Where it Fails)
Historically, manual WIP tracking has been the only option for WIP tracking and, therefore, the best option. After all, for the reasons above, it’s always better to have some form of WIP tracking rather than none.
Manual WIP tracking usually consists of placing paper forms with WIP products filled out at each stage of production to indicate when each stage has been completed. Then, the product is transferred to a predetermined location to await the next stage. With the advancement of technology, some manufacturing facilities have also started to use digital spreadsheets, forms, and databases. Although this solution includes technology and provides a centralized system anyone can refer to at any point in the process, it still requires manual input. Thus, it is still considered manual WIP tracking, if only in a more advanced form. And manual WIP tracking has its inherent limitations. Some of those limitations include:
Manual WIP tracking relies on employees' ability to reliably and accurately complete tracking forms for each product that crosses their production stage. Humans are fallible, which means forms can easily be filled out incorrectly or overlooked in haste to meet daily quotas. In terms of digitized manual tracking, there’s also a reasonable concern about the number of hands in the pot. If everyone has access to the database, it’s easier for records to be accidentally messed up while reviewing information or manually duplicated when an entry is overlooked.
Time-Consuming Reporting and Data Analysis
As discussed previously, one of the key benefits of WIP tracking is the ability to use the information provided to increase process efficiency by establishing the time it takes to complete a production stage and allowing for the identification of bottlenecks. However, this information can only be analyzed and presented after the fact, as it takes time to compile the data into a readable format that provides any notable insight into the company's operations. Even once this information is compiled and analyzed, it is historical data, which means issues can only be addressed after they have passed rather than as they occur. While this might allow operators to prepare for the future, it does little to reduce the stress of the present.
Limited Location Tracking
While manual WIP tracking can provide a sense of where a product has been and where it’s supposed to go next, it does not operate in a way to fully account for misplaced products. It can only provide suggestions on where an item has been and should have gone, and in the case of pen-and-paper tracking, even that ability is limited if the forms are misplaced along with the product. Certainly, this can still reduce misplaced items, as it promotes a streamlined process. Still, in the evitable case WIP is misplaced or forgotten about, the ability of manual tracking to inform employees of the product’s exact location is woefully missing. As with the issue of reporting, manual WIP tracking focuses on historical data, which is often unhelpful in the present.
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Automated WIP Tracking: A Better Solution
Although manual WIP tracking was once the only option – and thus, the best option – that is not the case anymore. As technology advances and requires less human input, automated tracking becomes viable and almost commonplace. Even so, WIP tracking is often overlooked as one of the most productive applications of asset tracking technology. Not only does it provide the basic benefits of WIP tracking, but it also addresses the shortcomings of manual tracking through the strategic application of automated technologies.
Combating Human Error Through Automation
Addressing margins of human error is easily one of the most compelling arguments for investing in automated WIP tracking. All systems will require human input, but as long as an automated WIP tracking system is set up correctly and updates are conducted in a timely fashion, the chance for human error is relatively low. Rather than relying on humans to properly report where a product has been and where it has yet to go, these systems create a record automatically. Automatic reporting has the additional benefit of saving workers time from completing tedious forms, so they might increase overall productivity.
Quick Reporting and Data Analysis Through AI Integration
Another benefit of automated WIP tracking is that select reporting and data analysis can be conducted in real-time. This real-time access is enabled through artificial intelligence, which synthesizes data into an easily understood format and can sometimes make recommendations based on that data. Unlike manual WIP tracking, this function allows for immediate response to operational challenges rather than restricting actionable data to being used after the fact as a preventative measure for future repeats of an issue. Instead, automated WIP tracking allows for real-time response. The quick reporting feature also aids in providing compliance documentation as it is requested, when it is requested, saving operators from the time it takes to compile them manually.
Advanced Location Tracking Through RTLS
Manual WIP tracking might not be able to locate misplaced products, but real-time location data is one of the biggest advantages of automated WIP tracking. RTLS allows operators to retain complete visibility of WIP not only within the production process but when it exits the process unexpectedly. In doing so, misplaced products can be located easily, preventing time-consuming searches or money-consuming replacements. It provides a location solution that allows operators to address challenges related to misplaced or lost WIP in real-time rather than simply informing processes in the future while cutting losses in the present.
Real-Time Asset Tracking for Work in Process
Does your manufacturing company have a WIP tracking system in place? Are you ready to reap the benefits of updating to an automated system? Link Labs’ AirFinder OnSite solution provides real-time visibility and reporting for WIP without breaking the bank. Book a demo today to learn how our scalable solution can work for you and your WIP tracking needs.