Research & Best Practices

The Importance of Manufacturing Plant Documentation


Plant documentation has long been a requirement for manufacturers, not only from a regulatory and compliance standpoint but also to support consistency, continuity and quality in operations and processes. Manufacturing documentation has only grown in importance as technology implementations have become more prevalent, intricate and complex. Documentation is a key component in being able to make sense of the vast wealth of performance and condition data now available, and it helps to put this information in context with the more traditional — yet still critical — as-built documentation.

Read on to learn more about manufacturing process documentation and what goes into a successful, effective documentation strategy.

What is process documentation

Process documentation includes four primary stages, which should be completed leading up to the commissioning of the facility or the piece of equipment. These stages are:

  • Compile existing data and information.
  • Create initial documentation based on raw data.
  • Perform function testing and compile results and data in manufacturing documentation.
  • Create “final” documentation as part of the commissioning process.

The word “final” is in quotation marks because manufacturing documentation remains living documentation, and should be updated to reflect maintenance and process developments. By following these steps, the facility can help ensure maximum efficiency and compliance with regulations and requirements.

Plant documentation & Industry 4.0

With the advent of industrial technology solutions as part of Industry 4.0, plant documentation is taking on new forms and increased importance beyond its already significant place in operations. The primary change lies in the collection, storage and delivery methods of documentation, all of which are now largely accomplished digitally. This means that when, for example, a maintenance event or repair occurs, or when a preventive maintenance checklist is used, the details are entered into an interface (usually a tablet) and stored in a documentation system, where the information can be quickly retrieved when needed.

Documentation can also integrate equipment performance data and metrics collected by industrial sensors to provide a historical view of equipment productivity and machine health monitoring, helping to contribute to more efficient plant maintenance and more targeted diagnostics and repairs.

Benefits and use cases of plant documentation

Benefits of ongoing documentation processes include:

  • Improved maintenance: Ongoing documentation that incorporates data from sensors and metrics from analytics systems can help to improve and streamline maintenance, supporting strategies like predictive maintenance that can significantly reduce overall operating costs, increase uptime and improve productivity. With ongoing documentation, technicians can see the entire history of the machine at a glance, from the most recent repair to the overall performance of the equipment over a given period of time. All of this information helps to address issues and get equipment back up and running more quickly.
  • Compliance: Many industries, such as pharmaceutical, medical and government contracts, have strict and rigorous documentation requirements in order to ensure compliance with quality standards and other requirements. With a modern documentation process supported by digital tools, manufacturers can make sure that documentation is up to date and readily available whenever it may be required. Today’s documentation tools offer easy generation of reports and other compliance information that can be easily furnished to anyone requesting it.
  • Operational optimization: With documentation available at technicians’ fingertips, they can more easily reference optimal specifications, operating procedures and any information that may help to fine-tune and optimize production and operations. When documentation is out-of-date or difficult to locate, it is unlikely to be continually updated or referenced. Digital tools help to make the process second nature as part of maintenance and other procedures.
  • Revenue optimization: Process documentation can also help technicians, managers and others to ensure that areas throughout the facility are operating as efficiently as possible, including production, inventory, maintenance and more. By implementing a comprehensive digital documentation process, manufacturers can see benefits to the bottom line as problems are solved more quickly and performance and quality improve.

Other use cases of plant documentation include:

  • ESG: ESG (environmental, social and governance) is an increasing concern for manufacturers, as the compliance needs associated with this area are increasing, and investors, employees and customers alike are showing increased interest in a company’s ESG efforts. Documentation can help to show the tangible results of an ESG program and can provide the right information when regulatory bodies are involved.
  • Environmental reporting: Environmental efforts are a key concern for manufacturers in particular, and the need for regulatory compliance in this area is only likely to grow in coming years. A strong documentation practice is the most effective way to ensure compliance with any regulations that may arise.

Project-related documentation

Facilities may undergo large-scale changes or contract-based projects that require supplemental documentation in addition to standard operational reporting. An example is a facility undergoing a retrofit or expansion. In these scenarios, digital documentation is critical, as time is of the essence when every extra hour spent tracking down documentation means additional costs. A robust digital documentation process also helps to ensure that knowledge is preserved and readily accessible once the project concludes.

With this understanding of plant documentation, it is clear why these processes and tools are important for compliance needs, and how they can help the facility operate more efficiently.

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