A standard operating procedure (SOP) is formal, documented information that contains how to perform a task or an activity. In manufacturing, SOPs provide a structured and sequential guide to carry out routine and/or hazardous operations. They are often patterned after industry regulations and thus provide clarity and objectivity to any operation.
In general, SOPs are used to outline the necessary steps to execute a new process or specify (and communicate) adjustments to an already existing process.
Why do manufacturers need SOPs?
- It promotes consistency: By itemizing steps for workers to follow, SOPs guarantee the same standard of product quality across different production terminals and plants. The procedure; provided it is utilized, eliminates haphazardness in production and drastically reduces the likelihood of errors.
- It improves efficiency: SOPs essentially function as checklists and can help workers to save time during routine operations. Also, when faced with difficulties on a particular task, workers can easily refer to the procedures for direction and reduce unaccounted downtime. Field technicians and engineers too are empowered by SOPs to quickly resolve field issues, the right time, the first time.
- It boosts profit margins: The natural result of improved efficiency is an improvement in productivity. This in turn translates to an increase in profit as more products will be manufactured under a particular time frame and overhead cost. Furthermore, the first outlined effect of using SOP – a more consistent quality of products – reduces the incidence of product recalls and reworks. Limiting these costs allow manufacturers to focus on optimizing their processes and scaling, without adverse reputational damage.
- It promotes safety: For safe working procedures, SOPs may contain additional columns where safety information like hazards and barriers for each step are outlined. Consequently, workers will know what to expect during a task and can implement sound safety practices.
- It facilitates onboarding: SOPs can supplement training, making it easy for new workers to perform tasks to which they may not be adequately accustomed.
- It helps to generate (and monitor) compliance: During safety inspections, SOPs are a useful tool for supervisors to reconcile the ongoing work with the recommended safety standard. For workers, the procedure enumerates what is expected and gives them the requisite knowledge to remain compliant.
- It safeguards tribal knowledge: Internal process SOPs can be used to document tacit knowledge that beforehand, may have only existed in the minds of legacy (and soon to retire!) workers. This ensures continuity in production and eliminates a generational drop-off in quality.
- It serves an auditory and regulatory purpose: Audit inspectors will often cite SOPs – their frequency of updates and degree of implementation – to gauge a manufacturer’s quality culture. Well-ordered SOPs that are easily accessible and conform to industry regulations boost a manufacturer’s credibility and perception, and can be an indicator of whether or not a manufacturer ‘means business’.
- It is useful for accident investigation: In the event of an accident, the presence of SOPs can ‘prove to’ investigators that the accident was in fact, an accident, and not in any way a consequence of the factory’s poor safety culture. Also, they can be tendered as evidence during litigations to protect the factory from subsequent damage and liability.
- It fosters accountability: SOPs typically specify who should perform a comprising task and like checklists, may contain the names and signature of the stakeholder(s) involved. This ensures (to a good extent) that everyone works to the best of their ability; knowing fully well that they may be held accountable if things go wrong.
- It enables continuous improvement: SOPs can be used to measure and evaluate the performance of workers. And ‘as what can be measured, can be improved’, the procedure serves as a useful tool to remove inefficiencies and continue to grow.
In conclusion: A case for digitized SOPs
More and more factories, as part of their digital transformation process, are converting their paper-based documents, including SOPs, into a digitized format. Digitized SOPs are visually appealing and may contain video, audio, links to additional resources, and several other attachments that buttress the execution and safety aspects of the procedure. Also, they can more easily be updated and distributed across shop floors.
Additionally, digitized SOPs leave an easy-to-track audit trail and can be resiliently stored in a cloud platform, reducing the likelihood of damage or misplacement in the long term.
Maximl’s vision is to empower the industrial deskless workforce with digital technologies and increase productivity via seamless collaboration in the workplace. Our solutions improve operational efficiency, and safety and quality compliance to help clients turn opportunities into business value.
Maximl can rapidly digitalize last-mile workflows to:
- Transform paper-based documents into a step-by-step guide
- Embed safety into the daily work routine
- Streamline inter and intra-department workflows
- Integrate proactive risk reduction into operations
- provide real-time visibility into compliance