How Digitization Enables Safe, Connected Operations in Manufacturing


The global business disruption caused by COVID-19 has exposed weaknesses in manufacturing, such as conducting audits remotely or adapting to supply chain instability, as well as production pains caused by paper. Altogether, the pandemic created a sense of urgency around accelerating efforts to digitally connect areas of operations that are still offline/disconnected.

According to a McKinsey survey of global executives, the pandemic has accelerated the digitization of customer and supply chain interactions and of internal operations by three to four years.1

As manufacturers continue to work through COVID-19 challenges and beyond, they must focus on ensuring workforce safety and productivity on the shop floor while enabling a connected, productive workforce that may be partly remote – and need to do so in ways that keep employees safe.

A recent webinar with MasterControl SVP of Strategic Growth Brian Curran and Product Manager Katie Farley discussed some production challenges revealed by COVID-19, and reasons to digitize.

Pains of Paper Production Processes

Among the pain points that COVID-19 has exposed in manufacturing is the persistent presence of paper processes, which require hand-offs and close proximity for witness/verifications – a problem when workers are social-distancing.

Paper processes are also cumbersome, inefficient, and prone to error, which is especially problematic in fast-changing environments, such as in a global health crisis, where scaling and accelerating production is critical, according to Curran.

Curran and Farley discussed common paper-based production limitations for manufacturers:

  • Template pains – Time-consuming challenges in building master templates and managing change control, including maintaining consistency across templates.
  • QA review pains – Reviewing and releasing a product can take days or weeks. Issues often go unnoticed on paper until after production, delaying review and resolution processes.
  • Organization pains – Human error, such as incorrect data entries, can lead to more serious issues, like warning letters, product recalls, and unnecessary deviations.

The result of these paper-based pains is a slower, more error-prone production process that hinders manufacturers’ ability to efficiently get product to market.

Remote Access to Data and Reporting

Seemingly overnight, there were so many people working remotely and having to adjust to new circumstances, Farley noted. The pandemic has highlighted the need for digitization that allows workers to perform their jobs from anywhere. Moving forward, virtual teams will continue to be a reality. While engineering and manufacturing have to be on the shop floor, other personnel in certain roles (remote operational support roles) can work from anywhere – if a digital system is set up to enable that work.

With digital tools that provide remote access to data and reporting, manufacturers gain digitized connectivity that addresses the pains of paper production processes through greater visibility and collaboration.

Digitization enables connected operations in ways that paper-based processes simply can’t.

Benefits of a Connected, Digitized Shop Floor

Curran and Farley highlighted the following outcomes of a connected, paperless shop floor:

  • Streamline master template management – Create a master template in a digital system, enabling collaboration and approval in the system. Leverage global elements and the product family tool for efficiency and flexibility in managing templates and product variations.
  • Improve data integrity – Eliminate human error with automatic data integrity checks, and correct data entry errors in real time during the manufacturing process. Improved data integrity means greater right-first-time metrics, shorter reviews, and higher product quality.
  • Reduce deviations and paper chasing – Integrate the recording, assessment, and approval of planned or unplanned deviations throughout the manufacturing process. Reduce the total number of deviations, and avoid “chasing the folders” at the end of the production run.
  • Gain visibility and traceability – With a digital system, connect production with other core systems, such as enterprise resource planning (ERP), to automate cross-system data exchange, increase data accuracy, and gain a holistic view of data.

“What all of these benefits result in is that people have more time to be applied in more efficient and beneficial ways,” Farley said. “The quality group is able to focus on improving the quality of the product and the processes in the organization – not necessarily just chasing folders or tracking down people to correct signatures. That’s really the idea here, is to open up time for people to do things of value.”


While many quality and production challenges existed before COVID-19 struck, they were revealed and even exacerbated by the pandemic. Manufacturing companies that had already gone digital with a solution like MasterControl Manufacturing Excellence were well positioned to maintain business continuity through the crisis and even unlock significant value.

Watch the complete webinar below for real-world customer examples, as well as more on connected data, continuous improvement, analytics, and more:


  1. How COVID-19 has pushed companies over the technology tipping point—and transformed business forever,” Laura LaBerge, Clayton O’Toole, Jeremy Schneider and Kate Smaje, McKinsey & Company, October 2020.


David Butcher has covered business and technology trends in life sciences and industrial manufacturing for more than 15 years. Currently a content marketing specialist at MasterControl, he previously served as editor of Thomas Publishing’s Industry Market Trends and as assistant editor for Technology Marketing Corp.’s Customer Interaction Solutions. He holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the State University of New York, Purchase.

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