When Digital Isn’t Paperless

digital_is_not_paperlessOne would have to travel back in time several decades to arrive at a point when manufacturing processes were all managed and tracked with manual- or paper-based processes. The earliest point I can remember when computers began to play a role was back when Apriso’s predecessor company, CIM Vision International accomplished that feat by connecting an AS400 to the shop floor. From that point on, the use of “digital” or “electronic” processes became a standard.

What is interesting, however, is the fact that paper still plays a role in so many transactions or processes. My theory is that this “clinging” on to paper is in part due to the familiarity of seeing and “touching” a piece of paper to make an approval is more “real” or gratifying, as well as the many regulatory and compliance-based initiatives that require signatures. It just feels more official when a stack of papers can be examined.

By now, however, most manufacturers realize that the days of using paper are now finally coming to an end. The challenge is how to make the transition. After all, it is not an easy feat to re-examine how you might have been doing a process for the past 50 years and try and change it!

One potential pitfall is thinking that simply converting paper documents into .PDF files is all that is needed to go paperless. This strategy is often referred to as “paper on glass,” which isn’t really paperless, even if no paper results at the end of the day. This is what I am referring to when I say that going digital isn’t necessarily paperless. Here is an announcement related to this topic, which ties into this type of thinking, as a way to redefine paperless manufacturing.

A real paperless strategy means no use of paper – ever. Start with the ordering and purchase processes, which must now be done from a computer ordering system by your suppliers / end users, and be received by your systems. Then, each step of your production process must be accomplished with machine-to-machine interaction. Approvals are then performed as part of a digital process whereby a digital interface offers managers the opportunity to perform the necessary inspection and review prior to a process being completed.

Obviously, a true paperless strategy relies heavily on the use of automation. But, it is more than just setting up processes to be performed on their own. The whole concept of how manufacturing operations are managed and continuously improved must also shift. Operations must now be managed on a more holistic basis at the process level. Only with this type of vision and strategy is it possible to fully embrace paperless as your manufacturing operations strategy.

Due to the highly integrated nature of today’s operations processes, it is critical that your paperless strategy has an accompanying IT system that can support the level of integration and process management necessary to complete this vision. Here is where a platform for manufacturing operations management can pay some serious dividends. With all transactions being processed, tracked and stored from within a single, data warehouse, the potential to go paperless just got a whole lot easier. A true paperless strategy is not only possible today, but is a viable option now being implemented, if not by you, then possibly by your competitors.

How far along are you with your paperless journey? I would be interested to hear your feedback, especially anyone that has really extracted paper from every process, which would certainly be worthy of some bragging rights!

Permanent link to this article: http://www.apriso.com/blog/2013/09/when-digital-isnt-paperless/


  1. All MES/WMS projects I have seen over last 14 years have included Paperless as part of the Project Business Case, but still there are many manufacturers who attempt to keep the legacy approach. In recent years, however, I have seen a significant change in the market. Economical perturbations have made impossible to remain competitive in low margin businesses, so they need to look for savings like these.

    We also see increased regulations (like traceability) that force even high margin businesses to rethink their processes and replace paper with software.

    Finally, as you wrote, companies increasingly realize how their impact on the environment affects their market reputation, so going green has become a greater factor.

    There are many arguments to go paperless. Yet, so many companies still do not know how to do it right. Our hope is to help educate and share the experience that going paperless may not be as hard as previously thought. What is key is to start your strategy now!

  2. Tadeusz, you bring up a great point. The same paper-intesive and error prone methods of manufacturing have been in operation far too long. The scope of waste that happens each year is tremendous.

    Auto-ID or “Visual Tagging” is a system that is transforming the manufacturing process in an economic and sustainable way. Wirelessly updated, the hardened e-paper screen eliminates label printing and placement costs – allowing most systems to be paid for in about 18 months from this direct cost reduction alone.

    In an environment where sustainability and green initiatives are everywhere, you should see that amount of paper used in a typical manufacturing plant in only a few hours – we’re talking human-sized stacks!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Time limit is exhausted. Please reload CAPTCHA.