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Paperless Production: What Does That Look Like?


This article will discuss:

  • The paperless factory floor and what it looks like
  • The application of paperless production in the factory floor
  • The benefits of a digitalized production process and its role in the implementation of Industrie 4.0

The digitalization of factory processes supports a variety of productivity initiatives that includes the replacement of the reams of paperwork that help run many factory floors. Traditionally, paper has been used to store the historical records used for predictive analysis, demand forecasting, and developing production master plans within the factory floor. The use of paper, however, also comes with limitations such as storage space or its susceptibility over time to natural elements (fire, flood, damp, mold, etc.). Digitalization of the factory solves these challenges by providing a digital end-to-end solution for storing data and analyzing data.


Paperless production within the factory floor

To succeed in the competitive manufacturing and industrial sector, enterprises must integrate lean sustainable processes that ensure the assets within the factory floor are utilized to their optimal capabilities. Stakeholders and operators within the factory floor are also expected to work well together and on-time to ensure that schedules are adhered to and that production plans are accurately executed. Although the use of paper does not halt the production process, it limits it in many ways.

Examples of the limitations of working with paper include the resources that go into integrating data from multiple processes into a singular document, the challenges of sharing paper documents among multiple operators working on a project, and the unreliability of paper as a medium for storing information for extended periods of time. Thus, to ensure that the different, ongoing processes within a facility are synchronized and that everyone can gain access to relevant data when needed, a digitalized process is required.

Successfully going paperless requires extensive investment in digital technologies that have the ability to replace even the most mundane activities – for which many facilities still rely on paper. One example is the drawing of simple product sketches to explain specific details to operators. A paperless factory will rely on digital technologies such as a smart device for sketching design ideas and the IPC – DPMX standard for transferring the description data across the factory floor.

The use of digital technology to eliminate paperwork can also be extended to managing supply chain and logistics, inventory management, and capacity planning. Relying on extensive manufacturing execution systems (MES) ensures that each data set coming from the factory floor and its interrelated processes are captured and used to drive paperless production in the digitalization of the factory.

Application areas for paperless production

Inventory management, demand management, supply chain, and logistics planning are some of the major aspects of a production cycle that produce the most data. The aforementioned processes are all interrelated; occurrences within the supply chain affect inventory management, demand management, and the production process. Thus, relying on paper to capture the millions of data sets coming from these important, interrelated processes often leads to poor service levels and waste.

Digitalizing aspects of the production cycle that produce large data sets ensures that factory owners have constant access to both current and historical data when necessary. In an industrial sector in which perishable goods are produced and accurate demand forecasting is required to meet customer demand while eliminating waste, a reliable data storage system is needed. A good example is the food and beverage manufacturer that stores and maintains digital information. The company can analyze decade-old data sets to forecast Christmas demand using digital technology. Such activity ensures both the availability of inventory in the market and that production rates meet increased customer demand.

Capturing machine utilization data to enhance predictive maintenance initiatives are another example in which paperless production can lead to optimized machine use and reduced downtime. While paper may be used to record the throughput of a machine, reams of paper will be needed to record machine vibration, fluctuating temperatures, and the speed of a functioning machine. The recording process will also be cumbersome and prone to human error as the operator will have to constantly take readings by hand.

A paperless factory will integrate the use of digital technologies such as sensors to capture specific data sets and automatically stream them to a storage unit. This process eliminates human error and simplifies the task of analyzing the large data sets that individual items of equipment produce. Paperless production has also recorded huge wins such as the increase in tracing efficiency and accountability which are both crucial to enterprises that produce consumer goods.

Digitalization of the factory and Industrie 4.0

Deciding to go paperless kick-starts the journey to implementing Industrie 4.0 business models. Industrie 4.0 relies on interconnectivity and data transfer to deliver complete automation, and for this data transfer to occur paper must be eliminated.

Data flow across the factory floor may take place from machine-to-machine, machine-to-device, and human-to-machine. These data flows are expected to occur seamlessly – a process that paper cannot facilitate. Thus, every Industrie 4.0 initiative starts with digitalizing conventional data capture and storage processes. Once the digitalization of the factory is accomplished, data-driven business models can easily be planned and implemented across the paperless factory floor.



Paperless production and the digitalization of the factory is the future of industrial endeavor. With the elimination of paper, more advanced visualization tools will be required to view and interact with data as part of the digital transformation. Today, advanced web-based HMIs, display panels, and enterprise management systems exist to enable real-time interaction with factory-floor data. As this visualization and analytical tools continue to evolve and become more affordable, more and more enterprises will commit to the route of paperless production and digitalization of the factory floor.


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