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Paperless Factory

The new Daimler factory is using only digital communications, no more paper. Image credit: Daimler

It is probably more than 20 years that I have been hearing about the paperless office. At the turn of the century I was still working in a research centre of a Telecom Operator and there was a general agreement that paper was about to disappear. What I saw what that we produced more and more paper (the availability of personal desktop printer surely helped…). That was not just in the labs. Every office I happened to be in was overwhelmed with paper.

Pro-capita paper consumption in the 6 continent, shown as “footprint”. Image credit: EPN

In fact, the global paper production between 2007 and 2017 increased from 393 million tons (worldwide) to 419 (you may say the increase is not big, but for sure it is not a decrease!). Of this 26% is being used for printing (and writing) documents. Books and newspapers account for just 7% of the total. The lion’s share is taken by wrapping and packaging with 55%.

The shift to digital data should have killed most of that 26% but that really did not happened so far.

Hence I found intriguing the news of a fully paperless factory built by Daimler. I got the news during a meeting that was attended by Daimler engineers and I followed up on the web.

The paper-less approach is being extended to all Mercedes-Benz plant. The C-class assembly plant in East London is saving 4 million sheets of documentation papers every year, with blue collars following specification on tablets and computer screens, in the Dusseldorf plant 600 industrial panels PC have replaced papers in the whole assembly line saving seven million sheets of paper, an estimate reduction in CO2 of 40 tons. All Mercedes Benz retailers in Portugal have no longer printed invoices when selling a car, an estimated save of one million sheets of paper over the last five years.

Interestingly, the engineers I spoke with at the meeting told me that the most difficult part in getting completely rid of papers in their new plant was not the shift to digital information inside the company or in the interaction with the supply and delivery chain but convincing the regional authorities to accept digital records in all administrative activities.

I guess it will take probably ten more years before seeing most of paper disappear from the office but at least we now have proof that it can be done.

About Roberto Saracco

Roberto Saracco fell in love with technology and its implications long time ago. His background is in math and computer science. Until April 2017 he led the EIT Digital Italian Node and then was head of the Industrial Doctoral School of EIT Digital up to September 2018. Previously, up to December 2011 he was the Director of the Telecom Italia Future Centre in Venice, looking at the interplay of technology evolution, economics and society. At the turn of the century he led a World Bank-Infodev project to stimulate entrepreneurship in Latin America. He is a senior member of IEEE where he leads the Industry Advisory Board within the Future Directions Committee and co-chairs the Digital Reality Initiative. He teaches a Master course on Technology Forecasting and Market impact at the University of Trento. He has published over 100 papers in journals and magazines and 14 books.