The Move from Paper to Smart Containers

September 27, 2017

For 40 years, paper has been a trusted flag in manufacturing, providing sequential work instructions for operators. This simple visual cue has been the core of a process which balances production and creates more efficient just-in-time inventory.


It may then be a surprise to many who work in the industry to find out that the static paper-based, systems that have been at the core of material flow management for decades are also the number-one cause of factory inefficiency today. With technology and customization trends expanding how do factories keep up?


The automotive industry, for example, is under intense pressure to deliver new or refreshed models with ever more options at an accelerated rate. The most critical factor to success in expanding market share is rapidly introducing new models that meet or exceed customer requirements and staying ahead of competitors with features. Designers are using technology to shorten their cycles dramatically, putting the pressure on manufacturing to keep up.


Despite the need to change, it’s easy to see why software or auto identification systems have been unsuccessful in replacing traditional paper: paper is simple, reliable, visual and familiar to the workforce. It can be used by both the basic laborer and high-end operators.


However, it is not flexible. Once the paper label is placed onto a container and launched into the process, its instructions or trajectory cannot be changed without a significant amount of human resources or costly manual work-around. It cannot be wireless tracked or communicated with robots or machines on the line.


A next-generation system ideally needs all these attributes while still retaining the simplicity and reliability of paper.


Enter the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and smart containers.


The Industrial Internet of Things has been a key driver to bring new interactive technologies to existing processes like material flow management. This demand for technology to make material ‘smart’ has resulted in an innovative combination of e-Paper, RF communication and simple business logic.


In most factories, the scheduling team meets in the mornings to determine the demand for the day and create the jobs and output for the day. The schedule is committed to hundreds of paper labels with instructions upon them and manually affixed to the racks of materials for the day – and the process begins. If something goes awry, new labels need to be reprinted and manually sent out onto the floor, resulting in process bottlenecks with no way to quickly re-route materials.


Instead, a wireless updated, e-paper or ‘View’ tag is placed on containers routing through the manufacturing process. Unlike paper, the screen can change instructions along the route to tell operators what to do with them next and where they should go if there are bottlenecks or other issues. These ‘smart’ containers also become immediately traceable in real-time. With e-paper replacing paper, View tags fit seamlessly into most existing process, with a multitude of additional benefits that paper simply cannot provide. This system is the first of its kind to provide paperless, wireless and interactive material flow management along with end-to-end process visibility.


This process control system also provides a complete two-way feedback communication loop – the tags tell the operators what to do with them, operators execute instructions and interact with the system for confirmation of action, such as a call for parts or changes to the ‘as built’ records with the simple push of a button. Machines can also interact via wireless communication with the material. All the actions are tracked and stored, enabling process tracking and analytics.


Every rack, item, container on the factory floor is tracked by its location, state and condition – which can be dynamically changed at any time to accommodate a work flow change.


Do you have a need to re-purpose some material for another part of the line or staging it to balance flow? No problem. Is your machine down and material needs to be re-routed to optimize output? Smart systems can take care of that, save paper and drive efficiency.


(2017). "From paper labels to smart containers". Retrieved from

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