Digital Paper makes software that is starting to replace all of these readers and cards. John Alexander, supervisor of engineering services at Grove Worldwide in Shady Grove, Pa., has been using it since August.
"We make mobile hydraulic cranes," Alexander says. "Each crane required thousands of aperture cards. We were generating about 3,500 new cards a month."
These cards had to be copied and distributed to several facilities and old cards had to be updated constantly. "Every aspect of the business depends on having a current set of cards," Alexander says. It was a manual process, he explains, and the opportunities for error were high.
So he liked the idea of getting rid of the cards altogether. "[The Digital Paper] product is called DocQuest," Alexander says. "It shows you a TIF image of a given part and all its attributes. It also supports PDF."
And it enabled Alexander to get rid of all those cards. "It took us about four months to implement," he says. "A lot of that time was spent scanning in over 250,000 aperture cards."
Alexander says getting rid of the cards isn't the only benefit. The software is Web-based, so Grove can publish part specifications and diagrams that its suppliers can access. "A lot of our parts are outsourced," Alexander says. "We can now collaborate with our suppliers on a daily basis. All they need is a Web browser."
Alexander says this also helps his company deal with one of the biggest problems in manufacturing: inventory control. "We don't want inventory sitting idle on our shop floor, and we don't want to wait on parts to run the assembly line," he says. "DocQuest puts the visibility in our supply chain that we need to better manage inventory."
Digital Paper's Cronin thinks that although collaboration is part of e-commerce, it is also useful to distinguish it from the traditional notion of commerce. "Collaboration," he says, "is about driving costs down by maintaining relationships and working together. This is very different from the spirit of the first e-commerce tools, which were more about driving costs down by forcing suppliers to lower their prices."
Forrester's King puts it this way: "The Net does change the economics of collaboration. It is the idea of shared repositories of information that is new here."
Sometimes collaboration is right on the money. Although most of the supply-chain collaboration buzz is about trading partners sharing nonfinancial information, in some supply chains the primary product is money. In those cases business-to-business collaboration involves information about financial matters such as payments and invoices.