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How PDFs can cut paper costs

Published on May 23, 2002
on TechRepublic.Com

Futurist Alvin Toffler once wrote that using machines to make paper copies degrades the nobility of the machines' purpose. If that's the case, techies, analysts, and project managers everywhere are guilty of grievous technology abuses due to their reliance on machines to produce paper documents.

The average office worker uses 2.5 pounds of paper each week, say environmentalists-and that figure is rising. In light of today's tight IT budgets, some technology managers are beginning to look at ways to save money by reducing the amount of paper used by their organizations. One such innovator is TechRepublic member Malcolm McCowan, an IT manager at Sydney-based Spicer Axle Australia, whose ideas on cutting paper costs ended up saving his company $2,000 a year-not to mention a few trees.

How much can you save?

Spicer Axle Australia-part of the Traction Technologies Division of Dana Corp., based in Toledo, OH-designs, manufactures, and builds rear-axle assemblies for Ford and General Motors in Australia. Paper-based documentation was becoming a drain on company funds, so McCowan found a way to cut the paper consumption by 40 workers at Spicer Axle.

McCowan explains simply: "We just stopped printing in the computer room." Electronic documents are now converted to PDFs via Adobe Acrobat, and then distributed or posted to the company's LAN. The PDF files are superior to Microsoft Word files due to their compact size. Plus, the PDF files are not editable-an added perk when dealing with sensitive financial information. McCowan realized savings not only in reduced paper consumption, but also in the man-hours spent collating and distributing reports and collecting paper to be recycled.

McCowan's IT department also found a way to automate the PDF conversion process, which saves manpower hours. When the company's finance department finishes processing reports, the files are automatically processed through Acrobat Writer and posted to the LAN. Files can then be viewed on the factory floor via thin client computers.

The pilot project has been so successful that McCowan's team is eager to take on bigger challenges. The IT department is now working on making all computer-aided design (CAD) data accessible on demand via the company's intranet by using browser technology. (CAD systems are high-speed workstations or desktop computers with software for generic design or specialized uses, such as for architectural, electrical, and mechanical design.)

"We can convert the CAD vector format to PDF on the fly without user knowledge," said McCowan. "This saves printing and distribution of drawings in a large factory. But that is another story."

It's also clearly another way of saving money. While reducing paper costs likely doesn't snag a leading achievement on the vita for most tech leaders, when McCowan's approach is expanded across an enterprise— specifically when it's a global enterprise— it can easily compute to a big cost reduction to the bottom line. And that, in light of today's ever-tightening budgets, is no small feat.

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david southgate
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