Death by a thousand paper cuts – The Outdated Paper Job Traveler

March 22, 2021

Author: Paul Van Metre

I haven’t talked with a single shop that loves having job travelers, but so many of them can’t imagine running their shop without them. It’s hard for them to imagine a different way because they’ve done it for so many years, or they believe that trying to eliminate travelers will not be well received by their employees. In the meantime, enormous costs are being incurred every day because of their paper travelers. These costs are not obvious and aren’t on top of people’s minds.

What functions do job travelers serve? Let’s clarify what I mean by a “job traveler”.

4 Functions of Job Travelers

  1. It contains crucial information about the job. Important information including customer, PN, due date, the material needed, routing steps, and work centers the job will travel through. Often called the job router, it is THE identifying document showing what the parts are out in the shop. The parts have to be traceable at all times so the traveler must be with the parts at all times.
  2. It has fields and barcodes. The fields for people to sign off the work they’ve done, the number of parts they’ve made or processed, or track time. Sometimes the barcodes need to be scanned, so people can look at the last scanned status of the job from within the ERP system.
  3. The job router is often accompanied by several sheets of paper used for other purposes such as work instructions and inspection forms (see Fig 1). These are to help explain to workers what they are supposed to do to make the part, and what features to inspect to ensure the quality of the parts is good.
  4. It usually has a drawing accompanying it as well. This is typically the drawing that the customer sent with their order. This identifies the part to be made, and the criteria for gaging acceptance, along with perhaps some referenced related documents.

Most ERP systems create a job router based on the information that is in effect at the time the order is processed. That information is a snapshot in time and the printed router becomes the controlling item that moves around the facility and triggers people to do things and tells them what to do. The router identifies what material to buy, what rev of the drawing to build the part too. It will also be the document where signatures or quality stamps will be recorded, creating an audit trail of who did what to ensure the part was made properly. There is no doubt that the information contained on the router is vitally important and every shop (at least QMS certified shops) needs to capture and retain that information.

The fact that all this crucial information is conveyed and recorded on a piece of paper in so many shops in 2021 is mind-boggling. To try to make the point, imagine this: You want to see how the big game of your favorite team is going, so you walk to the corner market to buy a newspaper? Of course not! By the time your newspaper publishes the score, the game will have been long finished.
Why then do shops keep insisting that paper job travelers are so important to their business? There are huge numbers of liabilities inherent in paper travelers. Let’s just list a few:

7 Liabilities of Paper Travelers

1. The information on the traveler is highly likely to change. More in some businesses than others, but it happens all the time. When information changes, people need to chase down the traveler and replace it or mark it up with the latest information. If that doesn’t happen, people can and will make mistakes and parts can be scrapped, late, made wrong, or any number of other bad outcomes.

2. Paper travelers slow down the process. People in planning, purchasing, quality, and programming don’t know that they need to work on something until it lands on their desk. What if it gets stuck at the bottom of a pile? Material or tools aren’t ordered, programs aren’t created and work doesn’t progress on-time. It can lead to late jobs, expedite situations, and worse. Or what if they need to work from home because of a pandemic?

3. Travelers get lost. All…The…Time! This causes all sorts of waste like waiting, motion, transportation, overprocessing, scrap, and more. Probably all 7 wastes identified by the Toyota Production System. It has ramifications for the current job in the process, and also for future jobs of the same part number. Crucial notes that shop workers scribbled on the back of drawings or scraps of paper get lost which means the next time the parts are made, that information is lost and needs to be recreated. It’s a snowball effect of waste. See fig 2.

4. Jobs often need to get split up into multiple batches. Hot jobs need to have partials sent ahead of the rest of the job. Parts need to be re-worked and catch up to the main work order later. What do you do with the job router? Photocopy it? What about all those supporting documents like work instructions and inspection sheets? There are no great answers.

5. Penmanship and legibility can be big factors on paper documents. Someone jots down a note, a quantity, an inspection result, and someone else misinterprets the information. This can cause many problems.

6. Traceability is suspect when relying on people to enter their initials for signing off crucial steps. Even unique rubber stamps can be “borrowed” by someone else who signs off on work not done by the person in question.

7. If a job traveler package makes it through the shop unscathed, it then needs to be filed or scanned. If filed, managing a year’s worth of old travelers is a huge headache and expense. Filing cabinets fill up, rooms fill up, storage units fill up. Some customers require job records to be held for 10, 20, or 30 years to retain that audit trail of who made what, out of what, and inspected it with what. Having to go look up records for an audit can be a monumental undertaking. If they can’t be found, that’s a major liability for a shop facing a customer or ISO/AS audit!

These are just a few of the liabilities inherent with paper travelers. We’ve identified that the information contained on the router and traveler is crucial. So then our goal is to retain and enhance the good parts of those documents and mitigate the liabilities of having paper versions of that information. We are advocates for 100% paperless, digital-only versions of the information contained on that paper.

5 Benefits of Going Paperless with Digital Shop Routers:

  1. The information on a digital router is always up to date. When the customer order is changed with a new quantity, delivery date, drawing revision, the router, schedule, etc. are instantly and automatically changed. Workers ONLY have access to the latest information when they view it on a device.
  2. Digital routers speed up the process. Everyone who needs to know about something they need to do on a job can be instantly notified when a job is created. They can parallel process their part of things and get it done much faster than with paper. Hot jobs can’t get stuck at the bottom of a pile. Instead, they are filtered and prioritized on digital dashboards and lists which are always up to date. The speed of the workflow and risk of jobs getting forgotten is vastly improved.
  3. A digital traveler can’t get lost. An identifying job tag should be attached or affixed to the material, parts, and WIP so that it can’t easily be separated from the parts by a gust of wind or an honest mistake of setting a paper traveler in the wrong spot. If tags get damaged they can be recreated easily.
  4. It’s easy to split a job with a digital router. Just make a new tag or print a new label. All the other corresponding work instructions and inspection reports are always online for anyone to find.
  5. Everything is in one place. There are not multiple different places to look for things with potentially conflicting information.


The biggest obstacle to going paperless is the fear of change. It’s human nature to resist change, especially when it’s such a dramatic change. People are uncertain about how it will work, and how their job will change. We’ve seen that time and time again when employees are first introduced to a paperless environment. Almost without fail, the clear and obvious benefits start to reveal themselves quickly and people realize how much they’ve suffered from the waste they didn’t realize for so many years.

The second biggest obstacle to going paperless is the actual technology used to make the transition. Until recently there hasn’t been a practical way to easily manage the data needed to run a dynamic job shop environment, with less labor investment, without paper.

How ProShop Can Help!

With ProShop ERP, we’ve been running paperless and highly effective job shops for over 20 years. We have helped hundreds of other manufacturing companies become more efficient, save cost, save trees, take their company through a true digital transformation, and reach the pinnacle of going paperless. We’d encourage you to watch the accompanying video and reach out to us if this sounds like an interesting consideration for your shop.

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