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The Technical Data Sheet is Dead!

Allchemist blog

A story about sausage and a pan

The story goes like this: A daughter was watching her mother frying up a sausage. The mother took the sausage, sliced off both ends, and put it in a frying pan. The daughter asked her why she did this. The mother asked back what she meant with such a question. The daughter replied, “You took a sausage, cut both ends off, and put it in a pan. I was wondering why you cook it in this particular way? Why cut off both ends of the sausage before you put it in the pan?”

“Interesting,” the mother replies, and it was interesting – she had never thought to ask the same question before. She said that her mother had been doing it the same way for as long as she could remember, so she did it, too. They decided to ask grandma. They went to grandma’s house and asked her why she always cuts off the ends of the sausage before frying it. “I’ve never thought twice about it before,” she said. “I learned the process by watching my own mother.”

So, it was off to visit great-grandma. Great-grandma was a very old woman, with gnarled, soft hands, seated deeply in her couch, watching muted TV. In walked great-grandma’s daughter, grand-daughter, and great-granddaughter. They asked her the same question about the sausage and the pan. She looked at them out of the corner of her eyes, before saying, “Please don’t tell me that you’re still using that old, tiny frying pan!”

Now, let’s think of technical and safety data sheets. They are the standard form for the communication of chemical products properties down the supply chain: They’re produced by the manufacturers and wind up in the hands of end users. What’s interesting is that the only thing that has changed in the last 40 to 50 years is the form of the document – it used to be a paper brochure or leaflet, and now it’s a digital PDF. In other words, this huge, multi-billion-dollar a year industry, is still using the same old, tiny frying pan.

No matter how large a manufacturer or supplier is, no matter how much money they invested into a digitalization of the processes in their company, the information about products is still shared with customers in the form of outdated, fiddly PDF files.

Now imagine a company that produces paints and coatings. They use, let’s say, 100 do 200 raw materials. They receive all the information and data on this raw materials in the form of PDF files. To create an inventory of raw materials in the company (i.e., an Excel spreadsheet), someone must open each document and copy the required information from PDF to Excel spreadsheet. Manually. Remember, when medieval monks would painstakingly copy out, by hand, manuscripts from their libraries? It’s a bit like that.

So, if you are in charge of making a list of raw materials, along with their densities, VOC content, solids content, hazardous properties, etc., you have to manually copy this data from PDF to Excel (or any other database software). Amazingly, this is still the norm in this industry, despite the fact that cutting-edge technology is used in all other aspects of production, distribution, advertising, and sales.

There’s someone at each company who must transcribe each data sheet from PDF to Excel by hand. No doubt whoever is assigned to this time-consuming, boring task rolls their eyes each time a new data sheet in PDF arrives. And what’s more, this process takes place at every company, in every country, every time data on a new raw material emerges. With all the technology available, it just doesn’t make sense, neither logically nor financially.

Imagine what it would be like, if a single database existed where you could get all the data on various raw materials in a “spreadsheet” form. The same database would enable you to easily search, compare and virtually “use” raw materials directly, without opening a single technical or safety data sheet. No more PDFs! No more manual data entry. Countless hours per year saved, and a lot of time, frustration and company money saved, along with it.

This is the future of technical data sheets. It’s here, now, ready for you.

Information on this blog is prepared with utmost care, but it is not about (chemical) consulting, and the provider does not assume any responsibility or liability for the correctness, accuracy and up-to-dateness of published content. If you need advice for a specific case, you can write to us at
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