The Cost of Sub-standard Work Instructions

Don't Settle for Sub-standard Work Instructions

Why you can no longer afford to work with paper or PDF work instructions

Canvas Envision
January 23, 2023

Something’s got to give

Paper or PDF work instructions, also known as “flat” or “paper on glass” documentation, and often prepared in generic applications such as Word and PowerPoint, have been standard in the manufacturing industry for decades.

For all the talk of digital transformation, a recent survey of the U.S. manufacturing industry showed that almost one third of organizations still have hard copy documentation in circulation.

The staying power of traditional paper-based or PDF work instructions highlights the difficulty organizations have driving change, even when the benefits are well understood. But the cost of sticking with them, whether that be through inertia, opposition, or a simple lack of resource, is no longer something manufacturers can afford to ignore.

Here’s why upgrading sub-standard work instructions should be your top priority.

What makes traditional work instructions sub-standard?

Simply put, traditional work instructions are just not very good at their primary function – transmitting up-to-date critical information quickly and clearly.

Almost always these documents are dense and text-heavy, difficult to reference quickly and easy to misinterpret.

Physical copies floating around on the shop floor are often misplaced, inaccessible, forgotten or out-of-date. Version control of physical copies is a high-stakes nightmare.

When they can get their hands on them, operators and technicians are often left to work from photocopies of photocopies, where the resolution of technical diagrams is so degraded, they’re practically illegible. And they offer no means of accurately illustrating movement or objects in three dimensions.  

Overall, traditional work instructions are complex and unclear, and place the burden of comprehension on the user, drastically increasing the potential for human error.

They are in dire need of an overhaul.

Why traditional and PDF work instructions fail you

The problem starts right from the get-go. Paper and PDF work instructions are immensely time-consuming and complicated to author. In fact, 99% of surveyed manufacturers reported critical downstream delays as a direct result of bottlenecks around the creation of product communication content.

Advanced manufacturing companies report wasting calendar days as document creators and engineers liaise to capture a single screenshot image of a CAD model.

Paper and PDF work instructions are also costly and time-consuming to change or update. In an agile manufacturing environment, these costs are intolerably high, and the risk of the wrong version remaining on the shop floor is ever-present. They also stand as a critical missed opportunity when it comes to tracking performance and other metrics on the front line and in the field.

In the survey mentioned above, over 70 per cent of US manufacturers said they would benefit from being able to track and measure documentation access and usage, with fewer than three per cent reporting that this capability was in place.

But traditional or PDF work instructions don’t only fail your bottom line – they also fail your workers. Unclear, difficult-to-read work instructions set them up to fail, which is bad for morale, and bad for employee retention.

What are sub-standard work instructions really costing you?

The short answer: more than you can afford, because they eat into your bottom line. Mistakes and miscomprehension cost money. Every instance of shop floor delays, or unplanned downtime in the field costs you or your customers thousands of dollars you didn’t need to lose. And with the margins in manufacturing under unprecedented pressure, absorbing avoidable expenditures is not something manufacturers can afford to do anymore.

Sub-standard work instructions torch your profit margin, because they mean downtime, inefficiencies, scrap, rework, revenue loss and a longer time to market.

They’re a safety issue

A poorly trained worker is a liability. Bad instructions are an acute health and safety risk. In a best-case scenario, this will cost you a huge amount of money. In a worst-case scenario, this could cost you lives.

They don’t collect and collate tribal knowledge.

10,000 workers retire in the US every day. With them goes a wealth of tribal or institutional knowledge which is lost to your business. This is the kind of unquantifiable knowledge which is passed ad hoc from employee to employee, usually during on-the-job training. Due to their fixed, undynamic nature, paper or PDF work instructions are not primed to easily assimilate this knowledge into the official SOPs architecture. It’s simply lost.

They don’t serve your customers

Work instructions are particularly critical for successful MRO processes. Sub-standard MRO documentation leads to a host of problems in the field, including delays, poor service delivery, downtime and breakdowns. Traditional or PDF work instructions do not account for dispersed teams working under pressure in unpredictable environments, and they cannot accommodate the kind of quick assimilation and application of information that characterizes MRO work. The result is poor customer service and compromised customer relationships.

So. What’s the solve?

The solve is simple – evolve and evolve now to interactive digital work instructions.

Interactive digital work instructions are the only solution able to address the critical issues caused by sub-standard work instructions without any major implementation costs or productivity disruption.

By leveraging interactive 3D CAD models, animations, step-by-step instructions and rich media, interactive digital work instructions minimize the potential for human error, cut needless loss and increase efficiencies in every area of your business.

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