digital transformation
How to Create Interactive Work Instructions for Manufacturing and MRO

How to Create Digital Work Instructions for Manufacturing and MRO

Interactive digital work instructions are proven to drive faster learning and task completion, and reduce errors in manufacturing and MRO processes.

Canvas Envision
March 4, 2023

Interactive digital work instructions are proven to drive faster learning and task completion, and reduce errors in manufacturing and MRO processes.

But if your organization is one of the 28% of U.S. manufacturing firms still relying on hard copy documentation – or among the many others using PDF, Word, or PPT docs, evolving to interactive digital work instructions can seem a tall order.

This article looks at the most important things technical authors and content creators need to consider when approaching a shift to interactive digital instructions.

Be Visual-First

We’ve all heard the old sayings: ‘A picture paints a thousand words,’ ‘seeing is believing’ and so on. Like a lot of old sayings, their longevity is based on a kernel of truth. Sighted people typically learn faster through images, than through text.

example of visual work instructions

Interactive digital work instructions should be heavily visual in nature, using images and visual cues to depict the products that are being worked on, and processes which need to be executed.

While photographs are relatively easy to capture they are limited in what they can illustrate and often require products to have reached a mature state before they can be taken.

Furthermore, image quality degrades when images are scanned from older documents (something which happens more often than you might imagine).

Visualizations of 3D CAD models are often a better source of product illustrations as highly specific views and images can be created. But content creators should be able to work directly with the models themselves to create those visualizations, in order to avoid delays and hit deadlines.

Autonomy is important

Almost 30% of U.S. manufacturers surveyed said that time taken to get visualizations of 3D models from engineering teams caused bottlenecks in content creation, while one third said document creators did not have the skills or software to work directly with 3D models.

Meanwhile, 44% of respondents reported that high-cost engineering talent was being diverted from core tasks to fulfill content creators' requests for screengrabs of 3D model visualizations

In order to successfully include 3D CAD models, content creators need access to a fully interactive 3D CAD solution that requires minimal training and allows them to leverage real 3D CAD models to create interactive visual documents themselves.

Read more about common technical documentation challenges >>

Consider your text

When creating interactive digital work instructions it’s imperative to consider the text-heaviness of your document. In fact, 78% of U.S. manufacturers reported that their instructional content is too text-heavy for an increasingly diverse (in terms of native language and reading ability) workforce.

Consider the tools you’re using when creating your instructional steps and text and whether or not they promote quick and efficient knowledge transfer and application without requiring lengthy paragraphs. Chances are that your word doc and static screenshot combination won’t do the trick.

Of course some text is essential, and content creators should keep the following key best practices in mind:

  • Be sure to keep your text as user-centric as possible. This also means creating all instructions from the operator or user’s vantage point and ideally following a bulleted, step-by-step format.
  • Digital work instructions don’t have the size constraints of hard copy or word documents. So don’t crowd too many tasks into each step.
  • Where additional text is needed, tasks should be described in the active present tense (click, press, follow) to promote the highest level of clarity.
  • Avoid using long sentences (a maximum of 20 words). Instead, break down the task into smaller subsections when the user is required to perform several actions. A good rule of thumb is to stick to one verb/action per sentence.

Text is important - and successful interactive digital work instructions allow for the perfect balance between text and visuals.

Focus on true interactive content

There are different types of interactive content. At its simplest, interactive content might be just a document that allows the user to control the rate at which content is consumed, or to answer questions or mark steps complete.

Equally it could apply to video content which the user can control. For showing product-related processes including assembly and maintenance work, animations derived from 3D CAD models are typically more effective than video footage of a person carrying out a process.

Animations should ideally be as short and focused as possible, relating to very specific steps. Longer animations and videos that illustrate longer processes will result in delays and time wastage as workers skip backward and forward through the content.

>> learn more about 3D model animations

Even more effective for some tasks are documents that contain interactive, embedded 3D models. Consider this a first, highly accessible step towards more immersive content experiences.

Interactive models are those that content consumers are able to manipulate on screen, for example rotating and exploding models, isolating parts, and so on – allowing them to see “inside” a product where necessary. Self-guided content of this nature is proven to be more effective for workers learning new processes and products.

To be able to include interactive models, you’ll need a tool that allows you to easily embed interactive visual, animated, and audio into digital content and platforms without needing prior CAD software or technical experience.

Integration makes it easier

Once content creators have the ability to work directly with 3D models you need to understand how easily they are able to access the models to work with.

Additionally, great interactive digital work instructions allow for continuous and accurate information mapping in a way that doesn’t overwhelm the user. This refers to the ability to include additional information regarding safety warnings, tips, alternative routes, and collective knowledge (preferably in the form of annotations or clickable icons).

For most organizations, both of these requirements bring the PLM into play.

In order to create true interactive work instructions which leverage product models, content creators often benefit form their content creation tool being integrated with the organization’s PLM system. This allows anyone within the organization to create visual documentation for more accurate and up-to-date information mapping by leveraging real-time data.

The integrated approach also enables the content team to effectively inform core systems such as the ERP and MES from real-time data collected through better collaboration via interactive digital work instructions.

Follow a consistent structure

When creating interactive digital work instructions, it’s essential to look at the overall structure of your documentation and how to best tailor it keeping your end user in mind. For instance, if you’re creating instructions for the shop floor, keep in mind that the user will be working in a fast-paced environment and will expect the instructions to be clear, visual, and well-organized.

Whichever structure you choose to follow, the look and feel of each instruction should be the same throughout all documentation. This consistency streamlines the transfer of information and helps the user process the core message more effectively.

Achieving this structural consistency starts with letting go of the dozens of apps that currently demand your attention during the creation process. Most content creators depend on various applications to create high-quality technical content. This results in the content being unnecessarily costly and time-consuming to develop and, most importantly - inconsistent and sub-optimal to consume.

Rather than using a plethora of apps to create text, photographs, annotations, visualizations, 3D CAD models etc., content creators need one consolidated platform explicitly designed for the niche needs of creating technical content for the manufacturing industry.

Find a tool that allows you to create the desired output in a single technical illustration software, allowing technical authors, illustrators, and visual communicators to streamline the creation process and promote higher accuracy and consistency.


Creating technical documents is time-consuming, and almost always carried out against tight deadlines that can have a direct impact on significant downstream outcomes including time to revenue and customer satisfaction.

For this reason many organizations and technical content creation teams can find it challenging to institute changes to their processes, even when there are clear upsides available.

The value of interactive digital work instructions can stretch deep into the organization, helping to reduce errors and delays that impact multiple stages of the product lifecycle, from production through to maintenance and repair in the field.

Technical authors and content creators can become internal heroes by actively driving the organization towards these benefits, and improve their own workflows in the process.

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Canvas Envision

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