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Interactive Work Instructions: An Implementation Guide

How to Implement Interactive Work Instructions in 10 Easy Steps

Investing in digital transformation? Don’t overlook your work instructions.

By
Patricia Hume
February 7, 2024

If you’re like me, you feel it every day: the rate of technological advance is accelerating. We’re now seeing the proliferation of tools incorporating generative AI, the emergence of the industrial metaverse, and even the first implementation of humanoid robots.

At the same time, there is a patchwork of technology adoption at many manufacturing companies, and a large proportion of the manufacturers I meet are still using paper instructions on the factory floor. According to Wipfli, only 10% of manufacturers have fully embraced digital transformation and Industry 4.0 technologies across the organization. While some manufacturers are investing six and sometimes seven figures in their digital transformation plans, I believe the most practical way to step into the future is to swap out that paper with interactive work instructions.

Manufacturers embrace digital transformation slowlhy
Only 10% of manufacturers have fully embraced digital transformation and Industry 4.0 technologies. Chart source: Digital Commerce 360

What are interactive work instructions?

Interactive work instructions are dynamic, step-by-step procedures for performing a set of tasks, which are presented in an electronic format. These instructions allow users to interact visually with the content through a graphical user interface (GUI). Through the GUI, users navigate, explore, and actively participate in the learning or execution process, enhancing engagement, comprehension, and efficiency. Users may also be able to provide feedback as part of the process.

Used for training, assembly, and maintenance, interactive work instructions are often implemented as part of digital transformation efforts, particularly in manufacturing industries. They are considered the state of the art for work instructions, which ensure consistency and safety by standardizing the processes that take place on the factory floor.

Interactive work instructions are often used interchangeably with the term “digital work instructions,” which are also presented electronically, but may refer to static, paper-based formats like PDFs.

Why do interactive work instructions matter?

Work instructions have a direct impact on an organization’s ability to deliver on goals for quality, as people can only perform a task as well as the training and instructions they receive. Interactive work instructions enhance understanding by utilizing diverse formats, including 2D, 3D, video, animations, and audio. They may also offer features such as zooming in on details or rotating 3D models, helping workers get exactly the information they need to do the job right.

Because they are easier to update and distribute than paper, interactive work instructions ensure that workers have the most up-to-date information. With high quality learning materials, workers are set up for success, improving job satisfaction and retention.

How to bring your work instructions into the digital future

Now that you know what’s riding on your work instructions, I’ll share 10 practical steps for implementing interactive work instructions at your company.

1. Assess your current instructions

Start by assessing your existing instructional framework. This initial step serves as the foundation for a successful transition to digital.

  • Evaluate how well your current instructions are working. What is the training time, task time, cycle time, quality yield, first pass yield, and error rate? Establish a baseline for the metrics you intend to improve.
  • Review the feedback. What feedback are you receiving from the production floor about the quality of work instructions, and how is that feedback coming to you? Do you have any visibility or is the visibility you receive coming via a back channel?
  • Audit your existing materials. Is there ambiguity or lack of visual clarity? Are there complex processes that need to be broken down further? Are you addressing different learning styles, cultures, and first languages? Review the tools you use to create the content. How many software tools are you using? Are they fit for purpose? Could your tools be rationalized to streamline processes and cut cost?
  • Calculate what paper distribution is costing you. How much does it cost to update, print, distribute, and store paper instructions? What’s being used and what’s going to waste? What happens to support and other costs when paper instructions are missing or out of date? This calculation will serve as a baseline for your cost savings with digital instructions.

2. Choose a platform or tool

Now that you’ve taken stock of your current instructions, it’s time to find a platform that will take you beyond 2D printouts. What to consider:

  • Formats: What formats does it offer? Can you work with CAD renderings? 3D animations? Video or audio?
  • Interactivity: Can users manipulate product renderings to understand how the product comes together? Can both content creators and users rotate, ghost, explode, isolate, zoom, and view cutting planes?
  • Collaboration and feedback: What collaboration features are supported? Can you collaborate in the cloud to ensure efficiency and traceability? Does the platform enable feedback from the factory floor?
  • Integrations: What other software can you integrate with the system? Does it integrate with an existing QMS or PLM? Is it SCORM compliant, ensuring compatibility with different learning management systems?

3. Optimize collaboration features

Now that you have a platform, take advantage of the collaboration features to maximize the value of the new system:

  • Encourage multiple stakeholders to contribute and provide feedback simultaneously.
  • Use version control to track changes and give users confidence that what they are working with is the most recent version.
  • Set permissions to control who can edit, view, and approve instructions.
  • Create automated approval workflows to ensure that instructions go through necessary approvals in the minimum amount of time.

4. Adapt content structure and design for consumption on a screen

Given that you are moving away from paper outputs, you’ll need to redesign the content structure for digital consumption. Make the content easy to parse by breaking down dense paragraphs into smaller ones, creating sections with clear headings, and putting any type of list into bullets. You can also take advantage of multimedia elements such as images, videos, and animations to enhance understanding. Given that you will have a varied group of people collaborating on and consuming your instructions, use a responsive design that adapts to various screen sizes.

5. Don’t debut without a rehearsal

Before full-scale deployment, conduct a pilot implementation with a diverse group of users to test the system’s effectiveness on a smaller scale. Group members should represent different roles and responsibilities within your organization to ensure comprehensive testing across various workflows. Work with this team to fine-tune processes, gather feedback, and make necessary adjustments.

6. Roll the platform out broadly and train people how to use it

With the successful completion of the pilot program, it's time to transition from testing to full-scale implementation. To make your new investment a success, provide hands-on training and create how-to guides and video tutorials to help users become familiar with the new tool. Set expectations for migrating existing documents to the new system. Comprehensive training ensures that all users are equipped with the knowledge and skills to make the most of the new system.

7. Integrate instructions with the design process

Don't make work instructions the last thing you do. Introduce it early, even in the design process, in order to engage stakeholders. Bringing instructions into the process early clarifies intent and allows stakeholders to participate in a more informed way, improving the quality of the final deliverable.

8. Create content once, use many

Now that you have interactive, digital work instructions, you can repurpose them to maximize the value of the platform and your existing instructions.

  • Replace PowerPoint and any other tools not fit for purpose for creating training materials. With the right platform, workers can bring their work instructions from the training room to the factory floor.
  • Standardize instructions across any factories that use the same equipment and production processes.
  • When going out for an RFP or outsourcing an assembly to a supplier, provide more than a text document with screenshots. Instead, engage your suppliers with high quality, interactive documentation to make sure you're communicating with crystal clarity. Moreover, if you have your ecosystem in a standardized documentation environment, they can provide feedback and suggestions at the same level of quality.
  • Use digital work instructions to create interactive customer assembly guides in the post-market phase.

9. Don’t let historical documents cause inertia

I often hear some version of this story from manufacturers: “I have at least 500 legacy docs using 2D PDF. If I implement interactive work instructions, I don’t have a plan for transitioning all those documents to new formats.”

Divide and conquer. The most important objective is improving documentation quality and processes for new initiatives. Once you’ve established traction there, you can create your plan for tackling legacy documents.

10. Strive for continuous improvement

At the end of the day, we are all striving for quality. Establish a process for continuous improvement by inviting feedback from collaborators and front-line workers. Actively seek input on the usability, functionality, and overall experience with the interactive work instructions platform. In addition, conduct periodic assessments of established key performance indicators (KPIs) using the platform. Identify trends and patterns that can inform adjustments and improvements.

Conclusion

Embracing interactive work instructions is a practical move towards Industry 4.0. Beyond immediate benefits like improved quality, productivity and efficiency, interactive work instructions set the stage for ongoing innovation and adaptability. This essential step positions manufacturers to thrive in today's industrial landscape and prepares them to compete more effectively in the ever-changing future of the industry.

Learn how Canvas Envision interactive work instructions can transform your production floor. Take an interactive tour.

About the author
Patricia Hume
Chief Executive Officer
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