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.
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.
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.
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.
Start by assessing your existing instructional framework. This initial step serves as the foundation for a successful transition to digital.
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:
Now that you have a platform, take advantage of the collaboration features to maximize the value of the new system:
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.
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.
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.
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.
Now that you have interactive, digital work instructions, you can repurpose them to maximize the value of the platform and your existing instructions.
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.
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.
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.
The United States Department of Defense's new digital engineering directive significantly impacts work instructions, steering away from paper/PDF formats toward advanced solutions that leverage 3D CAD and detailed data models.