Product documentation isn’t just a technical requirement. While clear communication of technical product data between departments including engineering, manufacturing, and maintenance is critical to success, customer-facing teams like marketing and sales also need to visually communicate product value and information. The most effective way to visually represent products across all the required visual assets is by using real product data.
But the range of assets required, and the breadth and variety of teams and skills involved in creating and maintaining them, makes for a complicated picture.
Here we’ll look at five of the top-level documentation challenges product-based companies face every day, which can lead to inefficiency, errors and delays, missed opportunities, and even lost revenue.
The sheer volume of product-based documentation in circulation at any given moment is a tough issue to manage. Different teams with different skill sets can be using different software to create different assets for different use cases, shared in different formats, all of which require maintenance and update on varying timeframes.
From manufacturing work instructions through to marketing product sheets, sales presentations, and maintenance manuals, all of these assets require high quality product visualization in order to do their job effectively. These variables create a complex matrix over which it is difficult for any team to have control.
“If four customer facing people spend one hour each with four engineers getting a screenshot every week, that soon starts to create a lot of cost.”
Visualization of products is often the most effective way to communicate critical information, whether technical or promotional. But the process of creating visual assets can be problematic.
3D CAD product models are typically the best means of visualizing products, but access to those models is restricted to team members with specialized training and CAD software. The result is a bottleneck which must be navigated by downstream colleagues responsible for creating the broad variety of visual assets which support the product through its lifecycle. Having to request CAD screenshots from engineers delays content creators and diverts those high-cost engineers from their more important core tasks.
Meanwhile, working with a variety of software applications which have not been developed specifically to create product-based documentation, can further slow asset creation.
The need to create a large quantity of documents, usually on a tight time frame, coupled with the challenges faced in creating those documents, will often result in problems with the quality of critical documentation.
CAD screenshots or product photography, typically the means by which most downstream teams visualize products, show only one view of the product and perhaps might be compressed as part of the document creation process, further reducing the clarity they are able to provide.
And the inherent limitations of the software often used to create visual documents can have further negative affects on quality. The result is sub-standard communication, either failing to illustrate product value to maximum effect or – worse – leading to errors in product interaction or delays to critical purchasing decisions.
Once visual documents have been created, the effectiveness of communication depends on how well and how quickly the audience is able to understand the content.
Here the limitations of screenshots and photography come into play once again. There is no guarantee that the consumer of a document will see everything they need to in a static image and PDF, Word, and PowerPoint documents offer no means by which the audience can interact with product content.
Moreover the audience may lack an easy, dedicated means by which they can offer feedback on the documents, and seek clarity and collaborate with the document creator.
In a manufacturing industry which is operating on ever shorter and faster product cycles, visual product documents can rapidly become outdated – particularly when they depend on static screenshots for illustration.
Hardware manufacture is evolving to become closer to software development, with agile processes and short sprints, thanks to developments including rapid prototyping, and additive manufacturing. Documentation must keep pace with product development and in modern manufacturing organizations, key documents can become obsolete in as little as a single working week.
And, even though a document might have a limited lifespan in terms of active usage, it must still be maintained in libraries and archives should it be required down the line.
Canvas Envision is the visual communication and collaboration platform which gives everyone in your organization the ability to quickly and easily create interactive visual documents which leverage real 3D CAD models.
You can share the documents you’re working on with colleagues and team members wherever they’re located. They can interact, mark-up, feed-back, clarify, and sign off. Perfect for working in distributed teams, for checking product details with your engineering team and for clearing the finished document with sales and business development teams.