Role of Digital Work Instructions in Modern Manufacturing

by | Jul 11, 2022 | Industry Article

Written by: Ben Baldwin, VKS

Since the introduction of Industry 4.0 over the past decade, Canadian SMEs (Small to Medium Enterprises) have seen an incredible boost in advanced technologies. With more powerful machines and stronger materials, modern manufacturing has elevated the potential of the Canadian manufacturing industry and market. 

But as the industry becomes more complex and diversified, what is the next step towards the ever-evolving goal of modern manufacturing? Hardware can only take us so far, leading many to invest in cyber-physical systems that make their operations smarter. 

Digital work instructions present the next phase in smart manufacturing. From assembling engines, valves, and compressors to fabricating metal parts for the oil and gas sector in western Canada, digital work instruction software supplies industries with smart standardization solutions that empower the modern worker with knowledge and advanced insight. 

Melanie Guyon, Industrial Performance Engineer at Schneider Electric appreciates the added autonomy that work instruction software brings her team: “Thanks to digital work instructions, it’s like an expert is always beside the operator. Our workers are more autonomous as a result.

Share Visual Knowledge

Have you heard the expression, “A picture is worth a thousand words”? It’s popular because it’s true.  

Our brains assimilate visual knowledge first. It’s why Lego instructions are made with pictures and why how-to videos are replacing the standard text booklet. People are prone to understand visual information first, enabling them to quickly assimilate knowledge, share it with others, and apply it with the greatest accuracy.

Every manufacturing process should use this uniquely human skill to its advantage. 

With digital work instructions, employees are given step-by-step instructions that detail each step of a process in a visual format using pictures and videos. This gives operators key visual cues about product orientation and spatial context when performing their work, enabling them to work faster and with greater understanding than if they were reading text instructions alone. 

For Justin Hart, Watchfire Signs Project Admin Engineer, visual work instructions have become a strong resource for his operation: “The processes, as well as the operators, have really benefited from the video capability. We get to show someone doing the work and not rely on a description of the procedure. It gives us the freedom to provide a wider context for complex jobs.

Rather than using lengthy text instructions, companies are increasingly using work instruction software to guide and train their employees by giving them the best information and tools to follow procedures with greater adherence. The images precisely depict the duties and actions needed for each phase in a method. When done well, there is frequently no need for much text at all.

Dedicated work instruction software also enables process engineers to use high-quality videos, create annotations, and magnify pictures for even greater visual detail and understanding. In some cases, users have even linked CAD drawings as references within their work instructions for added clarity when needed. 

Work instruction software is built on strong visuals and the quick assimilation of knowledge. However, while being a foundational part of the software, visuals are only the beginning of its capabilities. 

Capture Tribal Knowledge

People are the heart of every operation. They are the ones performing the value-added work and they support the operation through multiple tasks and responsibilities. Most importantly, they hold onto years of tribal knowledge and experience. 

But what happens when these people leave your company? Does their knowledge leave with them? 

For many companies in Canada, tribal knowledge is walking out the door before they have the opportunities and tools to document it. This leads to longer training times and a more costly turnover experience. 

In Canada, the average job tenure within manufacturing is getting shorter and shorter. As turnover increases within the country, the cost to manufacturers is on the rise. In a recent study, it was found that turnover is costing small Canadian enterprises an average of $22,279 per year with some respondents saying it cost them over $50,000 per year. And these numbers just get worse for companies with over 100 employees. 

Additionally, there is the time commitment and added costs of training new employees, let alone the costs of an operation that loses its most experienced employees. 

The solution to this problem is to retain the knowledge and experience of your best workers so that every employee —new and experienced alike— have the same level of knowledge. 

George Englis, Chesterton Manager of Operational Training relays how problematic it is for companies to overlook modern standardization solutions in today’s industry: “It’s dangerous for a company to have only a couple of people that can perform a particular process. With work instruction software, we are making it so that a process that only a few people know is now a process that anyone can do.

Work instruction software enables companies to establish their best practices and standardize every process. 

This means that with interactive visual guidebooks, your entire workforce is as strong as your most experienced worker. 

Digital work instructions also enable companies to drastically reduce their training times. Adrian Riojas, KONE Coal Valley Manufacturing Engineer values how much time is saved by the implementation of work instruction software in his facility: “Our orientation process has been cut down to a quarter of the time it used to take. Work instruction software helps us give new operators a point of reference first so they know and get familiarized with the terminology on the floor. It’s been a godsend to get a uniform language going.” 

Using the best knowledge your company has to offer, each employee is quickly familiarized with their job and their responsibilities through both formal training and on-the-job training. 

Keep Up with Process Improvements

If there’s anything that Industry 4.0 has taught us, it’s that there is always room for innovation and improvement. Any process can be faster, more productive, and produce less waste. But often when improvements can be made, companies need to undergo an ROI analysis to determine if the improvements are worth the effort and potential restructuring. 

This attitude makes sense to a certain degree but can harm your growth. If the effort level is too high, as is often the case with paper processes, what are the chances that improvements will ever be made?

If you’re using paper records, every physical document needs to be tracked down and replaced with the new version. This takes time, let alone the cost of wasting so much paper with every improvement. 

Digital work instruction software changes all this by enabling companies to update and improve their processes with just one click. Once an improvement is ready to be standardized, simply access the affected guidebooks, make the changes and all the procedures are immediately up-to-date. You gain the assurance that everyone is following the best current process, which is almost impossible with paper documents or undedicated software. 

On top of this, areas for improvement are easily found with the advanced data capturing capabilities of work instruction software. Employees’ suggestions and feedback can be gathered with built-in forms and custom KPIs can be configured to automatically track crucial metrics. Advanced data capturing enables companies to gain a new level of insight into their operations and make improvements and innovations that actually work.

Use Case: Metal Fabrication

Welding, grinding, and deburring processes are messy, to say the least. And when introducing paper into the mix, accuracy and well-kept records can barely keep up, often requiring operators to hand write key information while another person compiles this data. This often leads to disorganized paper processes, where documents become dirty, illegible, or even lost. 

In the case of metal fabrication, monitoring material temperature is incredibly important. Work instruction software enables operators to capture these readings and others easily through either manually entering temperature numbers into their guidebooks or through the use of automated thermal reading devices. 

The information gathered is stored accurately, neatly, and securely in the digital work instruction platform. The data is then easily retrieved when reviewing quality control, significantly streamlining data capturing and retrieval processes. 

Are You Ready for the Next Step of Modern Manufacturing?

VKS (Visual Knowledge Share) is a leading innovator in digital work instruction technology. Backed with over 50 years of experience from its parent company CMP, VKS is software designed for manufacturers by manufacturers. Since being developed by a talented team of software engineers in 2012, VKS has rapidly grown into an international company serving customers in over 30 countries around the world. 

Through numerous case studies, VKS has been proven to increase productivity, quality, and efficiency with its intuitive and interactive visual platform. The software empowers every employee to take control of their work and view their operation with enhanced understanding. Work instruction software is a solution that equips companies with the tools and the strength to push further into the future. 

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