Manufacturers today face a challenging task - how to continuously drive the speed, scale and efficiency of manufacturing operations while addressing the implications of employee churn, an ageing workforce and increasing technological complexity.
Let’s look at digitalising work instructions – streamlining and standardising their creation, editing and sharing with workers in a mobile, user-friendly format. How can this help management to address the challenges and support workers’ productivity and compliance in the field? But first, what are work instructions and why do they often prove inefficient?
Work instructions provide workers with step-by-step guidance on what specific actions they are required to take, what tools to use and how to use them correctly and safely when performing a task. The purpose of work instructions is to ensure the consistent implementation of best practices and to eliminate human errors and unsafe behaviours. However, poorly communicated, outdated work instructions can have the reverse effect.
Overcomplicated and inaccessible
If a worker needs to sift through a lengthy handbook to find out how to resolve a specific issue with a machine, for example, they either need to make a minor stop, reducing overall equipment effectiveness (OEE), or proceed without following the best practice, increasing the risk of errors and incidents.
Manufacturers who have their operations dispersed across countries also need to overcome a language barrier so work instructions need to be easily translatable. However, this is not the case with complex paper-based manuals, meaning that workers are blocked from gaining an understanding of SOPs and best practices.
Paper copies of documentation take more time to update and distribute, meaning that workers would often continue to follow outdated instructions, increasing the risk of breakdowns, incidents and injuries.
Spread of unofficial knowledge
All these inefficiencies in top-down work instructions prompt workers to establish their own best practices. The generation of tribal knowledge can be valuable to the organisation. However, when passed on in an informal, non-standardised way, it can result in misunderstandings, sharing of poor practices and increased risk of unsafe behaviours and losses.
How can digital technology help to eliminate the extant inefficiencies of work instructions and transform them into a driver of quality, productivity and compliance?
Simple to create, access and follow
A digital platform can enable the head office to streamline the creation, management and distribution of instructions and frontline workers to access and follow instructions on mobile or wearable devices.
Rather than pausing work to find these instructions in a handbook, a document that was shared with them online or to go look at a poster providing visual instructions, workers can follow an interactive step-by-step process on a mobile device or watch a quick video. This helps to increase uptime and ensure the consistent implementations of correct behaviours.
With digital work instructions, workers are provided with easy-to-follow, task-specific guidance at the point of action, which can be easily updated and translated by the head office and is shared in a consistent format across sites . This way, workers are always following the most recent recommendations in their preferred language. This standardized multimedia knowledge base of procedures and training at a task and asset specific level helps to ensure that all activities across all sites are executed to the same operational standards.
Towards preventative maintenance
Digitalising work instructions can also enable manufacturers to harness existing data sources on the shop floor and use them to alert workers of potential risks and losses and instruct them on how to implement preventative maintenance. Digital work instructions help to upskill machine operators to diagnose faults and repair machines at source, resulting in reduced losses and increased productivity. An IoT sensor measuring a machine’s temperature, for example, can push a notification on a worker’s device with instructions on how to cool it down before it overheats and causes machine failure and downtime.
Instruct and gather data at the same time
The head office can insert customisable questions within digital work instruction, helping to gain greater visibility over on-site productivity, quality issues, compliance etc. For example, the instructions on how to fix a conveyor belt can also include questions on the reasons for the breakdown, deep-diving into the root cause.
Codify tribal knowledge
A digital approach to work instructions can also help to codify tribal knowledge, making it shareable and accessible, removing poor practices and misinterpretations. Using the same technology that guides them through their daily tasks, workers can record and share best practices, helping to integrate tribal knowledge into continuous process improvement. Workers can collaboratively build and consolidate a repository of knowledge while management maintains visibility over operations execution at the frontline.
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