Manufacturers Share How to Move to Digital Work Instructions

Connected WorkforceLearning & Development January 27, 2020
Learn what ABB and other manufacturers are doing to reduce the time to create digital work instructions and improve operator comprehension and retention
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We’re all too familiar with the challenges and frustrations operators experience when their machine suddenly malfunctions and they need to consult work instructions to fix the problem.

Sarah, a senior operator at a leading food manufacturer, is nearing the end of her shift when the packer stops picking up all the products. The robot was missing what seemed like random pieces. With counts off in the boxes, she had no choice but to shut down the machine.

Sarah has experienced this problem one time before, but it was over a year ago, so she doesn’t remember what to do to get the machine running again.

She leaves her station to consult the machine’s work instructions which are inconveniently stored in a binder in the production office. To her disappointment, she sees that they haven’t been updated since the last time she used them. The work instructions are still text-heavy and verbose, making it more difficult and time-consuming to understand and then correctly perform the steps to resolve the issue.

Sarah doesn’t have to be reminded that every minute her machine is down, it costs the company thousands of dollars. Adding to her anxiety is the knowledge that the longer it takes for her to resolve the issue, the more it will reflect badly on her capabilities.

Sarah doesn’t understand how the company can spend millions of dollars modernizing its equipment and IT systems with the latest technologies in what it calls its “digital transformation strategy”, yet operators still have to consult printed documents to do their jobs. A simple video, accessible on the shop floor, showing what to do would be so much quicker and clearer.


A Solution Designed Specifically for Manufacturers

“We’ve heard countless manufacturers and operators share their frustrations over how long it takes to resolve equipment downtime” said Alex Leclerc, CEO and founder of Poka. “I, myself, have experienced these issues first-hand working as CI director at a food manufacturing company. That’s why I made it my mission to design a worker performance app specifically for manufacturing that enables operators to digitally access all the resources they need to do their jobs and perform at their best.”

Since launching Poka in 2013, leading manufacturers, such as Mars, Danone, Bosch and Barry Callebaut, have used the app to digitally connect their frontline workers and transform the way operators get trained, work to standard, and resolve issues. Their operators now conveniently access work instructions in digital format directly at their workstations using tablets loaded with the Poka app. This includes all supporting photos, diagrams and videos.

Operators are also using the app to post messages when they can’t find a solution to a problem in the work instructions. Instead of relying on their supervisors or waiting for maintenance, operators can send out calls for help in real-time to the experts on a particular machine. This includes maintenance engineers, the continuous improvement department and operators from other production lines, shifts and factory locations.

A 3-Step Plan for Moving to Digital Work Instructions

To speed up time to value and maximize return on investment, Poka recommends a three-step approach to move existing work instructions into digital format, while providing a path for creating more effective content that leverages the tribal knowledge and best practices from frontline operators.

Step 1 - Give Workers Digital Access to Existing Work Instructions

Manufacturing digital work instructions library on an iPad.

The first step most manufacturers take is to simply give workers easier access to their existing work instructions. And that means more than just storing PDF versions of the instructions on a shared drive. As Amelie Provost, the HACCP and SQF Manager at Riviera, a Canadian dairy manufacturer, explains, “Our SOPs were long, written documents stored on our network, so they were rarely used.”

Frontline workers at most manufacturing organization rarely have the credentials needed to access traditional corporate file management systems. And even if they do, getting to a computer can be as time consuming as consulting printed instructions at the production office. What’s more, finding the right instructions in a system like SharePoint can often feel like trying to find a needle in a haystack.

That’s why Riviera turned to Poka to enable their busy frontline workers to access digital instructions directly at their workstations . Each station is equipped with an iPad containing the Poka app. Operators simply point the iPad to scan a QR code on their equipment or workstation to instantly open the work instructions and other relevant information.

Poka also makes it easy for manufacturers to get started. Existing SOPs and work instructions in PDF format can be mass uploaded into the app, and then organized according to ISA S-95 standards which mirrors production operations at the plant, production line, workstation and equipment level. The PDFs can be uploaded in their entirety, as well as broken up into shorter micro-lessons for quicker reference and use.

Step 2 – Support Written Procedures with Visual Work Instructions:

Digital work instruction with pictures and videos on an iPad.

After their existing documents are uploaded into Poka, the next step many manufacturers take is to accelerate comprehension and improve retention by creating video micro-lessons and supporting images. As Provost explains, Video micro-lessons are quicker and easier to understand than reading text. Text can be easily misinterpreted, whereas there is no ambiguity with videos.”

Poka facilitates the creation of videos and other forms of visual work instructions using a simple, yet flexible interface that guides people through each step. This includes creating supporting images that illustrate what to do, how to do it, and why it’s important.

Of course, it’s not realistic to expect that all SoPs will be upgraded to visual work instructions or video at the same time. That’s why many manufacturers migrate to video over time and prioritize which to get started with. This can be based on when a work instruction needs updating, or new equipment is introduced, or a focused improvement initiative or Kaizen event, For example, some food manufacturers, have seen significant improvements in waste and quality by starting with their Critical Control Points (CCP).

And contrary to conventional wisdom, videos are actually easier to create than text documents. Riviera also finds video micro-lesson easier to update. “You just modify the units that need updating, ” explains Provost.

Step 3 – Capture Tribal Knowledge and Decentralize Content Creation:

Problem resolution through the factory feed on an iPad.

Some manufacturers have taken their work instructions one step further by incorporating frontline workers’ knowledge and ideas. An electrical installation company, for example, recognized that they had an “untapped opportunity to harness and build upon the knowledge of our factory workers. We knew workers were key to uncovering what’s happening on the factory floor, finding solutions to problems, and contributing to continuous improvement. 

 To achieve this goal, their workers use their workstation’s iPad to take a photo or video demonstrating an idea they have, or what to do to  complete a task or fix a problem. They then post the images along with a short, written note to Poka’s factory feed for management and other frontline workers across shifts to see.

The ease and speed with which this can be done is especially important for busy operators and mechanics who simply don’t have the writing skills or time to produce a lengthy procedure, even though they have valuable, firsthand knowledge.

Making it as easy as possible for workers to share their knowledge and ideas also encourages more workers to contribute than a traditional suggestion box. In fact, their workers have shared over 2,000 updates and ideas for continuous improvement since implementing Poka.

Moreover, the factory feed acts as a living, breathing digital logbook. Workers’ posts not only feed ideas for revising or creating new work instructions. They effectively build the company’s collective knowledge base and preserve tribal knowledge as workers leave or retire.

Of course, decentralizing the creation of content does not mean losing control or governance. Strict review, approval process and version controls still need to be built into the digital work instruction platform to ensure standards are maintained.

A Sign of the Times

“Digital work instructions are no longer a nice-to-have, but a must-have. Sixty five percent of people are visual learners, and operators are no exception,” adds Leclerc, Poka’s CEO. “Visuals not only improve learning by 400%. With the popularity and effectiveness of DIY how-to videos on YouTube, the next generation expects this in the workplace.”

By continuing to rely on text-heavy and printed work instructions, manufacturers risk failing to attract and keep their workers motivated and engaged. Moreover, they may never develop the expert-level skills needed to maximize their performance and keep up with the changing competitive landscape and customer demands.

The ROI of Going Digital and Visual

“The good news is that Poka makes it so easy for manufacturers to move to video micro-lessons and other forms of visual work instructions and see fast return on investment,” adds Leclerc.

By simplifying the creation of more effective training content, Nutricia N.V., a division of Danone, reduced content production time by 50%, while also reducing the time and cost of on-the-job shadowing by 40%. Moreover, the ease in which workers now access and follow procedures at Riviera has enabled the manufacturer to reduce waste in one of its yogurt production lines by 9%.

Learn how to digitally transform your factory floor

To learn more about how you can improve your factory by switching to digital work instructions, watch our product demo. You can also explore our customer story page to have deeper insights into how easy, and impactful it is to start leveraging powerful technology at your plant.

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