Work instructions are like the Lego step-by-step instructions used by factory engineers to enable their operators–the people doing the work–to know what to do at each stage of the building process. While some steps may be as simple as “screw in this bolt”, others may be extremely complex. Good work instructions handle both cases well.
If done right, work instructions enable operators in your factory to get their job done efficiently and effectively. If done wrong, they take a long time to write and live in a binder on a shelf where they don’t do anyone any good–or worse, they conflict with a supervisors’ directions because they’re out of date. Here are some tips on how to build effective work instructions:
Make work instructions easy to access
Work instructions in a binder on the shelf aren’t useful. By putting work instructions on a tablet or touchscreen, in plain view of or directly at the station, operators have easy access. With easy access you reduce the need for someone to go out of their way to learn the correct way of doing something–and make your factory more efficient. Workers can sometimes be reluctant to ask for help or instructions. By placing the work instructions conveniently at their work space, they won’t have to.
Use photos and videos where appropriate
A picture is worth 1,000 words–and videos are 30 pictures a second. By recording a video of a particularly intricate step in your process, you can eliminate any confusion, reduce mistakes, and reduce the burden on supervisors and leads to explain and re-explain. Even a still image with highlights or circles over what needs to be done can immensely improve accuracy in your process.
Keep work instructions updated
As your operators repeatedly do the same work they may learn better ways, recommend new tools, or otherwise change how they approach a step. By keeping work instructions up to date, newly hired operators or short-term substitutes filling in don’t miss a beat–maintaining both the efficiency and the quality. The new operator experiences more success and the substitute can be as productive as the experienced regular. Moreover, you avoid the pitfalls of version control conflicts and the potential for quality escapes. Good work instructions are ones that can be easily modified, improved, and reviewed.
Balance thoroughness with usability
Work instructions that are too high level or cursory do not help new operators do their job. Instructions need to clearly lay out each step so that someone doing it for the first time can understand. However, you don’t want to slow down your experienced operators by requiring them to click through every step to record the desired data. Using a tool like Pico MES, the steps can automatically advance, so an experienced operator might not even notice the instructions (unless they need to look) while a new operator gets the precise direction he or she needs to succeed. And within each work instruction step, you have plenty of opportunities to provide linked content with extra detail when necessary.
Write new work instructions whenever you add a new machine, tool, or process
Whenever you commision a new machine, onboard a new tool, or add a new process: create work instructions. This not only prepares your operators for success, but forces your team to be intentional about the process and steps they are creating. You might find 10-15% more efficiency just by having to write down the process than if you just threw operators into it and hoped they figured things out.
Integrate tools fort automatic settings
Computer applications like PowerPoint or Word–where work instructions live at many companies–can’t integrate with your tools. An MES like Pico enables you to automatically adjust settings on your tools, preventing mistakes and increasing efficiency. For example, a torque tool can be automatically set to a torque of 10Nm and powered on only when the step is started. If that step requires four screws to be installed at that torque value, the work instructions automatically advance to the next step once all four screws are installed and each torque value data point is captured and saved. This also avoids an operator having to click on a PDF or PowerPoint to see what’s next, and it also reduces errors–making it useful to new and experienced operators alike. When you see integrated tools at work in your factory, it’s like magic–and your operators will wonder how they ever got by without them.
Work instructions are a key aspect of how successful manufacturers enable their workforce, reduce mistakes, and improve retention. If you’d like to learn more about how you can implement simple and advanced work instructions with Pico, contact us.