Author: Paul Van Metre

Work instructions are the heart of running a shop, but they can also be a two-edged sword. A client once told me his team pulled printed work instructions from a toolbox. They proceeded to create an entire batch of parts with the wrong specifications. This honest mistake cost them thousands of dollars in scrap parts, plus getting behind schedule. Unfortunately, this is not uncommon. 

Striving for efficiency, shop owners have tried different approaches but employees get frustrated when they feel their inputs don’t change the processes. They are the ones who know the operations from the day-to-day experience. One of the most important characteristics of lean manufacturing is the employees’ engagement in efforts leading to continuous improvement. With visual digital work instructions, they’re involved in the process. They can give feedback and add media-rich content to enhance the work instructions. A recent client reported increasing their employee retention after implementing visual digital work instructions because they were no longer frustrated that their input wasn't being utilized to improve the process. By being able to upload photos and details to the work instructions, they were able to significantly improve the job for the next run and feel ownership of that process.

Shops have an amazing opportunity to reduce their team’s learning curve and reaction time with visual work instructions. Digital transformation has taken old school visual work instructions (VWI) in the form of printed diagrams to the next level with the rise of digital work instructions (DWI) which are cloud-based and can be accessed from any device. 

These are 12 benefits of introducing visual digital work instructions (VDWI) to your shop. 

  1. Reduce Tribal Knowledge

Communication is a crucial part of every process. It can become a bottleneck with the presence of tribal knowledge. Visual digital work instructions teach employees everything they need to perform their job. With careful documentation, you get instructions from every department in the shop. VDWI help with skill-building but also in gathering shop intelligence. 

Not all knowledge resides in the work instructions. The retiring workforce has countless years of experience you can't afford to lose. Transferring your best practices to new employees reduces the likelihood of your shop suffering a brain drain. 

Communication between each area of production must be clear. By reducing tribal knowledge, everyone speaks the same language. It also applies to people who aren't native English speakers. The visuals and media-rich instructions enhance their learning process so they perform their job properly. 

  1. Manage Evergreen Knowledge

Physical work instructions were useful before the digital era. But paper documents were often lost. The advance in technology and increased demand for perfection make paper-based training more obsolete than ever. Becoming paperless will allow you to better classify information. You can find it quickly, instead of searching through all the archives. This also makes it accessible and backed up in case of disaster. If the facilities suffer from a catastrophic event, you can build it back up in less time. For the same reason, you can open other facilities quicker and easier. 

Everything you add to the system stays there. The work instructions are always updated. So there's less risk of working with old information. All employees are on the same page. Whenever they perform new jobs, they have the resources to carry them out. If you have more than one facility, the same work instructions are available in each shop. That's how you maintain quality between shops and get the same results. It's about controlling the process and the product regardless of the team you build for each shop. 

You have remote control over the digital work instructions. Creating, editing and approving organizing information is possible from anywhere in the shop(or the world).

Centralizing data makes it scalable. Expansion doesn't have to be such a burden anymore. The best practices from one part number can be quickly transferred to similar ones.

  1. Simplify Complex Tasks

Training gets easier and faster with visual work instructions. The goal is to help everyone in the shop execute their high-skilled jobs more effectively. New employees and temps can slow down production and delivery. They need to have the knowledge, visuals and best practices in order to absorb and comprehend the information. There's nothing better than media-rich learning materials to help them master their job roles in less time. 

It's even more efficient when standardization is the core principle of your shop. The digital work instructions contain what every employee should know to work in any department including setup/training modules, blueprints, specs, and other job-related documents. By using paperless manufacturing as a primary tool to run the shop floor, everything gets standardized. You can track the performance to act immediately if anomalies are present in the process. This characteristic lets you scale your business much more easily. 

  1. Reduce the Learning Curve 

According to Edgar Dale's Cone of Experience, we remember:

10% of what we read. No wonder why so many human mistakes are present. 

20% of the things we hear. Trying to remember oral instructions may lead to wrong interpretations and underperformance.

30% of what we see. Space and location support new neural pathways created in the brain. Monotonous designs and text documents are more difficult to remember. 

70% of what we say. Explaining to others requires understanding the concepts and procedures. Memory and logic combine to retain the information in the brain for longer. 

90% of what we say and do. That's why people say "we learn by doing." Dedicated continuous improvement and mastery. 

Visual digital work instructions nail all 5 of these points. It's effective for training employees in a shorter period of time, and the LMS (Learning Management System) allows employees to perform the job as they learn. 

  1. Speed Up Training & Process Development

Trying to explain how each operation works using only text is a difficult task. Especially when the reader needs creativity to imagine every moving piece. It's a real challenge for manufacturers, because every detail missed, ends up costing you more. Imagine setting up a machine, or putting together a complex assembly without any diagram to follow. It's a nightmare. 

Its advantage over written documents is its resourcefulness. Videos, audio, images, drawings, you name it. Use all the tools that are available to ensure the information is fully grasped. People memorize concepts and algorithms by using all of their senses to capture every detail. Don't waste your time describing long work instructions. Create videos, images, and text to break it down. Smaller chunks of information are easier to digest. The faster your employees learn, the cheaper the training costs. 

What employees learn determines how they operate. The effectiveness and efficiency of each procedure produce specific results that feed data back into the system, generating new insights. It influences your team’s decisions to improve based on reports. In other words, the quality of the output depends on the quality of the input. 

  1. Accelerate Decision-Making

Lack of communication, organization, and coordination delay decision-making. Instructions have to be clear. Knowing exactly what to do and how to do it reduces friction and increases the productive hours of employees so there's less risk of missing a deadline or producing below the quality standard. 

The demand for making a high number of complex decisions can, unfortunately, slow the shop down. Between the process of analyzing and taking action, there is potential for saving time and money. Standardizing helps you run the business in a predictable way. It tackles possible problems before they even come up. Whenever they happen, your team is ready to solve them. 

  1. Improve Adaptability

On-the-job training plays a significant role in the skills new employees develop. The environment and the shop's resources are useful tools to carry out mission-critical activities. The main disadvantage of this method is the opportunity cost. The time and skills of seniors shift onto teaching rather than producing. Their effectiveness decreases so temps and trainees can follow their pace. Visual digital work instructions allow employees to practice what they learn and reduce dependency on co-workers.

This leads to smooth job rotation within the shop floor. Employees develop the skills required to perform different jobs effectively. The personnel adapts to the needs of the shop. With VDWI, increasing or decreasing the workforce will reduce its impact on productivity. If employees lack the skills, they can learn as needed. Digital work instructions also empower you with the ability to track the skill set of each employee and their performance in each department. 

  1. Move From Information Silos to Networks

By becoming paperless, nothing gets lost and data collection helps you analyze results faster. Visual work instructions make continuous improvement easier, which makes the job more efficient. The work instructions are at your fingertips, whenever you need them. Facilitating access digitally reduces the response time toward problems in the shop. 

Location doesn't limit access to the work instructions. You can seamlessly move from one department to another. As long as you have a computer or tablet, you can continue right where you left off. Remote access gives you the flexibility to tackle any challenge you encounter. 

  1. 360º Feedback

Employees have a greater commitment when they influence their own experience. As they are users of the system, they can share their observations. By taking employees into consideration, their purpose and commitment align with the business. 

360º Feedback means that everyone can share viewpoints.  Employees rate the quality of the content, images, and video. The software tracks its progress and helps you identify bottlenecks. This is internal crowdsourcing. The information contained in the VDWI depend on feedback from the workforce. 

Opening the doors to listen to employees' opinions leads to continuous improvement. Processes can become more efficient if team members focus on doing their job the best they can. By improving the content of the instructions, skill-building will be faster and easier. 

  1. Achieve Higher Quality Output in Less Time

The quality of training affects the quality of the output. Precision is key in manufacturing. Every process has its own standard.  Every product goes through a rigorous inspection before sending it to customers and it highly depends on people's ability to adhere to strict standards such as ISO, and AS. Following the maintenance and operational procedures keep the shop running at peak levels. 

Precision is difficult to achieve when training resources rely on text only. Digital work instructions give trainees access to visual demos on how to perform the jobs. They need to rely less on assumptions because they know exactly what it looks like to do the job. This reduces mistakes before they happen. 

  1. Increase Profits and Improve On-Time Performance

Preventing mistakes saves time and money. Providing appropriate and timely training tackles inefficiencies at their roots. Shops cannot rely on remedies to fix problems. If there's a bottleneck in the production line, it affects every department. Detecting and solving them quickly helps on-time performance.

With digital work instructions, you can communicate project details and approve work instructions made by others from anywhere in the shop. You can also give access to your employees at any time, without stopping production. This leads to on and off-the-job training. Trainees learn visually how to carry out the activities around the floor. They show up and practice what they learned. This shortens the learning curve and makes training easier to remember. Shifting from learning to doing helps build skills faster and more accurately.

  1. Get a Headstart With ProShop

Migrating to digital work instructions seems difficult. It takes time to digitize your shop's intelligence, management, and training. Lucky for you, ProShop is the go-to software when it comes to visual digital work instructions. We get you up and running quickly. Schedule a demo and we’ll show you exactly how ProShop boosts your performance. 

Shops typically replace 3 to 5 software systems with ProShop for its media-rich system. Our modules are the most complete in the market. Instead of relying on multiple platforms that don’t integrate with each other, you can centralize it with ProShop’s all in one digital manufacturing ecosystem (DME) which combines ERP, MES, QMS, CMMS, TMS, and LMS into a single system. 

The detailed instructions and learning resources take your shop’s performance to the next level. From estimating, quoting and job costing to set up production and quality control. Improve standardization, achieve higher precision, and become 100% paperless with ProShop. 

It was designed over the course of 20+ years of building and running our own CNC machine shop. We built the software to solve the problems our own machine shop struggled with. The software is developed by shop owners for shop owners. The heart of our previous CNC machine shop became the brain of our digital manufacturing ecosystem. In our passion to improve manufacturing, ProShop helps manage your work instructions for a machine shop, fab shop, or assembly department better than any other shop management software. 

Are you ready to upgrade your shop? 

Schedule a FREE Demo

Author: Paul Van Metre

As Jim and Jason always say on the MakingChips Podcast, “If you’re not making chips, you’re not making money!”  We all know it’s true, yet precious few shops have formal systems for increasing uptime.  The corollary to that is reducing spindle down-time.  An important component to that is to reduce the downtime between jobs – that is when you finish the last part on the job you’re just finishing and when you make your first good part and start running the next job on that same machine.  That’s what I want to focus on today.  There are a few barebones things that need to happen when you finish a job.

1. Remove the fixtures off the machine, or take out your softjaws, etc. (unless you have modular tooling that will be used on the next job also.)

2. Take any cutting tools out of the machine that you won’t be using on the next job – don’t remove them from their holders unless you absolutely need to.

3. Clean off the bed or table.

4. Download your programs (and save them) or delete them off the machine.

5. Sign off that you’ve finished that operation on paper or in your ERP system. Ideally document your setup somewhere.

6. Wheel the cart or pallet to where it’s going next.

That process is generally fast.  If you’re lucky enough to be on a horizontal, you might even be able to change out your fixturing while your other pallet is still running. Or maybe you’ve designed universal tooling so changing over doesn’t require taking out your fixture, or only takes seconds.  There has been much study and books written on SMED!  Google it if you’re not familiar.

Generally, the next step of the process is getting your next job set up on the machine.  This is where most of the savings can be had and where many companies need a lot of help.  Here is how it often looks:

1. The machinist goes to find out what is next on the machine and get the paper job traveler.

2. They go and look for material and hopefully find the right stuff.

3. They start collecting some cutting tools and holders from the setup sheet which match the general description of what they are looking for (e.g. ½” EM - but may not be exactly the right tool at all).

4. They try to find the fixtures needed for the job which may be lost, damaged, or misplaced.

5. They bring these things over to the machine.

6. They review some incomplete set-up instructions on an old set-up sheet or they try to remember it from last time.

7. They load tools into the machine, and manually touch off the tools in the machine or with a machine probe.

8. They mount fixtures or vices. (hopefully the fixtures are dialed in with pins or you use zero-point fixtures. If not, then they need to find a dial indicator and dial in the fixtures or vises.)

9. They upload the program into the machine controller.

10. They wander away from the machine several times to go find things they didn’t collect at first.

11. They put some raw stock into the fixture or vise.

12. They turn the feed and rapids down, maybe put it on single block, and show “distance to go” on the controller.

13. They slowly step through the program and prove it out, being careful to not crash until the entire part is machined

14. Go find measuring instruments to check the part.

15. Check the resulting part against a paper drawing which may be dirty, ripped, old-rev, and check a bunch of dimensions to see if they think the part is good.

16. Once they have a part they think is good (which might take several tries), they submit the part to the QC department and wait (sometimes a long time).

17. Once they have received approval from QC, then they can start making parts. This is when the timer stops, and the spindle is “Up” again.

As you can see, this is a lengthy process and can contribute to vast amounts of downtime where you aren’t “MakingChips”!  And the description above is still somewhat of an ideal case.  Plenty of times the things they are looking for aren’t there, can’t be found, or aren’t ready yet. It can go south quickly, and setups can take many hours or longer! So much lost opportunity for revenue and throughput! There must be a better way!

ProShop ERP can help facilitate and guide shops to dramatically reduce this downtime between jobs.  We studied this problem for years ourselves at our own shop.  We applied lean principles, concepts from franchise-type businesses, and decades of our own experience and those of our employees.  We built the best practices into the software we were developing to run our own shop – ProShop.  Here is how the process looks using ProShop – 100% paperless and web-based.

1. Before the last job is finished, ProShop guides the employees through a checklist to ensure all the necessary items required to ensure a fast and repeatable setup have been prepared in advance and are sitting in a queue area, or are digitally prepared and ready to go.

a. The proper cutting tool ID numbers are collected, loaded in the proper holders and extension lengths as defined by the programmer. Offline tool length presets have been measured and stored in ProShop.  A G10 offset file has been automatically generated by ProShop and is waiting to be upload into the controller. This tool caddy is loaded on a cart.

b. A well-maintained fixture is pulled from the well-defined storage location and loaded on a cart. (ProShop will show you if it was overbooked)

c. Ancillary items like inspection equipment, packaging materials, deburring equipment, etc. have been specified and collected and loaded on a cart.

d. A proven G-code program which has been stored in a secure file location managed by ProShop

e. The proper material is pulled from a specific storage location defined in ProShop. Traceability is guaranteed to be right.

2. When the prior job finishes, ProShop quickly guides the employee through a breakdown checklist and the machine is ready to go for the new job.

3. They start tracking their time on the new job with ProShop’s fast Time Tracking interface.

4. They load the fixtures, tools (and only the ones that need changing), raw material, tool offset files and G-code programs into the machine, following the digital work instructions with videos, photos, etc.

5. Run the proven code on the first piece.

6. Inspect the first part and record the results in ProShop’s FAI form using the specified instruments and only the dimensions which require checking per the requirements. ProShop will instantly tell them if the part is good or not (And it will format the FAI in the AS9102 if you need it to). If the part is good, then:

7. Check off the “Certified to Run” checkbox (which prompts you to update the setup and cycle times) and log out of “Set-up” and into “Running”.

You have good parts off the machine and the spindle is running again much faster than the first scenario.  You’ve increased throughput and have higher revenue on your machine.

The important takeaways are that the setup was highly choreographed, the employee didn’t need to leave the machine, and it took a fraction of the time.  It’s also important to note that a less skilled employee (ProShop will manage all their training by the way.) was needed given how much information was available to them. Shift leads, or managers would get automatic notifications if the setup exceeded its time budget, so they can provide support. Also, any out-of-tolerance results that were generated would have prompted an NCR which would also alert managers through our messaging system.  Your employees are more supported and successful, increasing engagement and satisfaction.

When you go buy a hamburger at a fast food restaurant, they don’t figure out how to make the burger each time.  They follow a very well documented process to make it as fast and repeatably as possible.  Producing a highly complex and high precision engineered component is at least two orders of magnitude more complex than a burger. So why would you make your employees do it without a concise and bulletproof plan?  It’s because your legacy “one-size-fits-none” ERP system has none of the functionality required to walk employees through the process. You’ve been given a set of tools with a bunch of the tools actually missing.  It might be time to upgrade your toolbox.  Let us know if you’d like to discuss upgrading your tools.

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