Electronic Work Instructions Aid Quality

Providing electronic instructions not only helps operators, but because changes can be automatically made in case of quality glitches, they can maintain production flow.

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Manufacturing engineers often identify themselves providing two primary functions: keeping production moving and writing and maintaining work instructions. Quality control is often a wrench in the works. Defects that remain unidentified until production commences not only can shut down lines, but produce unacceptable time lags for rework. Quality control managers then must integrate new data and procedures and work with multiple partners, including the beleaguered manufacturing engineers, to integrate the changes into drawings, quality manuals and new work instructions.

Not surprisingly, enterprise resource planning providers see digital opportunities and are forming alliances to implement them. Engineering services provider Tata Technologies (tatatechnologies.com) is working with Siemens  (siemens.com) and its SIMATIC IT package to incorporate electronic work instructions with built-in defect tracking, describing the effort as an enabler for continuous quality and process improvement.

“Research says customers can reduce the time it takes to manage work instructions by up to 70 percent,” says Rohan Palshikar, manufacturing execution systems (MES) lead at Tata Technologies. “The possibilities of cost savings in developing closed-loop manufacturing and integrated quality processes are huge.”

Driving Change
Yet such efforts remain a slippery slope for many manufacturing operations. “More than 50 percent of companies attempting to move to a digital model fail,” says Venki Sundarraj, Tata Technologies vice president, sales strategy and transformation. “More than half the companies that have fallen off the Fortune 500 since 2000 are examples. In large part, what they invested in was siloed digital technologies that fail to work horizontally across enterprises. Not recognizing and driving the necessary cultural changes also affects the chances of success.”

It’s not simply an Industrial Internet of Things effort, he continues, but rather an evolving roadmap comprising mobile computing devices with Internet connectivity, cloud computing hardware and software resources, and ever-developing intelligent systems that can perform knowledge-work tasks. The results are personalized user experiences for shop floor personnel integrating product lifecycle management (PLM) goals with MES specifics. Such an approach is built on integrating electronic work instructions with defect tracking throughout production and assembly in what Tata Technologies calls an event-driven and service-oriented architecture. “In other words, electronic work instructions are embedded in textual, graphic, video and reference documentation on shop floor workstations, including using dynamic 3D CAD models,” Palshikar continues. “Quality checks and defect tracking are run against up-to-date product and process specifications and defects can be captured visually with complete traceability.”

Remember, traditionally, shop-floor workers would hang laminated pieces of paper on the wall with diagrams and explanations of each step. LNS Research (lnsresearch.com) points out that the shortcomings of this are obvious, particularly when an engineering change order (ECO) was required and those changes needed to be sent to engineering, revamped, sent back to manufacturing, reprinted, relaminated, and so on. Add the complexities of a global operation and this becomes even more of a challenge.

As the use of simulation and 3D visualization software grows, moving from engineering onto the shop floor, electronic work instructions (EWIs) are becoming even more effective tools. By integrating EWIs with this technology, an operator can watch each step of a process played out via animations. Operators and supervisors are trained to actually make changes and improvements to these processes in real time rather than waiting for an ECO, incorporating defect checking into production and improving quality control efforts.

Productivity improves in several ways: 
• Digitally identifying and tracking defects through electronic work instructions greatly reduces the time lag involved in manual tracking, analysis and follow-though.
• Maintaining, updating, archiving, and recovering defect logs becomes automatic.
• Throughput time improves and rework time is reduced.
• Operator training is significantly enhanced as quality checking
is efficiently added to operations responsibilities.
• Quality checks and defect tracking are more closely integrated with product/process specifications.
• Use of fully rotational 3D CAD files makes sure any unseen but related non-conformity is identified and captured for correction.

As a result, with operators recording non-conformities digitally, EWIs with built-in defect tracking can work horizontally, immediately alerting designers, supervisors, quality control management, and yes, manufacturing engineers, making a closed-loop software system with integrated notification closer to reality.

The right information in the right context in the hands of the right users. Tata Technologies calls their solutions-set efforts a three-level model: engage, realize and transform. Electronic work instructions and defect tracking hit all three.