Electronic work instructions

What are electronic work instructions?

Electronic work instructions (EWIs) provide manufacturing personnel with intuitive, step-by-step procedures and tasks to perform their job. These electronic procedures are much more than a digitized version of the paper instructions they replace. Electronic work instructions can include videos, images, 3D data, and augmented reality (AR) to visually guide shop floor users through their tasks.

High-quality products and manufacturing compliance depend on operators performing the work exactly as specified. Human error can be high when operators have to look through paper instructions, write data and dates on paper forms, and manually analyze the data for validity. As such, electronic work instructions are a critical part of paperless manufacturing efforts.

Electronic work instructions are generated by software that is an element of manufacturing process planning and a manufacturing operations management (MOM) system, and can be part of a manufacturing execution system (MES).

Work instructions functionality

Electronic work instructions provide complete, enforceable operator instructions. EWI software is structured such that operators complete tasks as specified. Both the particular operator and the actions taken are traced by EWI. Tasks can be configured to require operator acknowledgment or specific data collection, or to simply create informational history in the manufacturing audit trail. Operators acknowledge each task as it is performed with either a simple click, a specific “yes” entry, or by collecting detailed parametric data. EWI software can also require electronic signatures to complete any task.

Using a comprehensive suite of 2D and 3D work instruction authoring and viewing applications improves communication of assembly instructions to the shop floor by providing 3D views and up-to-date process steps.

AR in electronic work instructions is ideal for improving quality and productivity of manufacturing operations that rely on floor personnel to perform critical tasks. These include low-volume production of highly configurable products involving complex and prolonged assembly procedures, as well as assemblies that incur high costs from assembly errors.

With electronic work instruction software, task lists can be configured to be executed in a specific sequence or in any sequence. All mandatory tasks must be completed successfully before the material is moved to the next operation. EWI software can configure tasks involving data collection with upper and lower limits that are monitored at the time of data collection.

EWI software performs the following functions:

  • Guides the operator
  • Enforces procedures
  • Mandates line clearance
  • Collects data and verifies values
  • Takes action on exceptions
  • Integrates electronic signatures
  • Populates the audit trail

In manufacturing planning, engineers can author electronic work instructions for operations under the bill of process (BOP). The manufacturing process planning software links textual instructions to reference parts, resources, and visual aids, including 3D graphical representations, to provide shop floor personnel with accurate and clear guidance.

For operator entry, EWI automatically generates the form from the task definitions, and the operator enters or barcode scans each value. Once entered or scanned, each value is checked against its upper and lower limits, and an out-of-specification value causes the task to fail.

The EWI can be configured so that an out-of-spec condition or other process failures automatically initiates actions such as placing the product on hold, routing it to rework or a material review board (MRB), or emailing a message, depending on the configured business rules.

Effective electronic work instruction software is fully configurable to precisely model a wide variety of manufacturing procedures. Task lists may be assigned to a work cell, workstation, or resource (equipment) via electronic procedures. If the EWI software is modular, tasks and task lists can be defined once and used in multiple procedures. Changes to a task list are automatically applied to all occurrences on the task list.

Tasks in electronic work instructions are easily modified as manufacturing processes change. To ensure that operators automatically use the correct revision of instructions, EWI software is designed with revision control capabilities.

Line clearance is easily enforced by electronic procedures. “Start process” and “end process” tasks ensure that only one unit or lot or batch is in process at a work cell at a time.

Benefits of electronic work instructions

By eliminating paperwork instructions and providing visually intuitive enforceable electronic procedures, electronic work instructions accelerate assembly and operator-involved manufacturing steps and reduce opportunities for human error.

Additional benefits

  • Greater operator efficiency

  • More consistent outcomes of manufacturing procedures

  • Less rework and scrapping

  • Lower operational costs

  • Greater customer satisfaction

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