What are Interactive Work Instructions?

By: Ben Baldwin

12. Juli 2022

What are Interactive Work Instructions?

What are interactive work instructions and how can we use them?

Within manufacturing, people interact daily with machinery, equipment, tools, and software. But traditionally, there is very little interaction going back to the user. The interaction is one-side and often limits users to only press a few buttons.

But what if we could change all that with interactive work instruction software?

With VKS visual platforms, workers not only interact with their instructions, the software also engages users. Through features like communication alerts, automated rules, smart forms, and smart tools, interactive work instruction software becomes less of a tool and more of a valuable team member.

Interactive Work Instructions: All for One and One for All

The purpose of interactive work instruction software is to facilitate interactions within the working environment, much like a valuable team member. As employees perform their work, the system takes care of unique duties and enhances the workers’ abilities.

For this teamwork to be possible, interactive work instructions exist on two distinct yet related levels.

1. The Connected Worker

Connected workers are people whose working life is augmented by the use of digital technologies. These technologies give workers greater access to knowledge, more efficient actions, and better production methods.

connected worker

For example, imagine you are a shop floor worker assembling complex elevator motors. To assemble these motors, your company has invested in interactive work instruction software. The software guides you through the complex process and collects valuable production data. At the same time, it also notifies you if there are any changes or circumstances you need to be aware of.

From here, we can see that a connected worker has an interactive partner they can depend on.

Read More: Did you know that Mitsubishi Elevators uses VKS to guide their assembly workers to build state-of-the-art elevator components? Read the full case study here.

2. The Connected Shop Floor

The connected worker is only the beginning. To take this idea of interactivity even further, we have to think about the whole working environment. If all the workers connect and interact with their technologies, the shop floor works effectively as one cohesive unit. One person's interactions enable the whole operation to learn and make intelligent decisions.

Interactivity and connectivity change the whole working environment.

Interaction Redefined - But Can There Be Too Much Interaction?

There’s a fine balance between interacting with the software and not overloading yourself with extra actions. So how much interaction is too much?

The truth of the matter is that interaction is a good thing. We want more interactions because this helps us gain the greatest amount of knowledge. But we need these interactions to be intelligent and more efficient.

Instead of posing the question “how much is too much” and limiting ourselves, the question should be rephrased as:

How do we make interactions as intelligent and seamless as possible?

To answer this question, VKS is setting out to achieve true interactive work instructions.

5 Smart Ways to Interact with Interactive Work Instructions

Humans can interact in more ways than one without even thinking about it. The challenge is to make interacting with work instructions just as seamless. The goal is to make the relationship between people and their systems more of a cohesive team.

With this challenge and goal in mind, let's explore the methods modern workers use to interact with the work and the environment around them.

1. Error Proof with ToolConnect IoT

VKS ToolConnect IoT provides a powerful means for operators to interact with their instructions simply by holding their tools.

As employees use their smart tools, the interactive work instructions perform the four following actions.

  1. Pushes values and required parameters to your tools: ToolConnect IoT pushes the correct parameters to the tools at every assembly step. In the case of torque application, if two bolts need different amounts of torque, the tool will automatically apply the right amount of force to each one.

  2. Automatically advances the guidebook: As soon as an operator tightens a bolt, VKS automatically advances to the next step. This capability enables operators to stay in sync with their processes and interact solely through their smart tool.

  3. Monitors and error proofs actions in real-time: As workers use their smart tools, the work instruction software verifies the operator applied the correct torque values. If a bolt is fastened incorrectly or an improper torque is applied, VKS notifies the user and prevents them from moving on to the next step. VKS also locks the tool if the user is not on a step with a ToolConnect Annotation.

  4. Collects valuable data: Interactive work instructions collect quality data with every fastened bolt. VKS stores this data for quality assurance and productivity monitoring.

Every time an operator interacts with their tools, they interact with their work instructions.

Interactivity on these four levels enables users and cyber-physical systems to work together to provide a faster, more accurate, and more streamlined workflow.

Toolconnect IoT

Interactive Work Instruction Example #1

For example, let's say you are assembling hulls for a new line of passenger planes. Some 12mm bolts need 135-newton meters of force while other 16mm bolts must have 335-newton meters of force. With varying bolt sizes and varying torque requirements, it can be hard for operators to keep track of these specifications.

To offer more clarity to the operation, ToolConnect IoT automatically tells the smart tool to apply the right Newton meters of force to every bolt. When the operator is on the step with a 12mm bolt, the tool automatically applies only 135 nm of force. The same goes for the 16mm bolt and 335 nm of force. At the same time, VKS communicates with the operator, confirming that the operator and the tool applied the correct amount of force.

pro tip

Pro Tip: Did you know that VKS will lock the smart tool if not on a step requiring interaction with a tool? This feature is called Tool Lock and is a key feature of our VKS 6.4 release.

2. Interact Directly with Smart Forms

Smart forms are a tool that enables users to communicate directly with their work instructions. At key points within a process, digital forms appear and ask users to enter specific data. The data is then stored and used to confirm quality practices and create digitally versatile reports.

smart forms

Smart forms have 5 key capabilities that allow users to intelligently interact and communicate with their instructions.

  • Track information in real-time: As people perform their work, smart forms prompt users to enter valuable information. This ensures that the operation captures valuable information as it happens.

  • Only interact when you need to: Smart Forms can either appear at a set point in a procedure or can be accessed manually. This flexibility enables operators to capture valuable data at the best possible moment.

  • Enter a variety of data types: Scan barcodes, import photos, or simply type in an answer. Smart forms are easily augmented to fit the needs of your operation, giving you the ability to tailor your data retrieval methods.

  • Validate data: Based on the operator's inputs, VKS notifies the user if the data is outside of the acceptable range. If the numbers are outside of the appropriate range, the guidebook notifies the operator and stops the instructions from progressing.

  • Connect tools for streamlined data entry: Like ToolConnect IoT, tools such as scanners, scales, digital calipers, and more can be used to input data into the smart form. If prompted for a serial number, operators only need to scan the barcode instead of entering the numbers manually.

Every time your operators interact with a smart form, the data is stored and easily accessed. In a sense, you have an incredible team member that gathers data from every workstation on your shop floor.

Interactive Work Instruction Example #2

To see VKS smart forms in action, let's take a look at a process that requires both high precision and high flexibility.

When assembling a custom computer, there is a certain method that operators need to follow - motherboard first, then CPU, etc. However, later parts of the assembly method change based on the purchased parts. And operators need to track which parts are being used for inventory purposes.

In this situation, the assembly operator opens the interactive guidebook and begins assembly. At certain points in the process, VKS requests the user to scan the part numbers. Aside from tracking parts for inventory, the numbers are also recorded to create a detailed product history for customers and quality tracking.

pro tip

Pro Tip: With VKS Enterprise, use our advanced API to connect VKS to your ERP systems to accurately track inventory usage in real time.

3. Guide the Team with the VKS Rule Engine

Interactive work instruction software is also able to interact with users by guiding a dynamic process. This capability is made possible by our advanced rule engine.

Within a dynamic guidebook, the operator uses a smart form and specifies the assembly type, parts, color, or any differentiating factor between product variations. VKS takes this information and automatically guides the worker to the appropriate steps that involve those selected specifications.

This capability transforms a linear progression into a dynamic and flexible process.

pro tip

Pro Tip: This function of the Rule Engine can also be completely automated with our API. VKS gains the work order information from an ERP and then autonomously guides the worker to the correct procedures.

Interactive Work Instruction Example #3

Let's briefly return to our custom computer assembly example from earlier. As workers assemble the custom computers, the process will change based on the purchased parts.

Instead of creating multiple guidebooks for every variation, you opt to create a dynamic guidebook. This set of instructions asks the user what parts will be used and then guides workers to the correct procedures.

In this case, the operator specifies which casing they are using to assemble the computer. The casing will change how the components are assembled and what parts can be used. Based on the operator's inputs, VKS jumps to the appropriate steps involving that particular casing.

Later in the assembly, VKS prompts the user to specify whether the order has an air-cooled or water-cooled graphics card. The operator selects “water-cooled” and the guidebook jumps to the water-cooled production steps.

This interaction with the software enables production lines to be flexible and responsive to the production environment.

Discover how you can create interactive work instructions to standardize an endless possibility of product variations!

4. Visual Platform

As humans, we interact first with our eyes. It's how we quickly assimilate knowledge and understand things like spatial context and awareness.

In fact, our brains process visual knowledge up to 60,000 times faster than we process text.

For this reason, work instructions software is a visual platform that enables users to see the work instead of reading a list of printed instructions. It uses this keen visual capability of humans to its advantage and gives users the fastest way to assimilate knowledge.

In cases like a mixed manufacturing environment, the ability to visually interact with pictures of the assembly and the proper methods is an invaluable tool for proper comprehension.

Adding to this, guidebook authors can also place links to CAD drawings and embed videos directly within their guidebooks. With this capability, users gain even more ways to visually interact and understand the assembly process.

visual assembly

Interactive Work Instruction Example #4

For example, within a mixed model manufacturing environment, workers may not be able to remember the ins and outs of every assembly. Adding to this, there is a high likelihood that some assemblies are similar with a few, although important, variations.

Let’s imagine you are assembling electrical boxes for industrial use. Your company has customers all over the world with varying requirements and configurations.

One product line is for Oregon, USA, and the other is for Quebec, Canada, and the two boxes are incredibly similar.

Each box is practically identical except for the orientation. They are mirror images of each other.

Through the use of visual instructions, this is not a problem. You have visual cues that enable you to visually interact with the piece on the screen. Once the operator takes hold of their working pieces they have already assimilated the required knowledge to assemble with skill and confidence.

5. Use Production Alerts to Communicate with the Team

As much as we’d like every process to be 100% predictable and repeatable, this is not always the case. There may be safety issues, inventory shifts, tool layout changes, or any other circumstantial challenge that affects the production environment. What’s worse is that sometimes these changes or issues can occur mid-shift.

In light of these circumstantial changes, VKS facilitates fast and easy communication with the whole team through production alerts. Whenever there is something that needs to be communicated during a specific step, supervisors can create production alerts that will pop up and notify the operator.

pro tip

Pro Tip: Production alerts are getting a new upgrade within VKS 6.4. Now, you can use these alerts to create temporary notifications while also tracking who created them, when they were created, and when they were discontinued.

Interactive Work Instruction Example #5

Imagine you are a supervisor for a large mixed-model manufacturing company. Today your operators building ceiling lamps and the assemblies need to go out the door by 5:00 PM. But, there’s been a problem. The assembly requires rivet YZ529 and the facility is fresh out.

Instead of wallowing in helplessness, you devise a plan. You may be out of YZ529 rivets but you have plenty of YZ571 rivets which work just as well. In this case, you create a production alert that pops up when the user needs to affix the two sheets of metal with the YZ529 rivet. It communicates to the operator that they should use the YZ571 rivet instead and where they can find them. Once YZ529 rivets are back in stock, you take the production alert down and everything goes back to normal.

Production alerts introduce communications that facilitate flexibility and resilience to changes in the production environment.

Interactive alerts

Are You Ready to Interact?

visual assembly

Interactive work instructions are the culmination of Industry 4.0 and 5.0 innovations. It is how people can truly communicate and engage with their technology to enhance the capabilities of their manufacturing environment.

The future of manufacturing is pointing us toward a modern workforce that interacts with cyber-physical systems like they are a member of the team. The only question is: Are you ready to interact?

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