Improving Shop Floor Communication with Work Instructions

By: Margarita Deviakovitch

Wednesday, April 29th 2020

Being able to communicate effectively is a hard-earned skill. Relaying ways of working onto the shop floor efficiently is even harder – except when you employ digital work instructions.

A plant supervisor may have the highest skills for the job, but without proper communication, instructions and directives risk falling on deaf ears. Inconsistencies in the methods of teaching or properly conveying how to perform a task can have a detrimental effect on the entire process, especially when we factor in the need for people to accomplish tasks they have never done when transitioning products to a new facility, switching production or simply when a fellow colleague is out sick for the day.

Day Off? No Problem!

Employees calling in sick is inevitable, but it doesn’t need to throw the whole production process into disarray when the only person who knows how to do a specific job takes the day off.

But for this to work properly, important factors need to be taken into account: what are the exact steps needed and is there a chance of the information getting outdated? So let’s break down both scenarios.

What specific instructions does a newcomer need?

More than anything when creating work instructions for anyone to just be able to pick and run with, you’re going to need to be very specific and provide as many details as you think may be relevant to them being able to complete instructions 1-22 (or whichever the number of steps) without needing to ring for a supervisor.

One of the best ways of creating foolproof work instructions is by thinking of them as a checklist. Using VKS Lite work instruction software, you can create work instructions by dragging and dropping images, text, and much more. When needed, you can also expand and add supplementary information and instructions by making annotations clickable. Then, when the employee needs more information, they can simply click the annotation button and either read extra explanations or be re-directed elsewhere such as another guidebook, or an external page, etc.

Ensuring that anyone can pick up a given task at the drop of a hat is just half of the solution. By documenting knowledge, you also ensure that a new employee can acquire tribal knowledge much faster than it would have taken a veteran employee decades ago.

Once the employee reaches the point where they acquire a certain amount of knowledge and no longer need to see all the detailed information, Expert mode can then be enabled to only show the most critical steps.

How do you keep your work instructions up-to-date?

Transferring accurate work instructions is at the height of importance. To avoid production errors, defects and communication interruption, it’s critical to review instructions on a frequent basis. Needless to say, if your work instructions are all printed on paper, then rifling through each and every paper is impossible. While most documentation is bound to be timeless, many others often require quick updates to be applied to satisfy changing regulations. If all your processes are in a digital format, it then becomes easy to modify multiple guidebooks with just one click.

Reduce Contact & Embrace Social Distancing

Speaking of being sick, in a sudden era of social distancing, it’s now more important than ever to reduce contact. But the biggest question on everyone’s minds is how to socially distance within manufacturing. It’s a tough dilemma, for sure, but one that is possible to overcome. From using 5S floor markings to identify clear pathways, and staggering shifts, there are many solutions you can implement quickly, as we covered in our 8 Tips for Manufacturers during COVID-19.

Reminders also go a long way. We’re all guilty of mindlessly ignoring the guidelines posted inside the workplace bathroom to diligently wash our hands for at least 20 seconds, making sure to clean under our nails. With the coronavirus pandemic going from zero to sixty, no one anticipated having to really pay attention to such guidelines.

As we venture out of our homes and back into the real world, it’s now going to be more important than ever to enforce proper cleaning and hygiene methods. But how do you do that in a society used to selectively filtering out important information?

With VKS Pro, for example, it’s possible to set-up automated prompts to remind employees to wash their hands every hour. You could even create a self-audit checklist to have each employee check themselves for common coronavirus symptoms. If any of the answers fail the test, then a supervisor is immediately alerted and the employee can be sent home for further testing to avoid spreading the disease to anyone else.

Pandemics aside, you can also use forms to create quality checklists to capture any data, from important product measurements, all the way to temperatures, timeframes, and so much more.

Transfer Production Between Sites

At the end of the day, scaling up is the ultimate goal of any business. When it comes to manufacturing, it’s simply not viable to take valuable resources and employees from one facility and send them over to the new location. With the advent of Industry 4.0 and the Internet of Things, there are better, cheaper, and much faster ways of getting a new facility up and running within just a few months.

There’s just one way to accomplish maximum efficiency and productivity as fast as possible and that’s by properly documenting processes, tribal knowledge, and critical information.

Even if your plant has been running for a few years or decades, it’s never too late to go digital and paperless. It’s significantly faster to create instructions digitally than it is to write them out in a Word document or PDF format and then waste money on sheets of paper, printing them out for the shop floor employees to simply file away in a long-forgotten cabinet. Even worse is when months or years later, a new employee receives this so-called printed work instruction document, only to realize that pages 4, 23, and 33-35 are missing. Unfortunately, missing information causes immediate distrust, enabling even the new employees to cast away the instructions and learn in their own way.

And as we know, that’s exactly where the trouble starts and continues for most companies.

By documenting your processes and creating production plans, you can instead promote trust and boost confidence on the shop floor in the same way that Gerber Gear did when they sped up production and reduced waste.

If your entire workflow is already documented digitally at one location, then it’s as simple as sharing the information over to another facility without having to spend a fortune on travel and training expenses.

Shift Production Faster

If the coronavirus pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that anything can happen at any given moment and you need to expect the unexpected. Along with standardizing work and going paperless, the ability to quickly respond to global crises is one of the major benefits of knowledge management during a pandemic. You can never be too prepared and having a backup plan to your backup plan is imperative.

In the event of a world-mobilizing event, for instance, many manufacturing businesses saw themselves declared as non-essential and found themselves having to wait day-by-day for the moment they would be allowed to reopen. In a manufacturing world, such time lost is detrimental to everything from revenue, all the way to production, quality, and even the workforce morale!

With this in mind, already having a digital solution in place and ready to switch production at a moment’s notice is critical to ensure survival. When you already have a digital instruction software running on your shop floor, switching production to a completely different item is achievable with less effort. The pandemic showed us just how easy of a process this can be with many of the top companies switching production. Famed kids’ toymaker Little Tikes started making ventilator masks, world-renown footwear brand New Balance switched to making face masks, etc.

Whether big or small, switching production isn’t easy, especially when it’s unexpected and for an item that the factory wouldn’t usually specialize in. But using work instructions to relay processes can greatly streamline and enable you to hit the ground running much faster.