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Electronic Work Instructions Ease Product Builds

Electronic work instructions (EWIs) are instrumental to the shop floor. What was once just a printed list of step-by-step directions created by supervisors and engineers for shop-floor workers has transformed into a high-tech, interactive process.

Mike Roberts, LNS Research
Mike Roberts, LNS Research

The way technology has improved manufacturing and industrial capacities over the past few decades is fascinating. A great example of this is the evolution of work instructions. What was once just a printed list of step-by-step directions created by supervisors and engineers for shop-floor workers has transformed into a high-tech, interactive process.

Today, electronic work instructions (EWIs) are instrumental to the shop floor. And market leaders are investing in the integration of EWIs with 3D visualization and simulation software, so operators aren’t just following along with instructions, but are able to view animations of each step and sometimes even improve things right on the spot.

Next-generation EWIs
It’s vital to have clear and repeatable instructions for every manufacturing process. Traditionally, shop-floor workers would hang laminated pieces of paper on the wall with diagrams and explanations of each step. 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. If we’re talking about a global operation, this becomes even more of a challenge.

The more complex something you’re building is, generally the more complex those instructions have to be, and a paper-based approach can be limiting. But computer technology on the shop floor wasn’t always as easily accessible and widespread as it is today.

Since document control software has become widely adopted, however, EWIs have made their way into the manufacturing environment. EWIs have improved the way supervisors and operators build products, and the way they interact with engineers and maintenance personnel. The technology enables a centralized, standardized and automated document management system, and can be found on most modern manufacturing shop floors.

In addition to improving communication and collaboration on the shop floor, streamlining EWIs mitigates many of the traditional risks associated with changing a work order. In the past, an engineering change might have been ordered, but never completed or at least never communicated to the appropriate personnel once it was completed. With automated workflows, notifications can be triggered to ensure the process is completed and the appropriate personnel are notified. Workflows can also ensure that the right instructions are being followed on time and in the context of the manufacturing process.

As the use of simulation and 3D visualization software becomes more prevalent, moving from engineering onto the shop floor, EWIs are becoming an even more effective tool. By integrating EWIs with this technology, an operator can watch each step of a process played out via animations. In some cases, operators and supervisors are trained to actually make changes and improvements to these processes in real time rather than waiting for an ECO.

With the continuous advancement of technology, we expect to see further integration between plant and process design, 3D visualization, simulation software, workflow software, manufacturing execution systems and EWI software.

The role of EWIs in MOM platforms
Increasingly, modern manufacturing operations management (MOM) platforms offer EWIs as an application within a broader portfolio of applications that integrate via the same software platform.

Standardization on the MOM platform facilitates the sharing of information and workflows, and is often a driver of greater collaboration capabilities in globally distributed manufacturing environments and even between functional units.

The infographic here helps to put EWI’s positioning in manufacturing operations management into perspective.

Read “8 Benefits of Electronic Work Instructions” to learn more about how to improve shop-floor operations.

>> Mike Roberts is a Research Associate for LNS Research ( in the areas of EQMS, MOM, asset performance management, sustainability, and Industrial Automation 2.0.

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