Why creating assembly instructions should be a collaborative work and how it enhances the efficiency of your production

Assembly instructions are the basis for your production and thus build a crucial resource to ensuring high product quality. Even though this is a known fact for most producers, the creation of assembly instructions continues to receive very little attention and is often not done thoroughly enough. This post will show you, why you should create them in a collaborative manner to improve your efficiency and save time in the long run. Plus, it will give you some useful tips on how to implement a better process.

Why good assembly instructions matter

Assembly instructions provide a guideline for workers that is critical for producing homogeneous products of consistently high quality. The need for instructions stems from the differences in working habits of every worker. Each employee shows a different work process, originating from differences in experience, skill level or habitual behaviours.

As a result, production errors may occur, and rework can increase the cost of your production. Especially with a large workforce, the chances of variation in the production line increase exponentially. Good assembly instructions can help you reduce variation and provide a consistent and high-quality output of products. Not only that, but they also provide a great perk for training new employees and keeping valuable information available in your company when employees retire.

What reduces the effectiveness of your instructions

Not all instructions provide the same kind of value, and some factors might even lower their effectiveness. Let’s have a look at what to avoid:

  1. Having only text-based instructions without any kind of visualization prove to be less engaging for the user and thus result in less people reading them thoroughly. Additionally, it takes your employees a lot of time to read long instructional texts, which is not desireable if you strive to have a quick assembly process.
  2. Oral instructions are also not optimal because they require a lot of time for the instructor and have to be repeated to each new employee. Also, the information retention may not be the same for each employee, which results in higher chances for production errors.
  3. Setting the level of required expertise too high is another typical mistake when creating assembly instructions. If the instructions are over the head of the average operator, they will have a difficult time understanding them. Accordingly, the chances for mistakes increase.
  4. Incomplete instruction information often occurs when the assembly process has not been reviewed from each angle.  However, missing quality, safety and maintenance considerations are a common factor for production errors and therefore should be avoided.

How you can create better and more effective assembly instructions

Standardize the work in your assembly line

The purpose of assembly instructions is to follow the best-practice currently known to the company so that the manufacturing process can run as smoothly as possible, and every operator does the same job. As previously mentioned, if every employee has their own way of working, it poses a higher risk for errors and makes improving the whole production process more difficult. Therefore, you should try to standardize the steps in your assembly line and optimize them to the best of your knowledge. Any later improvements to the instructions can thus be added more easily.  

Ensure your instructions are easy to follow

Making your assembly instructions understandable for every employee is crucial to ensure that everyone can benefit from them. Naturally, you want to consider all experience levels when creating your instructions and make them comprehensible even for novice employees.

Make the creation a team effort

The best way to ensure the understandability of your instructions is to make their creation a team effort. Involve employees from the assembly line as well as the production line and the engineers. Gather their input and collectively figure out the most effective way to handle your assembly process. Since each worker has a different viewpoint, this is the perfect opportunity to make your employees think out of the box and develop a better process for everyone. Don’t fall into the trap of disregarding the feedback of low-level-employees, since they can provide you with very useful information coming from first-hand experience in the production. Doing this gives you a better insight into the procedures of your production and helps identifying and solving problems, which leads to an overall improvement of your productions process.

Visualize the assembly process

As mentioned earlier in this article, plain text assembly instructions are proven to be less engaging and thus lead to less people reading them. What you want to do to instead is adding pictures and drawings to your instructions next to each step of the assembly. Research by Mattson and Fast-Berglund (2016) shows that depictive work instructions tend to do much better regarding cycle-time, quality, flexibility in time and space and learning curves compared to text-based instructions. The advantages of visualized instructions include being able to tell immediately if the standards of the production are being followed as well as being easily understandable and requiring low effort for the employee who uses them. They are also helpful to display small details of your assembly process, that might be difficult to describe in words only.

Include standardized timing for each step

Including a timeframe for each step of the production creates a guide for each worker and helps improve efficiency. It creates slight pressure for each employee, increasing their efficiency, but also helps with identifying problem areas, for instance when a certain task takes much longer than originally anticipated.

How virtualfab enables you to collaboratively create assembly instructions

Create your instructions in your team and with your customer

Our software virtualfab provides you with the perfect tools to support the collaborative creation of your assembly instructions.
Firstly, virtualfab works in a team-based manner, which means it encourages you to collaborate with your whole team and enables you to easily communicate with each other via a teamchat. The same applies to the communication with your customers, who are also encouraged to invite their team members to join a shared chat tool in which you can effortlessly discuss the assembly instructions and share documents with one another. This way, you can simply include the people who do the assembly work as well as the engineers in the creation process, to easily discuss iterations and enhance the quality of your assembly. Following this process will also ensure that the instructions are understandable for everyone in your team.
Including this collaborative effort in the creation of your assembly instructions also supports the standards of ISO9001 clause 10.3, enabling an easier and more effective way to ensure the continuous improvement of your assembly.

Make your instructions clear and accurate

Furthermore, virtualfab offers you a handy tool to create your instructions within the software from scratch. Simply create each step of the assembly and assign the corresponding tasks to them. You can add two pictures to each task, which create a before and after image of the task at hand and let you visualize the whole assembly process.
In addition, virtualfab includes a feature to ensure the accuracy of your assembly instructions. Within each task, you may link the needed items to complete the task. Doing so will create an automatic double-check with the BOM for the current order at hand, meaning you will immediately see if the number of items in the BOM does not match up with the number of items in your instructions. On top of that, you can add the necessary tools and production aids to each step of the assembly process. In the end, you will have a handy overview for each step, which includes the needed tools as well as the summarized number of all items necessary to complete the assembly step. This does not only create a very useful overview, but it also helps to prevent any mistakes the assembly process.

Easily share your instructions with your team and get informed about any changes

Once you are satisfied with the instructions you have collaboratively created, you can set the status of your assembly article to “released” and download your instructions as a PDF file. Releasing the assembly means that once your supply chain is running, the information cannot simply be changed anymore without notice. The status of the assembly instructions at the time of release is verifiable at any time. If the instructions need to be changed again at a later point, e.g. as part of a continous improvement process, it will be clearly visible to everyone involved in the process.

Did we pique your interest?

Get in contact with us to learn more about how virtualfab can support you in the collaborative creation of your assembly instructions.

S. Mattsson, Å. Fast-Berglund, D. Li (2016) Evaluation of Guidelines for Assembly Instructions, IFAC-PapersOnLine, Volume 49, Issue 12, Pages 209-214
S. Hinrichsen (2021) Gestaltung von Anleitungen für die Montage variantenreicher Erzeugnisse, University of Applied Sciences Ostwestfalen-Lippe