Digital work instructions help operators to make customised products

Following the shift towards mass customisation, companies are in need of digital work instructions that support their operators in making customised products. Research centre Flanders Make explains in a webinar how you should draw up such digital work instructions and how this process can be automated.

Whereas mass production used to be the norm, the emphasis in the industry is shifting more and more towards mass customisation, with small series of products that are tailored to the customer’s specific requirements. As a result, operators need to perform increasingly less repetitive tasks and be increasingly flexible. This makes their work a lot more complex.

Therefore, companies need digital work instructions that can be created and adapted in a swift process and can be easily consulted “A plastic folder with a few documents does not suffice anymore, not by far, says Sonia Vanderlinden, who at Flanders Make heads the Flexible Assembly cluster.

During a webinar on 19 May titled 'How to automate the creation of digital work instructions', the research centre will, together with a number of companies, explain which innovative methods there are available for simplifying the creation and updating of work instructions and how these methods can be used in the best possible way.


Several digital technologies

There are several technologies for using digital work instructions. One of them is Informed Reality (IR), which coaches operators while they are performing their tasks. These operators can, for instance, wear glasses on which short messages, pictures or video clips can be shown in one of the upper corners whenever these are needed.

With Augmented Reality (AR), you can take it another step further. Concrete instructions can be projected on an image of the reality such as a work bench, machine or product. You can, for instance, use an arrow to point at a screw that must be tightened or highlight a pushbutton that must be pressed.

Finally, Virtual Reality tools can be useful as well but mainly for training purposes or to validate workplaces before actually having built a production line. Because in VR you do not have any real image of your current environment, you cannot use it for instructions at the production line itself, this would not be safe.

Preventing techno-stress

Flanders Make not only has the know-how to develop such instruction methods but also to keep them up-to-date in an automated way. Sonia Vanderlinden: “We also adapt the instructions to the level of experience of operators because a starter needs different information than someone withmany years of experience. And we ensure that operators always  remain in control so as to prevent techno-stress and consider their feedback when developing new instructions. With its ‘Flexible Assembly’ cluster, Flanders Make focuses primarily on assembly plants but the insights on digital work instructions could prove invaluable for almost every industrial sector.

Better deployment of employees

Digital work instructions can considerably improve the performances of operators. Another benefit is that new employees will master their job much more quickly. Furthermore, they enable to deploy low-skilled workers for these jobs so that employees with a different profile can be used for more complex tasks.

“We also notice that people in all age categories are good in picking up these digital instructions”, says Vanderlinden. “Sometimes, people are a bit reluctant but in general their fears are rapidly overcome.”


Sonia Vanderlinden - Cluster Manager

Sonia Vanderlinden - Cluster Manager

Sonia Vanderlinden obtained her MSc industrial science in mechanical engineering in 1989 at the KIHL (current KU Leuven). After a career of more than 25 years in operational and quality management in both multinationals as SME’s, she currently is the cluster manager of the “Flexible Assembly” competence cluster.

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