When you have a new product design, do you ever wonder how a factory makes the initial sample? What about how factory management teaches unskilled assembly workers to mass produce thousands of units of your product? The answer lies in the factory’s work instructions.
If you’ve ever hired a supplier to manufacture products, undoubtedly, you’ve wondered if the factory is actually doing everything correctly to make the product as expected. This is especially true if your product is complicated and requires many steps to make.
A World Without Work Instructions
Imagine the potential consequences from the customer’s point of view. Maybe the customer is putting together a book shelf, but the instructions for assembly didn’t come with the product. A shelf is fairly easy to improvise, but it’s still hard to get everything done right on the first try. You may have the time and patience to try again and again in order to get your perfect shelf. But it’s clear that having instructions on hand that are written in simple terms with illustrations would a go long way to alleviating any frustrations.
Now consider the plight of a low-paid factory worker in a similar situation. They’re trying to put together hundreds of units of a product, or multiple products, in a single shift. Do you think an assembly worker like this one, who is paid on a per-piece basis, will care whether or not a process is done right? If only there was a set of work instructions for workers on a factory production line that could help guide them to through the process…
What Are Work Instructions?
Just like assembling a shelf, when a factory gets a new product design, they will work through a step-by-step process for how to make and assemble the product. This is usually done by a product engineer. Once the engineer maps out all the steps, he then has to teach the process to the workers. This is the reason why work instructions are so important and why the instructions have to be clear and easy-to-understand. Most factories fill their instructions with pages and pages of complex language and explanations. But in reality, these instructions are for the assembly workers, most of which are not well-educated. How effective can work instructions really be in this case when they aren’t written for the layman?
What Makes Effective Work Instructions?
Work instructions should be clear, written in simple language and include photos or illustrations showing how each process is done. When workers question their own methods, they should be able to just rely on the work instruction instead of having to ask the line supervisor. In most cases, workers will do whatever is easiest for them when there aren’t any clear instructions.
The next time you’re visiting your suppliers, try to see if you can find the work instructions for your products at each product-making workstation. You may be surprised to find how complicated the work instructions are, or worse, the factory may not be able to provide any work instructions at all. In either case, it’s time to sit down and have a talk with the factory’s boss and the production manager. The bottom line: make sure your factory has created and implemented easy-to-understand work instructions that take the guess work out of manufacturing your product.