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Augmented Reality and the Pain of Work Instructions

Note: This post was originally written for PTC... but it was the wrong topic. Oops. So I'm sharing it here.

Generating work instructions is a critical yet often-underperformed part of Manufacturing Process Planning. Work instructions are detailed step-by-step information covering the assembly of products, and can include images, explode views, and Bills of Material (BOMs). Depending on the organization, they can be printed or electronic.

Quality initiatives in manufacturing organizations depend on accurate, complete, and up-to-date work instructions. But sometimes companies skimp on these steps. Why? Generating work instructions can be tedious, time-consuming, and frankly, not that fun.

The Painful and Flawed Past

How dated is your process?

Some of the methods I’ve used in the past to generate work instructions include:

  • Pro/PROGRAM for Assemblies, an underappreciated and powerful module that comes with the Advanced Assembly Extension (AAX) but unfortunately hasn’t been updated in twenty years.

  • Arbortext IsoDraw and Creo Illustrate for generating 2D and 3D technical illustrations that are then placed in Microsoft Word drawings.

  • Images captured in Creo Parametric and Creo View and then placed into Windchill MPMLink.

  • Sadly, in the fairly recent past, taking photographs of finished articles, marking them up in Microsoft Paint, and then putting them into a PowerPoint presentation.

I’ve written how engineers can become better designers by performing their own analysis. Similarly, they can become better designers by attending the first build of every article they work on. They should be side-by-side with the technicians and assemblers, answering questions, and writing Engineering Change Requests (ECRs) and Variances on the spot for issues that are found.

However, at one company designing vehicles, we were so busy working on the next generation that we couldn’t afford this luxury. The organization was deliberately kept small, in accordance with Dunbar’s number which puts the optimal size for an organization around 150 people.

On occasion, Mike, the lead technician, would tap me on the shoulder and ask me to follow him to the production floor. He would point at some narrow opening and ask, “How am I supposed to get my hand in there and make that connection?” (“Do you have any kids?” I jokingly responded. Mike’s manager said, “That’s the problem with Rick buying you those 34-inch curved monitors. Everything looks big to you.”)

If you asked, “Where are the work instructions?” the answer was, “In Mike’s head.” I’m being facetious; Mike actually kept detailed notes, but they were not reviewed, released, or configuration controlled. The point is, it’s really easy for product development teams to become complacent about the importance of creating and maintaining work instructions.

So how do you generate work instructions? It usually involves someone – a manufacturing engineer or a technician – going through the build process one step at a time and writing down what they do, what they need, and the checks and measurements they perform.

The Next Generation of Generating Work Instructions

What if you could just film the build process and turn that into work instructions? That’s the beauty of new technology called Waypoint for authoring work instructions. A person dons an Augmented Reality (AR) headset and then records the process they need to perform. By saying what they’re doing as they do it, they create the work instructions on-the-fly.

The steps, audio commands, and images can be edited later. The result can be published to a document like traditional work instructions and stored in your Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) system. Even better, the work instructions can be delivered to a technician, assembler, or operator through an AR headset.

Augmented Reality (AR) and Waypoint are faster, easier, and more accurate than any methods I’ve used in the past for generating work instructions. If you’re not performing these manufacturing support tasks because of the time and effort involved, then AR might be the solution for you.

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