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How Digital Work Instructions and Operator Independence can go hand in hand

digital-work-instructions-woman-on-production-line-scaled

Digital work instructions are at the core of our platform. Although they are very powerful, they also come with some challenges that often remain underexposed. In this article, we shed some light on what those challenges are and how they can be tackled.

Arkite’s software solution transforms workstations into a digital and interactive environment by:

  • Guiding your operator with real-time picking and assembly instructions through augmented reality (AR)
  • Validating your operations with our embedded smart-sensor
  • Integrating your eco-system to create smarter workstations
  • Converting your manual operations into knowledgeable information

The advantages of digital work instructions

The advantages of digital work instructions are numerous and obvious:

  • There is no more need to print procedures or manuals, which is not only a great cost reduction but also very helpful to the preservation of our planet.
  • Operators don’t need to memorize all steps for all complex product variants – only the instructions for the variant they have selected appear on the workbench.
  • Operators don’t need to go through lengthy manuals to find the information they need – the relevant instruction is projected on their workbench at the right moment in time.
  • The production process is standardized. Every assembly is done in the same way, which increases both the efficiency and the quality of work and limits the amount of errors to a bare minimum.
  • Training time is drastically reduced – thanks to the support of digital work instructions, operators are up-to-speed much faster and temporary workforce can be integrated into the production planning in a much smoother way
  • When digital work instructions are not applied correctly, the system immediately warns the operator. This way, errors are prevented and the amount of scrap is reduced.
  • Manufacturers get valuable input from our platform through reporting. They can see which steps in the assembly process takes considerably more time, or are error-prone. That helps them in finetuning their processes and increasing their efficiency.

The resistance

No wonder our clients are enthusiastic about our platform. And we are as well, obviously. If we weren’t, we wouldn’t spend our time and effort in even further improving it.

However, we have noticed during several project implementations not everybody is convinced from the start. Ironically enough, the operators are the ones that are often rather sceptical of digital work instructions and sometimes there is quite some resistance among them to start using it. And since operators are the main users and therefore stakeholders of our platform, that’s an important problem.

Now, where does this resistance come from?

First of all, operators often see the Arkite solution as yet another way for their superiors to control them. They feel like Big Brother is watching them, penalizing them when making mistakes or working too slowly.

Next, they experience the platform as a straight-jacket that defines what they can and can’t do. They feel like they can no longer think for themselves or make their own decisions.

Finally, operators do not like the fact that one standardized way of working is imposed upon them. Sometimes, they have developed their own habits over the years and they are not open to do things differently then they are used to.

The answer

In fact, these are valid concerns. Any human on this planet wants to be able to make his own choices and feel in charge of his own life. It is a point of concern for any technological innovation: we need to make sure it supports us, but does not rule us.

At Arkite, we are very much aware of this. For every feature we develop, our main goal is that it should help the operator and increase his confidence and independence rather than confining it.

Let’s look at a few practical examples how we are doing this.

First of all, there is the Experience Level functionality. This feature allows manufacturers to configure their project in such a way that it is customized to the proficiency of the operator who is using it. They can increase the pace of the assembly process for more experienced operators, or decide to show additional text and image instructions for new workers or for training purposes. The Arkite platform can automatically calculate an operator’s experience level based upon the progress he makes through the various iterations of the assembly process. However, there is also a manual mode. In that case, the decision to select an experience level lays with the operator. This way, operators can choose the support that works best for them. If they feel the amount of instructions that is shown is slowing them down, they can just pick a higher experience level. Or vice versa: if they feel more comfortable and reassured by more detailed instructions, they can choose to remain at the lowest level.

Next, our platform allows to build in some amount of freedom for the operators in the assembly process. It is possible to define a set of steps that can be executed in a random order. This gives an operator the flexibility to perform certain tasks in the order he is used to doing them. For example, if a screw needs to be fastened on both the left side and the right side of an object, it does often not matter which one is done first. The Arkite platform can be configured in such a way that each operator can choose which way works best for him or her.

Operators also have the possibility to pause or interrupt the assembly process at any time. No matter how smart our platform is, it is still just software code and can never be aware of everything that happens around it. So sometimes, people do know better and therefore they must be given the chance to interfere at any time.

Last but not least, we want to point out that although the features mentioned above do support and increase operator independence, they are not required to convince workers of the benefits of our platform. Once they start working with it, any initial resistance that might have been there, quickly vanishes into thin air. Operators quickly notice how the support they get from the instructions that are provided to them in real time boosts their confidence and makes their work a lot easier. It allows them to acquire skills much faster, and in some cases even perform tasks they would never be able to do without the support offered by the Arkite platform.

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