The Power of Digital Work Instructions Software in Manufacturing: Advantages, Implementations and Software Comparison

Explore the rise of digital work instructions replacing traditional paper-based methods. Uncover the advantages of digital work instruction software and compare various options in our comprehensive guide.
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Published on:
06 December 2023
Updated on:
21 February 2024

Digital work instructions have been gaining popularity in recent times. Countless digital work instructions software providers have sprung out, aiming to replace standard paper-based work instructions.

Yet, what are digital work instructions exactly? And are they as valuable as many software providers claim? In this article, we will briefly introduce digital work instructions, their advantages, and their roles in manufacturing and compare several well-known digital work instructions software providers.

At the end of this article, we also provide digital work instructions templates and an e-book that you can download for free.

What Are Digital Work Instructions?

Before venturing deeper into the topic, it’s essential to answer the most fundamental question: What is digital work instruction, and how does it differ from standard paper-based work instruction?

Digital work instructions are paperless work instructions accessible through an electronic device, such as a PC, tablet, smartphone, or any other device that can display instructions to its user.

It’s different from standard paper-based work instructions, which usually come in a sheet, a book, or any other paper-based form. Hence, the fundamental difference lies in its format. Making and using digital work instruction does not involve paper or printing.

To create and use digital work instructions, digital work instructions software is needed. At the end of this article, we will compare several digital work instructions software providers’ strengths and weaknesses.

 

Digital Work Instructions in Smart Manufacturing and Industry 4.0

In the manufacturing sector, digital work instructions are a part of the broader notion of Industry 4.0, sometimes called “smart manufacturing.” This reform aims to increase manufacturing efficiency through the use of technology. Increased efficiency can mean shorter production time, lower manufacturing costs, higher product output, or any other form of industrial improvement.

Implementing industry 4.0 reform is necessary for any manufacturer who wishes to stay ahead of their competitors. Technological advancements have allowed manufacturers to achieve key performance indicators (KPIs) that were previously unreachable. This analysis from McKinsey & Company explains the paramount role of Industry 4.0 in our contemporary manufacturing sector.

Digital work instructions are a perfect example of Industry 4.0’s disruption. Previously, work instructions were mostly in a paper and printed format. However, digital work instructions software offers numerous advantages over conventional manufacturing work instructions, which we will cover further in this article.

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Advantages of Digital Work Instructions Over Standard Work Instructions

Due to their digital nature, software-based digital work instructions have many advantages, such as

Visually Intuitive Work Instructions

The most noticeable difference between a digital work instruction and a paper-based instruction is its visual intuitiveness. A digital work instruction can include various visual elements, such as photos, videos/GIFs, symbols, interactive schematics, and other visual cues.

Furthermore, digital work instructions are relatively straightforward. Using digital work instructions software, operators can easily see the desired instruction on their PC/tablet/smartphone/other device’s screen. Navigating between instructions is also a breeze, as digital work instructions software typically has a search bar feature.

On the other hand, standard paper-based work instructions are not as visually intuitive. A video, GIF, or any visually interactive element is not possible.

Moreover, if the instruction is in the form of a manual book that is hundreds of pages long, your employees will have to spend lots of time and effort in navigating and reading it. Visual work instructions are always more intuitive and easily used than text-heavy work instructions.

Learn More About Azumuta’s Digital Work Instructions

Here’s the first step to have a paperless factory

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Easy-to-Make Work Instructions

Besides the ease of use and practicality on the users’ side, making digital work instructions using software is also an effortless experience from the instructions makers’ side.

Digital work instruction software often has a drag-and-drop interface for drafting a work instruction. Hence, instruction makers can easily add visual elements to their instructions without any prior graphic design experience.

Some digital work instructions even come with a premade template. With this template, instruction makers only need to edit it to match their needs instead of starting from scratch. This feature saves your employees precious manhours that can be spent on other productive tasks.

Access Your Digital Work Instructions Anywhere, Anytime

A digital work instruction can be accessed anywhere, at any time. As long as there is a PC/tablet/smartphone/other compatible device, any employee can use the work instructions, free from time and space constraints.

On the contrary, standard paper-based work instructions can only be in one place at any time. Their mobility is limited, especially if they’re in a heavy, hundreds-of-pages-long manual book format. Meanwhile, a PC/tablet/smartphone can easily store countless digital work instruction documents in its memory.

Easy Collaboration Across Departments

Another notable advantage of using digital work instructions software is the ease of collaboration between employees. Many digital work instructions software allow multiaccount and multidevice access, meaning that the same platform can be used by many employees from various departments within an organization.

As a result, cross-department collaboration has never been easier. Anyone in your organization with access can easily make, edit, and use your work instructions. There’s no need to manually print and distribute your work instructions to your employees like in the old days.

Easy Standardization and Scalability

Digital work instructions can easily be copied and distributed to various organizational teams. This possibility directly translates into effortless scalability.

Let’s say that you already have several assembly lines in a plant. One day, you’ve decided to open a new assembly line in that plant with the same machinery, producing the same goods.

With digital work instructions software, you can simply copy, paste, and distribute the existing work instructions to your employees – without drafting them from scratch. This advantage saves you valuable time and energy.

Going further up in the scalability level, what if you’re planning to build a new plant? As long as it operates the same machinery, produces the same goods, and follows the same standards & regulations, then you can still use the existing work instructions on different plants. Hence, digital work instructions make your organization’s expansion smoother.

Automated Real-Time Data Gathering

Some digital work instruction software allows you to create work instructions for your employees and check whether they have correctly followed them. Higher-end digital work instruction software can be integrated with peripheral production tools like a digital torque wrench.

When integrated, the numerical readings of your digital torque wrench will also be sent to your quality control officer’s device. Consequently, your quality control officers can remotely monitor your employees’ compliance.

Learn how digital work instructions software can be integrated with your production tools, such as a digital torque wrench. Be sure also to check our digital torque wrench and digital work instructions integration tutorial video.

This handy feature gives your assembly line an additional layer of quality control, making error detection far faster and easier. Naturally, it will positively improve your products’ quality and safety.

Features Beyond Work Instructions

Some digital work instruction software in the market only offers features related to work instructions and nothing more. However, in some others, their digital work instructions module is, in fact, a part of a more extensive manufacturing software.

Their digital work instructions module can be integrated with other modules, such as a manufacturing execution system (MES), skills matrices, electronic batch of records, and other functional industrial modules.

100% Paperless Work Instructions

Obviously, switching to digital work instructions means going 100% paperless. Cutting back on paper use reduces your organization’s environmental footprint. Switching to digital work instructions can significantly improve your organization’s sustainability, and ESG reports standings.

In addition to environmental considerations, going 100% paperless is also a financially wise decision. Although often overlooked, paper and printing costs can add up over time on a corporate scale. A survey in the US shows that, on average, an employee prints 8,874 pages each year, costing companies USD 725/year.

Science Has Proven Digital Work Instructions’ Effectiveness

If the advantages above haven’t convinced you to switch to digital work instructions, then perhaps this scientific evidence might. Research from RWTH Aachen in Germany on behavioral studies illustrates this well.

This research has found that people understand commands faster from digital work instructions than their conventional paper-based counterparts. The study has also concluded that digital work instruction users, on average, commit fewer mistakes than standard paper-based work instruction users.

Learn More About Azumuta’s Audits & Digital Checklists

Here’s the first step to have a paperless factory

Learn more

The Use of Digital Work Instruction Software in Manufacturing

As stated above, digital work instructions have numerous advantages over standard paper-based work instructions. As a result, digital work instruction software is used substantially in the manufacturing sector. Here are the primary functions where digital work instructions software is extensively utilized:

Visual-Focused Manufacturing Work Instructions

As the name suggests, the primary purpose of digital work instruction software is to instruct and guide employees in performing their tasks. Standard paper-based work instructions can also do this role, so why do you need to switch to digital work instructions?

Digital work instructions can better visually present information to their target audience by incorporating visual elements such as videos, GIFs, interactive schematics, and other visual cues.

On the other hand, it’s impossible to include these elements in a standard paper-based work instruction. Consequently, standard paper-based work instructions have to rely more on text-based information. This text-heavy approach is less effective than the more straightforward, visual-oriented way that digital work instructions offer.

As the saying goes: “a picture is worth a thousand words.” As a matter of fact, this saying is backed by science. Researchers from MIT have found that the human brain can identify images for as little as 13 milliseconds. Hence, opting for visual-dominant rather than text-dominant work instruction is scientifically a better choice.

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Real-Time and Round-the-Clock Shop Floor Supervision

Digital work instruction software is also commonly used by supervisors to monitor their shop floor in real-time, around the clock. The supervisors’ PC/tablet/smartphone can be integrated into the peripheral machinery that employees on the shop floor use. Most digital work instructions software have a dashboard that visualizes shop floor data.

This function grants unparalleled situational awareness to supervisors, even if they’re not physically present on the shop floor. Thanks to real-time notifications, supervisors will be immediately informed of a defect or a mistake in the assembly line. This feature is best coupled with a workflow approval scheme, available in most digital work instruction software.

This combination is used as a safeguard mechanism to prevent defective products from proceeding to the following stages of the production process. Employees on the shop floor can also use it to report to their supervisors if an issue needs to be addressed.

With digital work instructions software, a supervisor can monitor multiple assembly lines simultaneously, as most digital instructions software permits multiuser and multidevice access. Of course, this saves your supervisors’ time and energy, boosting your organization’s overall efficiency.

Learn More About Azumuta’s Digital Work Instructions

Here’s the first step to have a paperless factory

Learn more

Capturing and Sharing Tribal Knowledge

Another common use of digital work instructions is to document an organization’s existing collective know-how, including its tribal knowledge. Senior or highly skilled employees can take pictures of recordings of work instructions, which will then be stored within the organization’s database.  As a manager, understanding tribal knowledge and not how to lose it is a must.

Proper documentation will preserve your organization’s knowledge, experiences, techniques, and any other insight form. This asset can be passed down from one generation to another so that your junior employees will be ready to assume the roles of their seniors once they retire and leave your organization. This use is also one of the long-term strategies for mitigating and preventing a skills gap within your organization.

Historical Data Retention Platform

Any industry is regulated to some extent, and there are always standards that need to be met. For example, US pharmaceutical companies must comply with the FDA’s Current Good Manufacturing Practice (CGMP) Regulations, while any manufactured goods traded within the EU must bear the CE quality control mark.

Regardless of the industry, one of the most crucial steps in passing a quality control standard is having a historical record of your production process. Auditors often ask for your production tools’ past measurement readings to ensure that your production process satisfies their standards.

This is where digital work instructions software comes in. Most digital work instructions have a data retention feature, allowing you to trace your past measurements to a specific period.

A Comparison of Digital Work Instructions Software & Platforms

There are countless digital work instructions software available in the market. Each software has its own set of advantages and disadvantages. For those new to digital work instructions software, comparing different software providers can be confusing, as many aspects must be considered.

In general, all digital work instructions have the ability to make, use, and edit paperless work instructions. However, many digital work instructions software also have many other useful functionalities.

Below, we’ve compiled a list of 5 well-known digital work instructions software providers you can use as a benchmark. We will briefly introduce each provider and highlight their advantages and disadvantages.

Digital work instructions software providers generally offer their products in tiers, with a subscription fee corresponding to the available features. The higher the cost, the more features the digital work instructions software offers.

Most providers don’t disclose their enterprise subscription costs, as it depends on each organization’s needs and size. We will only consider the highest subscription tier from each digital work instructions software brand for a fair comparison.

Tulip

The first digital work instructions software provider on our list is Tulip. It’s a one-stop software that offers various manufacturing solutions. Digital work instructions are only one of its multiple modules, ranging from an employee training system to quality management.

Hence, it offers a massive range of features compared to its competitors. In general, Tulip’s product is best suited for experienced professionals looking to make the most of digital work instructions software and integrate it with other manufacturing-enhancing modules.

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Key Features

  • Make, edit, and use PDF, image, and video-supported work instructions
  • Work instructions support 3D models
  • Work instructions can be integrated with Microsoft Office Suite/Sharepoint
  • Real-time automatic shop floor data capture
  • Data visualization dashboard
  • It can be used on a PC, tablet, and smartphone
  • Approval workflow scheme
  • Can track historical data
  • Exportable reports
  • Connectable with peripherals
  • Allows real-time supervisor & shop floor employee communication
  • Has a digital checklist feature or can be connected with a digital checklist module
  • Has an employee skills and training tracking feature or can be connected with a skills matrix module

Pros

  • It has the widest array of features compared to its competitors
  • Has the richest knowledge hub resources compared to other digital work instructions software providers
  • Besides being accessible on PCs, tablets, and smartphones, Tulip’s software can also be used on wearable devices, such as the RealWear HMT-1 headset
  • Connectible with peripherals

Cons

  • Tulip does offer lots of useful features. However, some of its features, such as employee skills tracking, are placed under another module instead of the digital work instructions module. Thus, users must use and navigate between several modules to utilize all of Tulip’s features.
  • Due to its abundance of features, it might take some time for beginners to master its full functionality.

VKS

Unlike Tulip, which offers a wide range of modules, VKS’ software only focuses on one module: digital work instructions. However, its standalone software still offers many features comparable to Tulip and other high-end digital work instructions software. Its particular advantage is its interface simplicity, making it easy for beginners to navigate.

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Key Features

  • Make, edit, and use PDF, image, and video-supported work instructions
  • Real-time automatic shop floor data capture
  • Data visualization dashboard
  • It can be used on a PC and tablet
  • Approval workflow scheme
  • Can track historical data
  • Exportable reports
  • Connectable with peripherals
  • Allows real-time supervisor & shop floor employee communication
  • Has a digital checklist feature or can be connected with a digital checklist module
  • Has an employee skills and training tracking feature or can be connected with a skills matrix module

Pros

  • Provides a wide range of features compared to its competitors
  • Its interface is simple and easy to use, especially for beginners
  • It has an ROI calculator on its website
  • Connectible with peripherals

Cons

  • The resources in its knowledge hub are relatively limited compared to other providers.
  • Not supported on smartphones

Dozuki

Dozuki is also a strong contender among digital work instruction software providers. Compared to Tulip and VKS, it offers a similarly diverse set of features, although it’s not connectible to peripheral devices. However, it has several robust, unique features, such as pre-made video instruction templates and the ability to auto-translate instructions into 100+ languages.

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Key Features

  • Make, edit, and use PDF, image, and video-supported work instructions
  • Real-time automatic shop floor data capture
  • Data visualization dashboard
  • It can be used on a PC, tablet, and smartphone
  • Approval workflow scheme
  • Can track historical data
  • Exportable reports
  • Allows real-time supervisor & shop floor employee communication
  • Has a digital checklist feature or can be connected with a digital checklist module
  • Has an employee skills and training tracking feature or can be connected with a skills matrix module

Pros

  • Provides a wide range of features compared to its competitors
  • Can auto-translate work instructions to 100+ languages
  • Offers pre-existing video instruction templates
  • It has a dedicated questions and answers forum for users
  • Has sufficient resources in its knowledge hub

Cons

  • Not connectible with peripherals

Operations1

Operations1 offers a decent scope of features for digital work instructions software. However, as mentioned earlier, its features are relatively limited compared to its three competitors. For example, it can’t connect with peripherals and has no approval workflow scheme.

However, its knowledge hub is better than most other digital work instruction providers. Additionally, its digital work instructions module is only a part of its greater manufacturing-supporting app. The above explains why its feature’s depth is not as deep as a dedicated digital work instructions software.

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Key Features

  • Make, edit, and use PDF, image, and video-supported work instructions
  • Work instructions support 3D models
  • Work instructions can be integrated with Microsoft Office Suite/Sharepoint
  • Real-time automatic shop floor data capture
  • Data visualization dashboard
  • It can be used on a PC, tablet, and smartphone
  • Can track historical data
  • Exportable reports
  • Allows real-time supervisor & shop floor employee communication
  • Has a digital checklist feature or can be connected with a digital checklist module
  • Has an employee skills and training tracking feature or can be connected with a skills matrix module

Pros

  • Have a good amount of resources in its knowledge hub

Cons

  • Not connectible with peripherals

SwipeGuide

SwipeGuide’s digital work instructions module offers fewer features than other providers on this list. It also has a minimalist and straightforward user interface. Interestingly, it has an  AI assistant to help users create work instructions. These minimalistic features, simple design, and support from an AI assistant make it perfect for users new to digital work instructions.

A smartphone displaying a guide titled

Key Features

  • Make, edit, and use PDF, image, and video-supported work instructions
  • It can be used on a PC, tablet, and smartphone
  • Approval workflow scheme
  • Can track historical data
  • Exportable reports
  • Has a digital checklist feature or can be connected with a digital checklist module
  • Has an employee skills and training tracking feature or can be connected with a skills matrix module

Pros 

  • Provides an AI Virtual assistant to help draft work instructions
  • Intuitive user interface
  • Has decent resources in its knowledge hub
  • Has an ROI calculator on its website

Cons

  • Has the least variety of features compared to other providers in this article

Azumuta’s Digital Work Instructions Solution

As has been shown, choosing between different digital work instructions software providers is indeed challenging. But worry not, as Azumuta is the solution for your manufacturing digital work instructions needs.

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Azumuta’s Digital Work Instructions module covers all the features required to create, edit, and use intuitive digital work instructions. It also comes with powerful features that put it ahead of its competitors, such as

Additionally, Azumuta’s knowledge hub is equipped with immensely information-rich resources.  Our Knowledge Base provides step-by-step guides in using our modules, supported by images and videos. Thanks to it, getting started with Azumuta’s products feels like a breeze.

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Download Free Work Instructions Templates

Download free templates to start creating effective digital work instructions today!

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Witness how Azumuta’s modules have helped a client to reduce human error-related complaints by 60%, speed up employee training by 60%, and reduce the time needed to create and manage manufacturing-related work instructions by 50% – all in just 3 months of implementation.

Be sure to check out other success stories where Azumuta’s modules have drastically improved our clients’ production efficiency. Azumuta truly provides the most comprehensive digital work instructions the market offers.

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