Digital work instructions support operators in custom work - an interview with Sonia Vanderlinden

Digital work instructions support operators in custom work - an interview with Sonia Vanderlinden

Digital work instructions support operators in custom work - an interview with Sonia Vanderlinden

sonia vanderlinden

Mass production is out, mass customization (or production in small series with a lot of variation) is in. Companies are expected to deliver standardized products and services tailored to the individual requirements and needs of the customer. This makes the tasks of workers more complex and the need for support in the workplace increases. Digital work instructions are necessary for this. We did an interview with Sonia Vanderlinden, Cluster Manager Flexible Assembly at Flanders Make.

  • Sonia Vanderlinden obtained her MSc in industrial sciences in mechanical engineering from KIHL (currently KU Leuven) in 1989. After a career of more than 25 years in operational and quality management with both multinationals and SMEs, she is currently the cluster manager of the “Flexible Assembly” competence cluster. Flanders Make carries out research into flexible assembly systems within Flanders Make *

Flanders Make

Flanders Make is the strategic research center for the manufacturing industry. From their locations across Flanders, they stimulate open innovation through high-quality applied research. In addition, companies can work with them on tailor-made innovation. They offer an extensive range of testing and validation infrastructure for testing and validating your products and production. They aim to contribute to the technological development of the vehicles, machines and factories of the future. In this way they create added value for the Belgian manufacturing industry. Flanders Make today has more than 600 researchers who work full-time as a unique community on a common industrial research agenda.

Their focus


Supporting product and process innovation within the Flemish industry. They are responsible for industrially driven, pre-competitive technological research into the vehicles, machines and factories of tomorrow. In this way they stimulate the digital transformation of companies - large and small.

Tailored innovation

They help companies develop technological solutions, from the moment an idea takes shape to when it develops into a fully functional product or production process. They also provide support in improving their existing products and production processes.

Testing and validation

They offer high-tech test infrastructure to test and validate your production processes and (components of) vehicles or machines.

How does Flanders Make see the future?

A first important trend is that everything will be connected. Which will create a huge amount of possibilities in automated data. Information in the right place, at the right time and in the right form. This will offer new opportunities in the field of intelligent data analysis and the automatic adjustment of your processes. “The future is Industry 4.0 supported by industrial [Internet of Things (IoT)](,%2Dto%2Dcomputer%20interaction.%E2%80%9D). The "digital twin" or "digital copy" plays an important role in this, "says Sonia Vanderlinden.

The idea of the digital twin is a virtual representation of a product. That can be used in product design, simulation, control, optimization and is an important concept in IoT. “Flanders Make is going to focus strongly on the digital copy of eg. assembly processes so that one can also do analyzes and optimize things before anything is actually produced. ”

Flexible Assembly

Flanders Make conducts research into four areas of competence, one of which is Flexible Assembly. Here a research group will work specifically on a specific topic. "Flexible assembly stands for assembly process optimization in an industry 4.0 context," says Sonia. The team consists of five core labs consisting of four university labs and one Flanders Make lab. Together they have developed a roadmap, this is a ten-year plan in which they take into account the state of affairs of technological developments and the evolution around this. Each competence cluster has a team of companies around it.

“In my case, there are 28 companies that meet annually. Together we will discuss the needs, problems and we will exchange information with each other. Here, research topics are linked up, which are later incorporated into project ideas.”

Mass customization

Production in small series with a lot of variation is new. The endless desire for customization and choice is growing, everything is becoming more and more customized. Customers can choose more options for their products and this process will continue to progress, which means that companies will have to produce smaller series less of the same. "This means that large automatic production or assembly lines that make hundreds of the same disappear." "Flexible assembly or production units that can very specifically switch from one type to another will become the new standard," continues Sonia.

“Flanders Make will focus on this: How do we make production and assembly lines as flexible as possible? So that the lines in question can handle such variation and at the same time as little time is lost as possible, for example setting up the production line, obtaining the correct documentation or offering training and support for operators."

Infinite modularity

“Everything we do is modular. For example, we want to make a calculation of what a specific work cell should look like, whereby the lead time is as short as possible and the operator loses as little time as possible when consulting information. Then we will build a kind of simulation model in that specific situation.”

“We often have such a model calculated at night, from which 5 or 6 optimal layouts result, depending on the requested output. But those models are also set up in a very modular way, for example modulating ergonomics, flexibility or cost per product.”

"By connecting everything together, intelligent models are created that we can then feed on with data and then form the basis for the digital twin," says Sonia.

Why this research?

“In recent years we have mainly conducted research on the work cell. What role does the operator play, how do we divide work between man and bone, optimizations in terms of ergonomics, work instructions, layout, etc. We are setting up a system consisting of several work cells and we are facing the following challenge: “how operators can transfer their product from one work cell to another while also pushing the right information to that work cell. ”We are also confronted with mobile workstations, something that used to be only a static item. Production work cells and logistics must now work together as one, they must interact with each other.”

Automating a production line has so far only been profitable for many identical units. Programming it was very expensive and time consuming. To meet the increasing demand for high-quality, personalized products at the cost of series production and taking into account the high wage costs in Western Europe, Flanders Make looked for solutions in which smart machines and people work together.

“We conduct research into flexible assembly cells. These can handle a multitude of product variations. Robots (sometimes literally) do the heavy lifting, while the human operator intervenes for the precision tasks. That interaction is essential for any factory that wants to survive tomorrow.”

“However, the central role assigned to humans in the modern production environment also means taking into account the realities of the aging population and the dire shortage of sufficiently technically skilled operators. In this context, smart technology does not only mean that the machine has become smarter than humans, but also that the operator is optimally supported in the performance of his tasks."

Manufacturing companies today?

"Businesses are still struggling, that's a fact," says Sonia. "They are convinced that they have to capture data, but that is not evident, because that data must be cleverly captured in order to actually do something with it."

“In addition, every company has an IT department, which was responsible for coordinating applications for the enterprise network to orders and purchases. You also have the OT or Operations Technology team that was responsible for the intelligence of the machines. With Industry 4.0, we see that the two teams are merging while they are still separated at most companies,” she continues.

In other words, when an order comes in through the ERP, or enterprise resource planning system, that order is translated into the MES, or detail planning, and finally printed by the team coach. ”

“So we see a decoupling point between what was in the system, specifically the assembly and the direct control. And that is exactly the problem when producing small series, you cannot just work with a stack of paper orders. Which means that IT and OT must be able to work together and that systems must be connected to each other.”

“Machines must be able to communicate with an MES, technically this is a very big challenge because those machines have different software and there are many data protocols that cannot be matched. But there are also many organizational changes involved,” says Sonia.

How do digital work instructions help operators?

“It is important that an operator can provide feedback himself. You make it the owner of the work instructions, as it were. This makes it much easier to keep instructions up to date. Creating work instructions for a specific product with many variants is a time-intensive activity, so it would be good to have a tool where work instructions can partly generate themselves.”

“If you are going to digitize work instructions, there are a number of advantages: the operator needs much less training time, he can handle much more complexity than on paper and will make fewer mistakes because he can always look back and focus on things that are important or trigger him. Operator involvement is simply greater. This creates better product quality and customer complaints decrease.”

“We also see a trend in gamification and the possibility of incorporating 'the game effect' into the work of operators. Ex. as soon as they have completed a number of tasks flawlessly and correctly, they reach a higher level and can thus be assigned more difficult and complex tasks. So what we notice is that they can handle a shorter learning time and more complexity. As a result, we see movement in the function of Junior and Senior profiles.”

“Seniors or experienced operators can be placed on more complex tasks for which you previously had no time or enough expertise. Some companies have significantly increased their product range themselves. The capacities of the personnel are used and utilized much more efficiently,” continues Sonia.

Azumuta's role in customization

Azumuta is an easy to use tool. Thanks to the modular design, you can get away with it immediately. With Azumuta you can identify and solve (potential) problems between teams and tasks. It includes a training system to manage the progress and skills of the operators. Production in small series with a lot of variation is very easy with our automated software.

Manufacturing companies today need digital work instructions that are generated quickly and are easy to consult. The shift towards Industry 4.0 clearly shows that companies want digital work instructions that will support their operators at every level. Azumuta is easy to integrate into your factory and on top of that it is easy to link to existing integrations and programs.

Digital work instructions, operator feedback, audits/checklists and training modules make it even easier for your teams to collaborate, communicate and follow training courses.

Azumuta in 3 words

Innovative; dynamic; approachable.

“First and foremost innovative, because you are still dealing with a number of aspects that you have not yet found in others. Also dynamic because you also focus on knowledge database and knowledge management. And finally, approachable in the positive sense of the word, your application is user-friendly and you can get started quickly. ”

The central role assigned to man in the modern production environment means that we must take into account the reality of the aging population and the dire shortage of sufficiently technically skilled operators. In this context, smart technology does not only mean that the machine has become smarter than humans, but also that the operator is optimally supported in the performance of his tasks. Source: Flanders Make

Do you wish to provide optimal support to your operators? Feel free to request your free demo.