While there’s a general public perception that the manufacturing sector is struggling, most people within the industry know that it’s simply not true. In May, the Institute for Supply Management manufacturing index reported that economic activity in the sector expanded for the 22nd consecutive month.
Manufacturing is clearly growing at a solid pace led by pent-up demand for consumer durables such as motor vehicles, business equipment and medical devices and, as a result, manufacturers are hiring.
In fact, the sector is enjoying its20th consecutive month of employment growth and one respondent to the report -- an electrical equipment, appliances, and components company -- is quoted as forecasting "continued growth through beginning of second quarter, with strong backlog and outlook for at least the next three months."
Direct statements from the front lines like this -- along with nearly two years of growing employment numbers -- show the reality of the situation: in order to capitalize on the stabilizing economy, manufacturers must quickly bring new workers online to meet demand and increase production.
However, many of the complex products that contribute to the strength of the U.S. manufacturing sector call for highly trained workers that require weeks or even months of training before they can confidently produce high quality, error-free products.
All manufacturing companies must create work instruction documentation for shop floor operations. These same instructions are used for training new workers before they set foot on the shop floor and can also be used as a reference guide for workers on the line. Traditionally, manufacturing work instructions are comprised of large volumes of 2D printouts that workers need to flip through to find the content they need.
The worst part of this method is that the new employee needs to navigate these complicated directions while trying to maintain productivity on a busy shop floor. Not only does this slow production, it’s prone to instructions being “lost in translation.”
Through no fault of the manufacturer, the medium just isn’t conducive to relaying some important types of information because there are only two ways to communicate instructions on a flat piece of paper -- through the printed word or static drawings. Unfortunately, both can be easily misinterpreted.
To rise above this challenge, manufacturers should be using the universal language of 3D. Think of it this way: If I try to describe a product in written or spoken word or via 2D picture, things can get lost in translation as my interpretation of a schematic may differ from reality and you may create an inaccurate picture in your head. If I hand you something that you can touch, feel, and explore, you “get it” immediately.
That’s how 3D eliminates the work instruction language barrier -- by giving workers an opportunity to see a product as it is in the real world, look at it from different angles, or see an animation of how it’s assembled. As a result, the time it takes a worker to become proficient and efficient at their tasks is dramatically reduced.
Interactive 3D work instructions can be used to train workers before they join the line and, if called for, can even be used for in-depth virtual reality training sessions that enable them to actually try a task before performing any work with expensive materials. Once a worker moves to the shop floor, computer screens or hand-held tablets can display these same work instructions.
In this manner, 3D work instructions provide a safety net for workers that may need a quick reference. If not automatically displayed, digitally available instructions make finding needed content much quicker than sorting through volumes of binders.
Here’s the kicker: Many manufacturers already have product data in 3D, they just haven’t considered using it on the shop floor.
If a manufacturer is using 3D Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) solutions to design their product and plan, create, and control production processes, most of the assets they need are already in place. They simply need to leverage the 3D data they already have and extend it to the shop floor.
What’s more, the benefits of 3D instructions extend beyond worker productivity and enable an entire design, engineering, and manufacturing group to be more efficient by freeing critical personnel and reducing the time required to generate instruction documents and keep them current.
For example, when there is a change in the design or the manufacturing process, traditional work instructions would need to be manually recreated, resulting in additional time spent on non-engineering functions. With a digital solution, updated instructions can be published directly to a training program or to the shop floor, saving time and allowing the design engineering group to be more productive and cost efficient.
3D work instructions enable workers to learn quickly and get their job right the first time. By showing workers exactly “how to do it,” 3D work instructions eliminate guesswork, greatly improve productivity and can reduce the experience level required to perform a job. 3D environments can be used to train workers before they step onto the floor, but can also be easily referenced on the job.
Access to 3D instructions via PCs, tablets or even through virtual reality environments, provide a feature-rich and friendlier interface than traditional 2D drawings or text-based work instructions. By leveraging the 3D content they already have from CAD or digital manufacturing solutions, and extending its value to the shop floor, manufacturers can train workers, deliver a superior product, and capitalize on the strengthening economy by quickly meeting demand.
Best of all, they reduce trial-and-error guesswork on the job so workers can operate with only the graphical views and textual instructions that show exactly what they should be doing rather than digging through stacks of drawings or instruction books.
Patrick Michel leads the Industry Solutions & Marketing organization for DELMIA, DassaultSystemes’ brand for Digital Manufacturing. For more information, visit www.3ds.com.