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Electronic Work Instructions: A Use Case for No-Code Manufacturing App Technology

What are Electronic Work Instructions (EWI)

Electronic Work Instruction’s (EWI) help eliminate paper procedures and forms on the shop floor to improve standardisation, enable stronger operator guidance, speed up and increase the accuracy of manual activities in production areas. No-Code Manufacturing Applications (Apps) are web-based software tools that are easily and rapidly configured to model process steps and sequences, without the need for a large and costly IT system implementation or any software development (I.e. coding).

The Apps are accessed through standard devices (e.g. laptops, tablets, mobiles) that may already be in place or can be easily taken onto the shop floor, and make use of simple touch screen type dialogs and user interaction to record data allowing for greater visibility of the operation to other operators and managers. Any issues and errors can be dealt with immediately and notifications are built in using email or other means for automating communication around the factory.

Advantages / Objectives of Using EWI

EWI have already been widely used across various industries, the advantages are:

  • Clear and repeatable instructions to operators
  • Efficient update of procedures by online collaboration and using Good Document Practice
  • Ensuring only the latest instructions are being used and distributed across the facility
  • Utilising content rich multimedia (e.g. Photos, video, audio) in the instructions, rather than only text or static diagrams.
  • Enables collaboration between operators, engineering teams and management
  • Communicate changes immediately
  • Easily extended and iterate for adopting a culture of continuous improvement
  • Correct errors in real time
  • Collect data easily and make this available to all in dashboard and analytics
  • Allow real time audits
  • Easily create effective training material
  • Greatly reduce training time
  • Reduce waste, errors and delays in manual operations

These advantages have been proven in a number of industries, and in factories that do not use EWI then these advantages create the objectives to install and use such Manufacturing App solutions.

The Pharmaceutical Industry has been slow in picking up advances in the IT area because of concerns about change management and compliance with regulations. EWI represents a clear improvement in ways of working which do not conflict with the regulations if they are deployed in a controlled manner. It is possible to start quickly with existing approved instructions (SOP/SWIs), systemise these and extend with additional content using collaboration and good document practice.

One big advantages of EWI are their use in training, they provide a stronger more intuitive guidance and it’s generally quicker to train new staff using interactive Apps than with paper. The tool that is being used for training is the same as what is found in production, and so training is hands-on and closer to ‘real-life’. With EWI the training can be done offline before progressing to working in production with more experienced staff able to easily watch what is happening.

How do EWI’s fit into the existing landscape

A typical existing system landscape for manufacturing is described in ISA S95 which defines levels of software in operations from a IT view:

Image via lnsresearch

Much of the software in today’s factories is static. An example is an ERP system developed by an outside company to work in a broad range of factories. It is implemented from the top down by executives who know software can help but don’t know how best to adopt it. It may take three years to deploy all the planned functionality, and the end result is often that users get screens that everyone isn’t really happy with because they solve yesterday’s problems.

In the diagram above the goal of industrial automation layer is to automate as much as possible to prevent manual inefficiencies and mistakes, but even in the most advanced of plants then there are typically still processes requiring humans around the systems and process control. We need new ways to assist operators to do a better job in those areas where manual operations still are required, to fill the gaps between the large enterprise type solutions and to finally get systems right onto every process.

With Manufacturing App’s a different, bottom-up approach is possible that is solely aimed at bringing rapidly what the operators on the shop floor actually need; a configurable manufacturing platform that connects people, machines, and sensors to help optimize processes.  They can be deployed in a highly flexible manner allowing Apps to be installed at just one workstation, gain immediate benefits and then scaled up and out as needed.

By combining the agility and direct problem-solving benefits of a bottom-up approach, within a framework of governance tailored to the company, it is possible to achieve alignment to corporate objectives and standards without being overly prescriptive, which often loses the valuable inputs from a company’s front line operators and SME’s.


EWI Apps are an engine for manufacturing improvement and are a major advance with a number of important consequences for production operations:

  • Apps offer a refreshing and flexible bottom-up approach to IT as a low cost solution to focus on helping operators do a better job without mistakes
  • Apps are designed to be human friendly to guide and report on important operations in a way that fits into the workflow
  • Process information recorded can be extended to include live photos and video and so more complete data can be captured
  • Managers can monitor data in dashboards, see the current status of important processes and better communicate with their operators through electronic means without having to constantly be available on the line
  • Defects and mistakes are captured in real time and can be corrected before they result in waste
  • Apps can be deployed in days at lower cost than existing manufacturing IT solutions and so bring and demonstrate benefits fast
  • EWI Apps are simple and intuitive and are built with building blocks like power point. They are version controlled and distributed to stations on the production line
  • The Apps guide operators and record all needed actions electronically with automatic time stamps and audit trails.
  • Typical improvements are:-
    • Increased right first time by reporting defects at the source
    • Higher throughput
    • Standardization of manual processes
    • Faster training times
    • Real time reporting on KPIs

In conclusion, then Manufacturing Apps help to build quality in without the need for total automation so manufacturers can continue to best utilise people to optimise their processes. In the Industry 4.0 age then empowering the workforce is a critical aspect of Digitisation.

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