Wheelchairs, scooters, and power chairs help people with limited mobility lead independent lives. Equally important are the mechanisms that move or transport these devices in the home or in vehicles. Mechanical breakdowns or structural failures can have serious consequences and greatly limit the freedom of these individuals.
Bruno Independent Living Aids, a manufacturer of personal mobility device transportation equipment, is known worldwide for its vehicle vertical lifts, turning automotive seats, and residential rail stair and vertical platform lifts. Since 1984, the Oconomowoc, Wisconsin-based company has become the industry standard for unwavering quality workmanship.
“We are not the cheapest, but our products are the best out of the box,” says Steve Ruder, the process improvement specialist at Bruno. “We build it right the first time, every time.”
Product documentation, reproducibility and lean manufacturing processes are the keys to success for Bruno. Ruder says the company relies on easy-to-use work instructions to defend its leadership position in a very competitive market. All of Bruno’s products are complex, requiring 30 to 80 pages of work instructions to assemble a single unit.
Ruder knows the importance of comprehensive work instructions after 17 years with the company and taking charge of the newly created position of process improvement specialist. “About five years ago, this new position was created to standardize the work process,” Ruder says. “At the time, we used work instructions software with a Microsoft Word macro overlay. It was very tedious and had the same Word problems consumers encounter every day, but compounded by having to document very large work instructions.”
The problems included difficulties working with place holders, auto numbering, auto sequencing, allowing certain pictures to be resized, or adding arrows and diagrams. Information had to be kept in a certain order and it could take hours to delete one small component.
“These are common problems,” says Barry Lucas, the president of software developer, FFD Inc. based in Knoxville, Tennessee. “The major difficulty with nonrelational/free-form text editors like Word or Excel is that they do not have the inherent ‘structure’ to accommodate manufacturing information. It is left to the user to build this structure into the documentation. As a result, authors spend a significant amount of their time on nonvalue added tasks, like organization and formatting of information.”
It didn’t take Ruder long to look for a better way to document Bruno’s work processes. After a web search, he found FFD’s software package called Sequence Enterprise, which was fully collaborative and included enterprise resource planning integration. While it offered a viable solution, it was more than the company needed at the time. Ruder continued his search for the perfect work instructions software.
In 2009, Ruder received a call from Lucas. Lucas told Ruder that FFD had developed a new work instructions software package that offered many of the same features as Sequence but without the enterprise software price.
“Barry said, ‘Try a free download of LockStep software,’ and within the first four days of the 15-day free trial I was sold,” Ruder says. “It cut the time I spent on work instructions in half. I could take pictures on the floor and immediately drop them into the document with a direct digital camera image capture feature. It was amazing.”
“LockStep is a very efficient tool for information capture, organization, and management,” says Lucas. “Unlike Word or Excel, it allows users to take a laptop and tethered camera onto the shop floor. Bruno operators can get real-time data capture while observing the manufacturing process.”
Text and images are automatically integrated using LockStep’s direct-to-digital image capture function, eliminating the laborious process of sorting images and inserting them into a document. Bruno technicians organize information on a visual process-flow tree and the software takes care of the deployment.
Bruno’s operators and assemblers also immediately took advantage of the software's intuitive graphical authoring interface, full revision control and preformatted PDF deployment. Additionally, text, picture, and spreadsheet integrated editors are available to Ruder and the Bruno team.
Unlike Microsoft Word or Excel, information is gathered with an intuitive graphical process tree as shown in figure 1. The interface matches the hierarchy of manufacturing information. The tree has complete drag-and-drop functionality for reordering items as well as for adding media to tree nodes from Windows folders.
Adding information to the tree is as simple as right-clicking on the appropriate parent node, in most instances the top-level subassembly, and selecting the desired item as shown in figure 2.
When creating a PDF file, the user can export the captured information into one of two style sheets that are available in LockStep Free work instruction software or one of nine industry-standard versions of work instruction templates in the licensed LockStep software. With a right-click of the mouse, instructions are exported to a PDF. Users can export either a draft version (the version currently being edited) or the most recently published version of the instructions.
When a node on the tree is selected, the author is presented with an appropriate editor—text editor for text, image editor for images, spreadsheet editor for spreadsheets, etc.
Figure 3 shows the “Instruction” editor, which is the main tab used during the recording of work instructions.
As the work instruction author observes a worker, discrete instructions are entered into the “Instruction Details” text box. When the author clicks on the “Save” button the text is transmitted to and stored in the database. The information is centralized and can be easily retrieved and edited.
The author has multiple opportunities to incorporate photographs, illustrations, and screen captures into the instructional material. All of the graphics can be edited, annotated, and saved within the licensed version of the software as shown in figure 4.
The parts, assembly tools, instructions, calibrations, and best practices may all be tagged with images.
The ability to efficiently include, manage, and manipulate images inside the software package significantly affects the final “product.” A number of studies have shown that for lengthy, multiple-step processes, tremendous gains in accuracy can be achieved when the assembler is presented with step-by-step instructions comprised of text and images as opposed to text only.1
It can be difficult to integrate and manage pictures in work instructions due to import issues, formatting constraints, and the need to use external editors. When people continue to experience these difficulties, the tendency is to include fewer images than is optimal for conveying the assembly process. The direct-to-digital functionality allows pictures to be taken with a tethered digital camera and pictures added to the pertinent step of the work instructions. The built-in image editor allows these images to be manipulated (cropped, resized, annotated, etc.) without ever leaving the authoring interface saving a tremendous amount of time. Additionally, all of the images are stored in the software’s repository which eliminates the need for separate image directories to be maintained. All of this makes adding pictures much easier and much more likely to be added to work instructions.
“The software’s auto-archive feature eliminates the potential of producing an out-of-date document,” Ruder says. “Once you open a document and redo it, the software automatically changes the revision and will not allow you to put an old document on the floor.”
Ruder has assumed additional responsibilities at Bruno for new product development and engineering chain support. He and another process improvement specialist continue to use LockStep software for all cells and stations with only one database.
“FFD came up with a very desirable Sequence upgrade package that allowed us to become fully collaborative using one database, but not the full-blown enterprise environment,” says Ruder. “Now we can make engineering changes on the same database without affecting what the other person is doing.”
The typical hierarchy of manufacturing information focuses on parts, assemblies, and products. Parts are assembled to form assemblies. Once formed, assemblies become parts used in other assemblies. The final product is an amalgam of parts and assemblies, subassemblies, and sub-subassemblies. In Sequence, each assembly is associated with a bill of materials, assembly tools, a set of instructions, references, calibration procedures, and best practices (procedures that are used over and over again in different instruction sets).
Today, Bruno’s maintenance staff is also using the Sequence software upgrade to manage its total productive maintenance (TPM) documents. The software helps them service and maintain their machines. “Sequence tells them to grease here, clean this, check there,” Ruder says. “It is a great TPM tool.”
Bruno operators and assembly-line technicians can now easily work on other cells or components. The company performs many rotations, especially on the accessibility elevator lines. There is a good chance an operator may not have experience with a certain cell or component, and the time they need to ramp up time to full production can be very short. Also, new employees can look at the pictures while watching what the technician is doing. When they are ready to go on their own, they use that same document.
“A work instruction that used to take me three days to complete now only takes a day,” Ruder says. “I’ve been preaching LockStep and Sequence software for years. When other companies tour our plant I tell them to do the 15-day free trial like I did. I guarantee they will own the software before the trial is up.”
1. Novick, L. R., & Morse, D. L. (2000). "Folding a fish, making a mushroom: The role of diagrams in executing assembly procedures." Memory & Cognition, 28, 1242-1256; Agrawala, M., Phan, D., Heiser, J., Haymaker, J., Klingner, J., Hanrahan, P., and Tversky, B. "Designing Effective Step By-Step Assembly Instructions." Proc. Siggraph 2003, ACM Transactions on Graphics (2003), 828-837)