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By: Ben Baldwin
July 13, 2022
Manufacturing SOPs can be the bedrock of a healthy and sustainable operation. But if done poorly or not utilizing the advanced opportunities of the era, your manufacturing SOPs could be delaying your growth and development.
Paper SOPs (Standard Operating Procedures) are static, hard to update, illegible if not taken care of, and easily lost. These contribute to 5 key problems seen all too often in the manufacturing industry.
To safeguard against these problems, companies are opting for digital manufacturing SOP software. This enables them to get away from the natural hindrances of paper methods and allows them to optimize their SOP efforts with current technology.
But what does this optimization really look like?
To answer this question, we’ll explore the different types of digital manufacturing SOPs and how they are applied within various manufacturing environments.
Step-by-step procedural SOPs are used for any straightforward process that can be followed through a linear progression. These digital SOPs break down an entire process into sub-steps and outline the standard procedures that must be followed.
The digital SOP software guides workers through the exact documented procedures to complete their tasks in the company-approved method. And with the digital manufacturing SOPs at every workstation, shop floor workers always have access to the proper methods.
Pro Tip: Our work instructions software is a powerful SOP maker. It gives users step-by-step instructions and allows companies to tailor their manufacturing SOPs to their specific needs.
Checklist SOPs are often applied to maintenance procedures. This is where certain procedural points need to be inspected or maintained within a maintenance process. These points can be either checked in a linear progression or in a free format where the order is inconsequential to the end goal.
The purpose of this type of manufacturing SOP is to ensure that each point is given due diligence and no point is forgotten or neglected.
Hierarchical SOPs set up an important framework of priorities for the manufacturing workers. Through a top-down approach, the Hierarchical SOP can be broken down into 4 categories.
Often, hierarchical SOPs can be displayed through a visual pyramid or list that shows which levels need to be considered before others. The factors at the top have a direct implication on the factors below it. In this visual example, company policy will have the greatest impact on the entire process.
The Hierarchical SOP is useful for processes and operations where workers need a keen understanding of their safety hazards, solutions, and operational priorities. For instance, an SOP can outline that assembly steps like “always insert part H225 before part G322. But above all, there are safety concerns that need to be considered above all else.
Often referred to as Yes/No or If/Then charts, the flow chart SOP visually maps out a process from beginning to end in a semi-linear format. After each node or step in a process, the user would progress to the next step or have to answer a question. The answer would then direct them to the next appropriate step in the SOP.
The problem is that flow charts can be confusing due to their elaborate structure. However, VKS work instructions merge the strengths of step-by-step SOPs and flow charts to make complex multistep processes simple. Based on operator input and/or work order data, our software will automatically guide workers to the appropriate steps thanks to the VKS Rule Engine.
Manufacturing SOPs perform a few key functions within the manufacturing operation. They:
We’ll go over these 4 main purposes of digital manufacturing SOPs alongside examples and use cases.
Manufacturing SOPs are all about standardizing processes so that the work and the product are consistent. One of the keys to maintaining consistency is by utilizing your tools and resources to achieve widespread consistency across the operation. Digital manufacturing SOPs enable companies to achieve high levels of consistent processes which lead to product uniformity and customer satisfaction.
There is nothing that customers love more than receiving exactly what they expect.
Imagine you run a high-end triathlon bicycle company. Your product is used in competitions where every advantage of well-manufactured parts is crucial to your product. There are a lot of precision parts that need to be built according to specifications before the bicycle can be put together properly, let alone work well when assembled.
Namely, if the bottom bracket and crankset are off by a few thousandths of an inch, or the thread pitch is off by a few millimeters, the bike will have complications. And with various sizes and specs across different model lines, it can be confusing for workers to keep track of which specifications and subsequent processes to use.
Step-by-step digital manufacturing SOPs enable companies to create a standardized process for every product line and hone in on consistent practices in a dynamic and variable manufacturing environment.
Users simply select the appropriate work order and the instructions/manufacturing SOPs are displayed for them to follow.
With increased consistency among processes, operations gain increased safety for the workforce. But digital manufacturing SOPs can go even further to protect your employees.
Through either the use of top-down policies that lay the foundation for safe practices or through step-by-step instructions with built-in safety reminders, pictograms, and notifications, digital manufacturing SOPs help ensure the workforce has the knowledge and awareness to be safe on the job.
For instance, PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) is a standard in most manufacturing environments. There can be some hierarchical SOPs that are built into the operation, such as “always wear safety glasses on the shop floor”.
On the other hand, some safety practices will be a bit more nuanced and change depending on the task. Not every job needs a hard hat while some tasks will require a full hazmat suit.
Imagine you’re assembling large autowalks for pedestrian movement in high-traffic areas. The assembly takes days to complete, which means that multiple people are working to make and test the equipment as it is being built.
A good standard operating procedure is to check the assembly before beginning work to ensure that all components are safe to touch, such as ensuring that all devices and assemblies are free from electrical current before beginning work.
This should be a standard practice or policy that all employees need to perform at the beginning of every shift. But often, employees will become complacent and skip these crucial safety steps.
However, with VKS manufacturing SOPs, companies can integrate various checklists into their work instructions that require users to verify the appropriate actions have been performed before progressing to the next step of the process.
Read More: Did you know that KONE, a world leader in elevator, escalator, and autowalk manufacturing, uses VKS Enterprise to create detailed work instructions and manufacturing SOPs for their operation? Read the full case study here.
Traditional SOPs were created to standardize practices for workers. And while this is a worthy goal in itself, information is only flowing in one direction, from company leaders to their workers.
Digital manufacturing SOPs, on the other hand, enable companies to actively track valuable information while employees are following and interacting with their standard operating procedures. This includes completion times, inventory usage data, quality data, and worker efficiency reports.
Additionally, operators can enter valuable information like improvement suggestions, operations feedback, and NCRs (Non-Conformance Reports) into their standard operating procedures. Modern companies use this data to gain new levels of insight into their operation, creating a pathway for valuable information to flow in both directions between the company and its employees.
This enhanced exchange of information provides a way for employee monitoring and evaluations to become empirically based on valuable KPIs and employee interactions, meaning that you get a complete and accurate picture of your operation in real time.
Your people on the shop floor are an amazing source of knowledge and insight. Digital manufacturing SOPs enable you to gain their perspective and make fact-based intelligent decisions.
Within mixed model manufacturing, every job, process, and work order will have different time requirements and different measurements for success. Just as it can be difficult for the workforce to remember the ins and outs of so many processes, it can be hard for management to keep clear goals for each assembly.
In light of these complicated circumstances, you decide to implement digital manufacturing SOPs that enable advanced productivity tracking, custom KPIs, and employee feedback.
This means that while one employee is assembling components for a washing machine and another is welding shelving units for a warehouse customer, the right information and data are constantly being tracked and recorded. You are then able to take this information and use it to help workers and make effective process improvements that are useful for each process.
Pro Tip: The information captured by your digital SOPs can be funneled towards your other manufacturing systems such as BI software or ERPs. This is all made possible through the capabilities of the powerful VKS API.
Manufacturing SOPs should never be static. As process improvements and technological innovations come to light, the industry is constantly changing and advancing. Your SOPs should do the same, and it should be easy!
One of the key purposes of a digital manufacturing SOP is the ability to augment as your company and processes grow. VKS SOPs enable companies to make quick adjustments to their standardized practices while communicating them effectively to the entire workforce.
For instance, let’s say you run a book printing business. Publishers contact your company to physically print and bind new books for the market. You have several automated machines, assembly staff, and quality inspectors that use VKS work instructions and manufacturing SOPs.
Business is going well but soon you’ll have more contracts than your assembly system can handle. But you don’t yet have the capital for workforce expansion and new equipment.
By carefully analyzing your KPIs and reviewing user entities in VKS Smart Forms, you’ve discovered a new operations layout and process that will streamline the process and enable more work to be done with the same equipment. You make the changes to the operation and adjust your SOPs accordingly.
Pro Tip: Did you know that it takes mere seconds to update and introduce improvements in your production line with VKS. Simply select the affected guidebooks and perform a mass update. This makes it incredibly easy to innovate and evolve your operations.
Digital manufacturing SOPs are the next step in standardizing your operating procedures. With a flexible system enabling you to update, improve, and share information effectively with your employees, your operation becomes more flexible and resilient as a result. And this is the true purpose of digital manufacturing SOPs.
Digital Manufacturing SOPs and VKS work instruction software fulfill this purpose by laying out the framework for high levels of communication and clear process directives.
Read More: If you want to see how other companies have replaced their paper processes and SOPs with effective digital methods, check out the VKS Case Study Library.
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