What Are Smart Forms? 5 Ways to Use Them to Your Advantage
By: Ben Baldwin
October 28, 2021
What are Smart Forms?
Imagine the potential of having someone beside you collecting valuable data while you’re working. This would streamline your data collection procedures. As you perform your daily tasks, this other person is recording and relaying information. Your business gains the ability to capture and evaluate valuable data in real-time. Essentially, this is what Smart Forms do.
But what if we could make this smart data capturing technology even more intelligent? Within our work instruction software, Smart Forms validate quality practices, create digitally versatile reports, dynamically adjust what the operator sees, and communicate valuable information to the right systems and people.
With these capabilities in mind, let’s answer the question: “What are Smart Forms?” We’ll also explore how Smart Forms help you engage your employees, improve training, and achieve industry 4.0 potential across your organization and supply chain.
What Are Smart Forms and How Do They Work?
Smart Forms are intelligent digital elements that enable users to gather and distribute information. They are similar to electronic forms (eForms) but with a much wider variety of functions and capabilities.
Let’s briefly explore a bit of how Smart Forms work and what they enable users to accomplish.
Receive information in real-time: Smart Forms are filled in either by your people on the shop floor or from external systems and tools. This enables manufacturers to increase the accuracy and responsiveness of their data while reducing how long it takes to gather such information.
Capture and receive data when you need it: Smart Forms can be programmed to appear at any set point in a procedure or they can be accessed manually by the operator. This enables data collection to be caught at the best possible moment without inconveniencing the operator.
Create a wide variety of methods to enter and receive information: Users can select from a drop-down list, scan barcodes, import photos, select multiple options, or simply type in an answer. This gives you the ability to tailor your data retrieval to best suit the needs of each procedure while making it easy for your workers.
Validate serial numbers: Certain jobs will have a specific set of serial numbers associated with that job. Within VKS, add a rule that will let users know if their serial number is not within the correct format for that job. This validation feature greatly reduces the chance of misentered information.
But these are only the basics of what Smart Forms can do. This technology is so versatile that it has an endless amount of applications within any industry. Use each of these features and benefits to take advantage of Smart Forms in a way that is tailored to your operation.
Pro Tip: Did you know that Smart Forms can be quickly filled by using barcode scanners? The operator only needs to scan an applicable barcode and the fields within the smart form are filled within seconds.
5 Ways to Use Smart Forms to Your Advantage
The simplest answer to “What are Smart Forms?” is that they are a versatile digital tool used to collect and distribute data. But within our work instruction software, they are so much more.
As we’ve seen, each Smart Form can be tailored to the specific needs of your operation. With this in mind, let's explore the 5 key advantages that Smart Forms provide for you and your team.
1. Engage Your Employees
What are Smart Forms if not a way to engage the people working with them? Smart Forms are first and foremost a way to engage your employees.
As we’ve said a few times on our blog, your workers are the core of your business. They are the ones who create value day in and day out. Each one of your workers has invaluable information on the work they perform. Giving them a way to transmit this information to you and the rest of the team is a game-changer. Your workers are an amazing source of process knowledge and improvement ideas.
Let’s imagine, for a second, that the processes and procedures that make up your operation are less than perfect -- there’s always room for improvement. To make valuable improvements, it is useful to talk with your team and receive feedback from the shop floor.
Use Smart Forms to engage your workers by enabling them to give you valuable information and feedback on new or existing initiatives. As employees are carrying out their tasks, they can express their suggestions and concerns easily.
This is incredibly useful when implementing new processes or using the DMAIC approach to improve upon existing ones. Once you have engaged your operators, you can make well-informed improvements that will benefit your processes.
Pro Tip: When writing the questions for your smart form, ask each question in a positive way. This will help engage employees and boost morale.
2. Capture and Verify Valuable Data
Every process within your operation generates data. But is recording data part of your company culture? Is your system automatically and efficiently generating useful reports on performance and quality? With Smart Forms strategically placed within your work instructions guidebooks, you receive real-time operational data without adding extra steps for your workers.
For example, imagine you are assembling an electrical box for an aerospace project and you need to capture specific torque measurements and other quality data at various points during the process. In the past, you would have had to record this data by hand or within a separate spreadsheet. But now, Smart Forms pop up at predetermined times within the guidebook and you quickly enter the data - all through one system.
If using Smart Tools with IoT Connect, assembly data is captured and verified automatically within the Smart Form. There is no need for the operator to enter any numbers manually.
But what happens when the data indicates that there is a quality issue? Let’s say that you take a quality measurement of the electrical box but the numbers are outside of the proper range. The system will automatically perform the following:
Display a message telling the operator what to do;
Send an email to the quality department;
Send the user back to the appropriate step;
Open a second form asking the user to fill in an NCR (non-conformance report).
Other systems like ERPs (Enterprise Resource Planning) and MES’ (Manufacturing Execution System) can also autonomously fill in Smart Form data. Connect your work instruction software with your other systems through our API (Application Programming Interface). VKS Enterprise will fill in inventory data on performance, production schedules, next work orders, and so on.
With this enhanced communication between people, tools, and systems, you have a vast ecosystem working together to capture the most up-to-date information.
Pro Tip: Operators can also take pictures with their tablet or work station and load them directly into the Smart Form. This provides an excellent visual reference when needed.
3. Dynamically Guide Workers
As we’ve said, having Smart Forms is the same as having an experienced teammate guiding you through your tasks and responsibilities. Based on the conditions users enter into their Smart Forms, the system guides workers to the next appropriate step.
In Dynamic Work Instructions & Why Do You Need Them?, we looked at how you can dynamically set up your guidebooks to be responsive within an ATO (Assemble to Order) environment. We used the example of a toy car manufacturer that needs to build the same toy car but with different product variations. With the help of Smart Forms, the user can specify which product they are assembling and VKS will guide them to the appropriate steps.
Check out this video to see how our very own Spero Zervos leveraged Smart Forms to guide workers through various product variations:
This capability is possible thanks to Smart Forms and the Rule Engine within VKS Pro and Enterprise. With these two features, users gain the ability to input the specifications of each product and receive the next appropriate step.
Smart Forms are the foundation for how users can take advantage of the Rule Engine and achieve a responsive and dynamic production line.
Much like how a team of employees communicates, Smart Forms communicate directly with your employees. This is incredibly useful when training new workers that need extra guidance.
Imagine you are a new employee at a food and beverage factory that makes hand cut granola bars. While making a batch of Ooey-Gooey Chocolate Lovers Delight granola bars, you see that you’re out of chocolate chips. But from your training, you know what to do. You open a Smart Form and indicate the lack of the ingredient. A pre-written message tells you where to get more chocolate chips and informs the right people that inventories are low.
This drastically reduces the time it takes for new employees to be productive within any environment. Workers gain complete guidance by simply following the steps in their work instructions and answering the questions in the forms. Essentially, the Smart Forms and work instructions are automating all manual decisions that a user would have to make.
Pro Tip: Use VKS Smart Form templates like Final Inspection to help newer employees verify the work they have accomplished. Use the Peer Inspection template to have others sign off on the trainees work if extra verification is needed.
5. Distribute Data to the Right People and Systems
As Smart Forms are a versatile digital tool, they also dynamically distribute data. Data gathered in Smart Forms is automatically generated into various reports. These reports can be easily exported into a variety of formats like Microsoft Excel, PDF files, etc.
The information gathered is also sent to external systems like your ERP or MES. This allows a free flow of information to all the necessary sectors of the organization.
But could we take this further to connect the whole supply chain?
Let’s say that you’re a car parts manufacturer for a few major brands. These car companies rely on the parts that you manufacture in the same way that you rely on the materials your suppliers provide. As workers assemble and fabricate your products, they scan the material numbers into their Smart Forms. VKS then communicates the usage of materials with your ERP. This is a fast and efficient way to keep track of your inventory.
But we can use this to connect with your suppliers as well. Through the gathered Smart Form data, your system has realized that some material inventories are low. In response to this, VKS, with the power of Smart Forms and the Rule Engine, can perform either or both of the following two actions:
Inform inventory management;
Automatically order the materials you need.
You can also use this system to inform your customers of your production schedules and estimated delivery dates. This enables you to share real-time data with your customers when they need it most. And they receive added assurance that you are the right supplier for their business.
Through a simple Smart Form and the power of Industry 4.0 technology, your supply chain is working like a well-established supply chain ecosystem.
Pro Tip: Operators can choose to open Smart Forms when they feel it's necessary to provide specific information. Place NCRs (non-conformance report) on the side of the work instruction. This way, operators can input valuable information and knowledge at any moment during the process and you never miss the quality data you need.
The Limitless Capabilities of Smart Forms
Each of the above advantages and capabilities are meant to work together, adding yet another level of versatility and dynamism to the mix. With the power of Smart Forms, you are equipped to engage your workers, collect valuable data, guide employees, enhance training, and distribute data to the right people and systems. Take advantage of our Smart Forms to advance your operations into the next industrial era.
So what are Smart Forms and what can they do for you? The possibilities are endless!