Work instructions describe or show the exact steps that must be taken to correctly perform an assembly project. When written well, they help each assembly project maximize efficiency and accuracy, plus so much more.
What Are Pictorial Work Instructions?
Sellers want their customers to have the best experience possible when unboxing their new items. It’s important that the assembly line is able to place products in the box a certain way (brand side up, for example) or assemble items so that they will be taken out of the box in a certain order (instructions first, product second, for example). Special packing materials may also be noted—eco-friendly packaging, product instructions, labels or tags, etc.
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To make sure the assembly team can complete the project accurately they need clear and precise documentation to describe exactly how the task should be performed to meet the standards of the product company. That’s where work instructions come in.
Most work instructions are written, but adding visual guides makes them more effective. Some warehouses call visual work instructions a “pictorial” which signifies that they are visual not just written. Including images will enhance the accuracy of your work instructions, plus it might enable workers to build slightly faster when starting out. Imagine if you had work instructions in front of you that said “Place the cardboard tube inside the clear bag.” If you have 97 white cardboard tubes, 3 red cardboard tubes, and 100 clear bags to fill, without an image how are you supposed to know if the red cardboard tubes are interchangeable with the white ones? Which boxes should the red ones go in, or is it a mistake to be flagged that the red ones should not be in any of these kits. Having an image to compliment the written instructions adds an extra layer of clarity to work instructions.
The most frequent use case for work instructions in a fulfillment center is when a seller wants to provide an assortment (also known as a kit) of a few products. In order to build kits according to how the seller wants, the fulfillment provider will need to create work instructions for the assembly line to execute.
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How to Create Effective Visual Work Instructions
It’s important to have a dedicated person or team write the work instructions for consistency, accuracy, and clarity. At some fulfillment centers or 3PLs there is a Quality Team dedicated to this task. If people in different departments (the assembly supervisor, or a project manager, or account manager) were tasked with writing work instructions, each document would invariably be different from previous ones. This may lead to inconsistencies and potentially errors.
The following are three of the most important characteristics of high quality work instructions.
You need to create work instructions that anyone, with no prior knowledge of the brand, can assemble each and every kit correctly. The idea is that even a child could perform the task perfectly from your instructions—that’s how straightforward they need to be. In effective work instructions everything needs to be stated and nothing should be left to assumption.
Writing each step with simple, straightforward language is key. Step one might be “Open the kit container.” Step two might be “Insert part A with the spoon label side showing up.” Step three might be “Close the lid to the kit container.” No part of the process should be left out, and steps should be broken down into very basic components.
Always include part numbers, SKUs, and any other unique identifiers that will help the assembly line put together kits correctly and quickly. Adding images will help add specificity, but double down and write out the size, shape, color, lot code barcode, or any other specifications that will help make your work instructions as clear as possible.
How are Work Instructions Used
When a seller wants to build a kit they specify the product items that should be included—that means all products, packaging, labels, stickers, adhesive, and everything needed to build the kit. Their account manager will put together a bill of materials (BOM) and enter it into the fulfillment software system—a BOM specifies the number of units of each item that should be included in the kit.
It’s best practice that their fulfillment provider will build and box a certain amount of those kits so that they don’t have to be made to order.
But it’s a seller’s responsibility to keep tabs on their inventory. This means both the items that are included in any kit, plus the number of kits that are built, in stock, and ready to be shipped. If their inventory dips they risk stockouts. When a seller notices that the number of kits is getting low, they’ll need to put in a work order for more kits to be assembled.
“As an account manager I often ask for a minimum and maximum number of kits a brand wants in their inventory at any given time. For example if they want to keep around 10,000 on hand, when I notice that we’re down to 5,000, I’ll put in another work order for 5,000 to maintain their maximum level. That way I can help manage the inventory flow for them.”
Once the work instructions have been created, they are reviewed by the seller for accuracy. If your fulfillment provider has a quality team, they will also review and approve them before they get put into action. They should be posted in a single repository like an WMS or order fulfillment management platform. That way when the assembly supervisor receives the work order they can easily source the work instructions for the project, print them out, and use them to brief the assembly line who will build the new kits.
Why Work Instructions are Important
Apart from accuracy there are other reasons effective work instructions are important.
Sellers are very keen to make sure their customers have a pleasant time receiving the items they order. Seeing a big brown box placed on your doorstep, then opening it up should be an enjoyable experience. Clear work instructions make it possible for products to be placed in a box in the perfect way so that they arrive just how they are supposed to, no matter where they need to travel.
Some products may need to be packaged in a specific way for safety. Anything glass needs to have protective packaging. Liquids need to be spill-proof. When a brand puts together a special kit of items, they want to ensure the customer will receive those items intact and ready to be used.
Work instructions provide a great training tool for newer employees. It’s an excellent way to give employees autonomy over a project quickly. With well-articulated work instructions the employee can feel confident they are providing value for their employer with minimal oversight.
When the assembly line is first testing out the work instructions against their build, often they’ll time a relatively small number of the kits. Seeing how long it takes to build kits will give the fulfillment center a better idea of how efficient the project is (this is especially important in billing).
If you are looking for fulfillment support, DCL Logistics provides high-growth brands of all sizes with custom fulfillment solutions. We have many value added services including kitting, assembly, virtual bundles, and more. Reach out for a quote.