Standardized Work Instructions (SWI) are instructions designed to ensure that your manufacturing processes are consistent, timely, and repeatable. Often the standard work instructions are printed and posted near the operator’s work station. Standard work is a written description of the safest, most efficient, and highest-quality method to perform a given task or process. But can you also use standard work instructions in fabrication environments?
Standard work instructions for fabricating standardized items
In fabricating environments where the same part or assembly is being made over and over, assembling good work instructions is straightforward. The position identified and estimated time required to complete the work elements are included. The most efficient work routine or steps needed to complete the job are included. Also, include the description of the quality checks to ensure the work was done correctly before sending the part or assembly to the next step of the process.
What about in a low volume manufacturing environment?
Fabricators that make high-mix, low-volume products may scoff at the idea of standard work instructions. They might argue that every part is different, with little or no consistency in the type of parts or the quality requirements from one customer to the next. That may be true, but that doesn’t prevent work instructions from containing valuable guidance that can assist with continuous improvement efforts.
When looking to refine standard work instructions for a high-mix, low-volume manufacturing environment, the shop manager should first focus on those activities that have little to no variation from job to job. These instructions might cover routine machine maintenance and gauge and tool calibration.
From a quality perspective, the operator can be directed to inspect material thoroughly before beginning a task and then conduct a final inspection at the end of the job. This step shouldn’t be summarized in just one sentence. It should be expanded upon to answer questions about how often the inspection is done and where the findings are recorded once the inspection takes place.
In addition, the steps required for discrepant parts should be well-documented, including how to document nonconformances or corrective actions.
Even a high-mix environment might have some opportunity for development of standard work instructions that actually detail manufacturing steps. The key is identifying “repeaters” or “runners,” those parts or assemblies that are similar in design and come through the shop on a regular basis. Those types of jobs often will have similar work steps, and their work instructions will be similar as well. When management creates detailed work instructions for what seems to be a one-and-done job, it is actually investing in a quality approach for all work because the same standard work instructions will apply to similar jobs.
Again, this is in line with the thinking that these types of documents should be used to maintain quality and eliminate waste in production. Without a critical look at parts/assemblies and the work processes tied to them, job shops can’t expect work instructions to have an impact on quality. In the end, standard work instructions can be refined to become not only an information document but a continuous improvement tool. The goal is to help the employee do the best job in the most efficient way possible.