My last column discussed the need for good machinery manuals but how do you make sure people use them? If not used, manuals won’t do much good.

Accessibility is key. Keeping them in the maintenance shop protects them but it may be more trouble than it is worth to fetch them. Copies need to be kept at the line, preferably on the machine. The easier it is to access them, the more likely it is that they will be referred to.

Electronic manuals are one solution. Most machine builders will provide these on new machines. Older manuals can be scanned and saved as PDFs or JPEGS. Electronic manuals avoid many of the problems of paper manuals, particularly availability. If on a central server, they can be accessed from any computer. Some newer machines have controllers and display panels which allow the manuals to be displayed right on the machine. Network the system to a printer and the operator or mechanic can print the pages needed and take them right to where they are working.

Here’s a tip: To be sure that only current copies are used, automatically time and date stamp each page and void them after 24 hours.

Electronic manuals must be protected from uncontrolled editing but the key word is uncontrolled. At some point in their lives, most machines will be modified. Manuals, whether paper or electronic, must be updated to reflect these modifications. Updating controls should include passwords, as well as audit trails of who made the modifications and why.

Next question: Can the techs understand the manuals? This is not the question of whether the manuals are well written, which I discussed last column. This is about the qualifications of the techs. Do they have the skills needed to understand a wiring diagram or ladder logic? As machinery and manuals become more complex, higher skill levels will be needed to cope. The only answer to this is training, training and more training. Training needs to be continuous and conceptual (such as, “how servo motors work”), as well as specific to a machine. Some plants take the attitude that the techs will pick it up by themselves. A few might. Most won’t.

Finally, there needs to be a mindset of “use the book.” This may be the toughest issue of all to solve. The more we know, the more we recognize what we still don’t know, so training will help some. It is mostly just a question of instilling the right attitude. If anyone has an easy way to do this, please let me know.

There really is a right way to do things. Manuals need to capture this and make sure the knowledge is shared.