Operating manuals go digital.
One of the most important components of any machine is the operator's manual. Whenever there is a problem in the installation, operation, or maintenance, the documentation is often one of the first things consulted. Small wonder, then, that manuals tend to get mutilated over time. Many workers constantly consulting the manual is bound to leave it a little ragged. Pages might be torn out or sucked into a dust collection system. Coffee might be spilled on it. The company then has to find a replacement copy.
Stiles Machinery Inc. of Grand Rapids, MI, has developed a digital documentation system to alleviate these problems. Stiles' Homag machines now come with a copy of the documentation on a CD-ROM, making information gathering quicker and more interactive. The CD-ROMs were introduced in January and come with most models of Homag machines. This idea is just one way the CD-ROMs are being used by the woodworking industry. (See sidebar page 38.)
One obvious advantage of the CD-ROM is its compact size. "You can take a 6-inch cube of CD-ROMs, and it can hold as many manuals as a 4-foot shelf," said John Warnock, Stiles' help desk manager.
The digital manuals can also be shared across a network. Larger companies, including Stiles, are able to put the CD-ROMs on a CD server, accessible for people in different branches. Companies spread across the country can share the information.
Easier to Find the Answers
The digital documentation system uses Adobe Acrobat Reader, which can be installed from the Homag CD-ROM. Other requirements include a 486 PC at 50 Mhz, 16 MB RAM, a quad-speed CD-ROM drive, a mouse and Windows operating system.
The opening page of the manual gives several options. Starting instructions provide basic information, including transportation, unloading, and setup of the machine. Operating instructions explore the screen menus and control panels as well as detailing maintenance and cleaning procedures. Throughout the documentation, information is provided by text, pictures and graphics, and returning to the main index can be done by pressing a button in the menu bar.
Roger Ensign, a manufacturing technician at Steelcase Inc., Grand Rapids, said that navigating through the CD-ROM was easy. "The look of it is real similar to the way (Siles) organizes its paper documentation," he said.
At Steelcase, the documentation is used primarily by maintenance and technicians to assist in troubleshooting and parts ordering. Ensign said that the digital system is easier to manage than the paper volumes it replaced. "We wanted to make the manual easier to follow and easier to manage," Warnock said. "As I like to say, the only thing the CD-ROM doesn't give you is paper cuts."
The digital manuals have several features that separate them from the paper versions. The Homag system has a parts order wizard, which makes parts lists. "You can find a list of part numbers when you're in the middle of a design," Warnock said. Clicking on the part brings up a box that has the part information. From there, it can be added to a parts list. The parts list, when completed, can be printed out and faxed or e-mailed.
The system also comes with a search engine. Entering in a word brings up every occurrence of that word in the documentation. By performing a generic search on "glue," the user can find information on glue gates and glue units. Speed is essential for this function, especially when a machine breaks down. Warnock said that with a paper manual, the only way to navigate is with the tabs in the book and the indices under the tabs. "With the CD-ROM, you can literally get to the drawing segment or the paragraph within the page, and it gets you there much faster," he said. He added that there is a thumbnail feature that produces a visual index of the pages to help people find the picture or chart they are looking for.
The search utility has been the biggest benefit for Ensign. Steelcase uses eight Homag BAZ processing centers, four of which came with the digital documentation. "When we're looking for something particular in manuals, we can spend a lot of time flipping through pages trying to find it," he said. "The search function is a big plus for us, especially in finding parts."
"Once you've seen the Homag CD-ROMs and the fact that they were published specifically to be on a CD-ROM, as opposed to scanned on a scanner, it's a big difference," Warnock said. "With the color photos and the icons, the Homag CD-ROM is head and shoulders over anything we can do (in a printed manual)."
Warnock said that he has gotten favorable response from the customers who have used the digital documentation system. "I've had a couple of requests from customers, that now that they've seen it with their current machines, they would like it in their earlier machines," he said.
Ensign is one of those customers. He said Steelcase requested the older manuals on CD-ROM when Stiles first introduced the system in its new models. Ensign said he would like to have the manuals for their four earlier BAZ models put on CD-ROM. Stiles has acquired a high-speed document scanner and said it may look into offering that kind of service to its customers.
Ensign noted that this movement toward electronics over paper is becoming a more common concern. "In our company, there's always a push going on to go paperless" he said. "We're constantly expanding and upgrading our computer network to do more and more things electronically and eliminate paper waste. I think that has to carry over to other areas, too, when it comes to these kinds of things."
For more information on the digital documentation system, contact Stiles Machinery at (616) 698-7500.
RELATED ARTICLE: Companies Take Advantage of CD-ROM Technology
Computer software companies have been putting their products on CD-ROMs for several years, but many other companies are now taking advantage of the increased storage capacity of the CD-ROM. The discs can contain anything from general product information to an audio and visual presentation. Following are some examples that have recently crossed our desks.
GreCon Inc. offers a CD that features an in-depth look at quality assurance and protection systems, including spark detection/extinguishment systems, thickness gauges and moisture analyzers. It provides technical data, operation principles and installation locations. QuickTime movies provide demonstrations of product applications.
Designers of the furniture hardware CD from Grass GmbH have stored four different data formats on one CD-ROM. Users can view a multimedia show on any one of four different systems: Macintosh, Windows, and TV sets with a CD-i player or video CDs. The CD offers details on Grass' range of furniture hardware and installation machines in a choice of languages.
The Virtual Showroom, from the Virtual Design Centre Ltd., is a comprehensive source of British contemporary furniture designers. It gives access to more than 400 product designs from 20 suppliers, representing 30 designers. Product images can be rotated 360 [degrees], and specifications and full details of product ranges can be downloaded. Purchasing the CD-ROM also grants access to a Web site showcasing the companies involved and providing e-mail links.
Thomson Industries Inc. offers an engineer's guide to linear motion systems, stages, slides and motion control products. It contains all the information from the company's current Advanced Linear Motion Systems Catalog as well as new information about is latest products. According to Thomson, complete systems can be designed, specified and ordered with a single part number.
Colson Caster Corp. has released a Version 2.0 of its interactive caster selection guide. The CD-ROM takes the user through a progression of selections, narrowing more than 35,000 caster choices down to the caster best suited for the application, Colson says. Other features include a 10-minute video, a short tutorial on selecting casters and a faxable quotation form.
National Cleanrooms has released a fully interactive engineering and design CD. It covers all phases of clean room design from architectural to mechanical systems, and includes industry and federal standards, such as Fed Std. 209E.
The "Guide to Panelboard Systems," from Sunds Defibrator, offers detailed information on Sunds' panelboard systems, from yard to panel-handling. It gives an overview of every stage of the production lines and the company's plants and services. The CD-ROM is fully indexed and contains text, pictures and videos of products, installations and processes.