Is documentation a necessary evil or a useful tool?
Documentation can be performed well or poorly. Handled systematically, making each step taken in the project traceable, documentation is worth its weight in gold.
Human memory is short, but documented steps can help remember why a certain task was performed in a certain way. In large projects, there are a lot of details to remember.
“What is the angle in which a steel sheet must be bent to allow the product to move freely on the production line, why was a certain code used in designing software, etc.? Documentation means recording all important work phases. The information is helpful in both completing the project and later, for instance, when machinery and equipment are maintained and modernised,” says automation expert Hannele Ranta from Servicepoint.
The value of documentation can be measured in time and cost savings. Another benefit is that documentation can be used to share completed work with anyone, which means that implementation is not dependent on the expertise of just one or a few people.
“Poorly documented work is like a stumbling block that can slow down a project, whereas well-documented work adds to the overall quality of the product that is delivered,” Ranta continues.
Guidelines to facilitate users’ work
Documentation is also used to ensure that products are eligible for CE marking. We also ensure the quality of our work by adhering to the most common standards related to facilities, machinery, safety devices and robotics.
“When the customer sets standards for the project, they must be observed,” says Ranta.
Many people think that documentation simply means the preparation of user and maintenance instructions. They are naturally an important part of the documentation, and quality shows in them as well.
“Unfortunately, a user-oriented approach is too often forgotten in user manuals. It is not sufficient that the functions of a machine’s control panel are described with just a few diagrams. What is complicated must be made simple, and what is simple must be clearly explained. In particular, good, illustrative instructions are important in case of malfunctions. For example, checklists can be included in the instructions,” Ranta states.
“The consistent use of correct terms also makes instructions easier to use. It would be a good idea to agree on the terminology to be used at the very beginning of a project. In the worst-case scenario, conflicting terms may hamper the design work,” says Ranta.
Validation ensures safety
According to Ranta, Servicepoint has refined its documentation process to perfection. For instance, in the pharmaceutical industry, the activities are strictly regulated, and the user requirements are extremely precise. Ranta has created document templates for Servicepoint’s teams for reporting and saving necessary information. The aim is that documentation is systematic, and Ranta monitors and directs its implementation when needed.
“The draft version is often circulated at the customers’ sites to allow them to check if all the necessary situations are clearly described in the user manual. In this way, we ensure that we have documented everything to a sufficient degree. The documentation must be useful to the customer in practice,” says Ranta.
“Pharmaceutical industry projects always include validation to ensure that the device or process does not cause a hazard to the production personnel, the product being manufactured, or the end user of the product. The customer is responsible for its validation process and for meeting official regulations. Servicepoint can facilitate the time-consuming validation process by providing the necessary documentation verifying that the delivered device meets all of the customer’s requirements.”
CTO, Chief Technology Officer
Servicepoint Kuopio Oy