The bottom-line is often at the top of the list when it comes to a company’s success. For the long-term benefit of your company, it better be. With technical documentation, it’s all about getting urgent information in the hands of those who sell and those who buy the parts that keep projects moving forward. The best equipment isn’t necessarily new, it’s any equipment that is on-site and working to get the job done. Unplanned downtime of 2-5 percent equipment non-availability represents a significant burden with its lost revenue and ensuing recovery costs. (http://www.mt-online.com/july2001/the-hidden-cost-of-downtime-a-strategy-for-improving-return-on- assets)
Technical documentation has always been where the rubber meets the road when it comes to maintenance and repairs. Thankfully, this documentation has come a long way in keeping equipment up and running, reducing downtime and protecting profits.
So what is the trend when it comes to technical documentation? Many companies still rely on hard copy manuals that are sitting dusty on the dashboard of a field technician’s truck. A bit better than that are electronic copies stored as retrievable PDFs on a laptop – if you have one on-site. Does this sound like progress?
Keeping parts catalogs updated and in the hands of users has always been manual in nature, taking weeks for revision and delivery- greatly impacting time and accuracy. A recent study shows that parts catalogs are relied upon by internal and external audiences as an important tool for purchasing spare parts used in servicing equipment. But they often fail to provide the information fast enough to gain the highest practical and monetary benefits. (www.janacorp.com/survey_on_parts_catalogs_reveals_industry_trends)
What the technical documentation industry needs is its own pile-driver to get to the core of the information and deliver it as fast and as accurately as the machines they support.
This is where technical documentation is headed, and it’s exciting.
First, technical documentation has found its long awaited space on the information super- highway. Many companies now provide documentation online, even if it’s just a webpage with links to PDF documents. There are, however, new methodologies that host electronic parts catalogs with dynamic diagrams and data-driven parts lists. These new catalogs are available 24/7 with something as simple as an Internet connection.
Second, online parts catalogs have the specific feature of being able to transfer parts information to an electronic shopping cart that follows the model seen on most e-commerce sites like Amazon or eBay, but at a diagram level-not just the widget. The cumbersome manual process of thumbing through a hard copy or clicking links in a PDF with their inherent errors and delay can be replaced by a simple recognize, click and submit process. Now that’s progress.
Third, the biggest gap in parts catalogs is now closing: integration with Enterprise Requirements Planning (ERP) and Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) systems. With inventories of bill of materials already online in internal parts management systems, electronic parts catalogs are able to connect to information that is up-to-date. With integration, online parts catalogs connect to make this information viewable to the public for accurate part availability and instant purchase order creation and submission.
There are even some murmurs of 3D catalogs on the horizon. Since most companies use CAD rendering for design, it’s a natural step to use these models to make an electronic parts catalog more accurate, and let’s face it, much more appealing.
Parts catalogs are broadening their beginnings from a marketing department project to support sales, to one that incorporates marketing, database management, and engineering. This full cycle approach includes part information, availability, and seamless online ordering-takes the dusty manual off the dashboard and replaces it with a laptop connected to a world of parts just now becoming the standard.
Trending next for technical documentation and access to part information is offline and mobile versions that will certainly bring this much-needed information up to social media standards. Yes, soon there will be an app for that.