Keeping in mind that quality means adherence to a specification, you can create work instructions for your people to follow. These are most effective if they are simple and directed to a particular job. Work instructions are also useful as a reminder if you create them for processes you don’t do often. As an example, you could sew step by step samples of one of the zipper tutorials you don’t know well and store the set for future use. Even I make work instructions to remind myself of the steps involved in techniques I don’t do often.
Today I’ll show you samples of a work instruction that is similar to one I made while at a customer’s plant. The customer was frustrated because their stitchers were not sewing boning strips to specification. In this case, the boning is sewn before the top and bottom of the corset is sewn so the boning needed to be 1/16th from the top and bottom seam line. The specification (ideal) was to center the pre-cut boning strip so it laid 1/16th short of the seam line at both top and bottom which allowed for the piece to be turned smoothly once those seams had been sewn. A work instruction was needed because boning strips were sewn crossing the seam line on one end and falling too short of it on the other and there seemed to be a lot of confusion as to where the boning was supposed to be. Below is a sample showing perfect execution (black bias tape is substituted for boning):
Before I forget, when you have a specification, you must also allow a tolerance for error. This means a workpiece can pass inspection even though it is not perfect provided you stipulate what tolerance is acceptable. This isn’t a green light to make junk; tolerance depends on so many things but in this case, tolerance was set at 1/16th of an inch. This means a boning strip could be a full 1/8″ short of the seam line on one end and be flush with the sewing line on the other and still pass inspection. The second sample below illustrates seaming that is not ideal but will pass inspection because it does not require a repair:
Unfortunately, this last sample below shows seaming that does not meet the tolerance described in the specification and must be repaired.
One thing to notice if you wonder why the stitchers couldn’t center the boning piece- one seam (the top) was 3/8″ but the bottom was 1/2″. The differing seam allowances was the source of confusion.
A bit off topic but the best way to have avoided this problem would have been to have matching seam allowances on both sides of the boning. Both ends were finished edges (turned seams) so most companies would have allotted 1/4″ and the strip of boning would have been more easily centered by eye. At worst, the allowed seam could have been 3/8″ on both ends. Regardless, there was no rational reason for different allowances on each end as the seams (top and bottom of the corset) were finished exactly the same. Unfortunately, this specification was set by the designer (who did not sew) and she could not be convinced to change it. Little wonder she went out of business.
Things to keep in mind about work instructions:
Work instructions belong where the job will be performed. If the work instruction is how to fill and operate the boiler iron, it should be hung by the iron. Work instructions do not belong on your desk (where this designer put it) or on a bulletin board for you to admire. They belong at the point of use. If these are needed at more than one station, make more sets. A work instruction is not a tool you use to catch someone doing something wrong. It is a tool to prevent someone from doing it incorrectly.
Work instructions should be short and sweet. Avoid theorizing or explanations; simply state the desired performance. If the work instruction is not optimal for whatever reason, your staff should tell you and you can then explain why it can’t be changed or alternatively, change your work instruction.
Work instructions should be visuals as much as is possible. Use illustrations for clarity rather than words.
Work instructions can be tactile; create sewn samples to illustrate desired outcome as I’ve shown in this post.
Do you have suggestions for work instructions that would be helpful? What sort of work instructions have you developed?