At the end of a long conversation with one of my regular customers, he had one last question. I think the Doctor calls this the "burning question" when you're out walking, and then you dare to ask yourself what's on your mind.
"Do I still need the documentation in paper format? Our customers only want electronic deliveries!"
And of course, the answer comes to me, for which I’ve developed a love-hate relationship lately. Of course, it also elicits an annoyed moan from my colleague: "That depends."
Basically: The users (i.e. the addressees of an informational product) must have the information they need, when they need it. At the moment, when an electronic device is made available, then, for example, the operating instructions can also be made available electronically. If this can’t be guaranteed, then the paper form is mandatory.
It should be noted that operating instructions that are not available or unreadable to the user at any given moment is synonymous with operating instructions that are missing.
The context matters
Sometimes this is not so easy to decide.
If my product is a piece of software, then of course I have a computer at my disposal when using the software. So the instructions for the software can be integrated into a help menu. However, I’m not able to access it when installing the software, so this information must be provided to me elsewhere. The information can be available for download, but only if I can freely access the Internet. If I’m working within a protected corporate network, this may not be guaranteed, and the information must be sent to me personally.
An Installer who installs cables at a construction site without electricity and network access is not as well prepared with a manual stored in the cloud as his colleague, who previously designed, planned, calculated, and ordered components in his office.
Another Example: If my machine has an HMI with an interactive display, then the operating instructions can be stored there as well. Sometimes this is extremely helpful. For example, if the printer guides me step-by-step through paper jam maintenance. However, if there are any problems with the HMI or activities that require the HMI, and the manual cannot be opened, then the information must be available elsewhere as well.
One More Example: The cleaning specialist always carries a small tablet around with her, but for a specific cleaning task, she must wear special gloves that she can’t use to operate the tablet. Besides, it would get wet. In that case, it would be convenient to find the relevant part of the manual (laminated) in the appropriate area.
Very important information can also be attached in addition (e.g. in the form of stickers). I think of the transport security of a washing machine: This reminds me of a sticker on the handle edge, which I must use in any case, if I want to transport or move the washing machine.
Ultimately, there are no limits to creativity.
The prime examples are washing instructions: The crucial information for handling a piece of laundry is sewn directly into the garment on a small, washable piece of paper. Almost language-neutral, conventionalised, and incredibly smart.
Individualised solutions and cleverly implemented
EU Directives/EU Regulations and the resulting laws do not explicitly specify the form of delivery. It depends on the interpretation of the word "attached". In older Guidelines and Standards, this is interpreted as a "paper form".
More recent interpretations equate paper with electronic forms, such as the upcoming standards IEC 82079-1 (Edition 2) or ISO 20607. The manufacturer must think about the situations in which the most appropriate target group is which information access method.
However, this also means that in a Risk Assessment these aspects must be assessed, and the method of delivery is a result of the Risk Assessment.
The era of the paper mountains seems to be drawing to a close. Rather, individualised solutions are needed for each situation — and with a clever implementation.
It was really easy for my contact person. In a Workshop, all situations and target groups are precisely determined and the risk potential for the different access methods to information is discussed in a Risk Assessment. The result will be a mixed solution for the machine. We will integrate a few pieces of information into the HMI and attach a few pieces of information in paper format. The thinner operating instructions save printing costs, while the integration into the HMI strengthens the precise instruction as a result of the didactic preparation, and the use of the advantages of the electronic medium saves the personnel a lot of legwork.
But does it make sense to use the existing content for different media? No problem! We do single source publishing!