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Have you ever assembled a piece of IKEA furniture? Did you build LEGO sets as a kid (which is an absolutely respectable adult hobby as well)? If yes, you’re no stranger to technical publications. If you’ve followed a user manual of any kind in your life, you too have been exposed to the basics of technical publications.

If you’re a product designer or engineer, you’ve probably spent some time creating or reviewing product documentation. And if your job is like most in the industry, you probably cannot dedicate as much time to it as you’d like to, especially if you’re managing multiple projects and juggling tight deadlines.

However, the best product designers, engineers, and innovators know that documentation and other technical publications can’t be an afterthought — they’re an integral part of the product development process. Documentation is an important concern from concept through to when your final product is brought to market. The ability to communicate accurate manufacturing, installation and maintenance procedures for your designs is essential to the products’ performance and the overall success of your business.

Creating effective documentation is that it needs to have extremely high quality and needs to be done quickly. Unfortunately, quality and speed are often competing for goals, and the impact of not meeting both can be detrimental to your reputation and bottom line.

The importance of speed: waiting on documentation to go to market

Creating documentation is often one of the last steps in the product development lifecycle, ensuring documents accurately reflect the product’s final design. But since the process of creating documentation can be so time-consuming, your ship date can be held up by documentation. Ready-to-ship products sitting on the shelf because they’re waiting on required documentation frustrate your sales team as well as your customers. Getting to market quickly can mean the difference between a competitive edge and lost revenue. And meeting customer milestones for product delivery can mean the difference between a profit and contractual fees.

Accuracy: when small errors cause big problems

To speed time-to-market, the natural inclination is to start creating technical documentation earlier so it will be ready when the product is ready. But changes made during late-stage design, or change requests made during manufacturing, can result in differences between the product and its manual. Inaccuracies are not only frustrating to end-users – whether customers or service technicians – but can cause incorrect installation, maintenance procedures, and use. In turn, this can lead to inefficient operation of equipment and more breakdowns and warranty claims.

Clarity: the cost of misunderstanding

Even when documentation is accurate, a lack of clarity can cause downstream mistakes. Inability to interpret documentation or clearly understand the processes, parts, or use of a product can impact its performance and business success. When product details are not shown sufficiently, clarity can suffer as views and angles are hard to see, or labeling is confusing.

Errors, omissions, and confusion caused by technical publications can result in frustrated customers and negative word-of-mouth, which impacts your bottom line in the form of product returns and reduced sales volume.

These are obviously serious pitfalls that successful designers and manufacturers should seek to avoid at every opportunity. Our latest eBook on this topic explores some of the most common challenges that designers and engineers face in technical publications, as well as a range of software-driven solutions for creating accurate, fast, and clear documentation.

Common roadblocks to creating accurate, fast, and clear technical publications

The two most common roadblocks in this discipline are time and expertise.

Today’s manufacturers recognize that clear, accurate images of parts and products are the foundation of high-quality downstream documentation, which is necessary for marketing, manufacturing, maintenance, support, and even for consumer use. The good news is for most parts and assemblies, 3D digital models are created as part of the product development process in the form of computer-aided design (CAD) files. Unfortunately, converting these 3D CAD files into technical documentation can be a painstaking process that requires a great deal of time and know-how.

The task of converting files and managing additional files for documentation purposes usually falls on the already far too busy designer who created the original CAD files. Converting files generally can only be done by someone who has expertise in CAD software. Or, instead of converting the file, the designer has to provide bitmap screen captures of CAD images with a specific orientation to be used as-is or recreated by illustrators. All these projects take designers away from their day-to-day work. As an alternative, some manufacturers are still taking photographs of their physical prototypes or final products to create graphical content. Of course, this means the prototype or product has to be manufactured first, which will impact the overall project timeline.

Creating technical publications has never been easy, but today’s fast-paced design and the manufacturing world add another layer of difficulty to the process. But there is hope—changes to the technical publication landscape promise to lag in technical documentation, a thing of the past. Our latest eBook explores three solutions to common technical product documentation challenges. These solutions allow illustrators to start their work early – in tandem with designers – and update documentation as the designs change.

Using Solid Edge to solve documentation challenges

The ability to clearly communicate the correct manufacturing, installation, and maintenance procedures for your designs is essential to the performance of your products and the success of your business. Solid Edge Technical Publications can help you create clear, accurate technical documentation: from simple illustrations for end-user manuals to interactive 3D technical documents. To learn more about Solid Edge solutions for technical publications and other areas of product development, visit our website or sign up for a free 30-day trial.

Disclaimer: I am the author at PLM ECOSYSTEM, focusing on developing digital-thread platforms with capabilities across CAD, CAM, CAE, PLM, ERP, and IT systems to manage the product data lifecycle and connect various industry networks. My opinions may be biased. Articles and thoughts on PLMES represent solely the author's views and not necessarily those of the company. Reviews and mentions do not imply endorsement or recommendations for purchase.

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