Technical Documentation and Industry 4.0

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Photo: tekom

Alexander Hoffmann, Head of Technical Documentation at Xpublisher GmbH, discusses with experts from the industry at the tekom spring conference 2015 in Darmstadt/Germany about technical documentation and the industry. After the discussion he was able to answer pertinent questions about the future of technical documentation.

What awaits Technical Documentation in the 4.0 industry age?

Quicker product life cycles, complex systems and a large number of variants pose new challenges for industrial production and also for technical documentation. In the smart factories more and more machines communicate with each other: parts are automatically identified and drones take over the warehouse's inventory. Sensor technology and effective information management are part of the requirements for the 4.0 industry. An optimal opportunity for technical editors who would like to prove themselves as information managers. However, people also remain one of the main target groups of technical editors. In faster and faster waiting cycles service technicians need the right information at the right time in the event of damage in order to be able to timely repair the damage on the machine. Both scenarios demand a modular and structured technical documentation.

Which problems does Technical Documentation have to face today?

Technical editors are often unknown in the industry or not valued. They are known as "copy bees" or "formatting artists." Bluntly said, many engineers agree that: If you are a bad designer or developer, you become a technical writer.

According to the industry figures of the professional association for technical communication, 30% of all companies still document unstructured. Severe time-eaters like supplier documentation that often has to be typed manually or legally compliant documents with constantly changing scenarios of standards and guidelines are of primary importance for technical editors. Hence, many department heads have little time to deal with innovations in Industry 4.0.

Inter-divisional information management seldom exits. Departments work on their own information silos and do not recognize the added value of cooperation. At the BarCamp of tekom's spring conference, an experienced chief editor calls the phenomenon "dream 4.0" or if one wants to promote the subject in the organization as, "how I make enemies 4.0."

How can Technical Documentation master the challenges of industry 4.0?

Product variations often consist of different modules of information. The single source publishing approach guarantees reusability of information. Technical editors have to ensure that their departments have available the right information at the right time for people or machine because industry 4.0 demands addressable information. If management recognizes the advantages of information management, an information management system should be put in place throughout the entire organization. Not an easy task in the short term, but the effort pays off in the long term. Industry 4.0 is an opportunity to implement company-wide information management.

Can the IT solution support Technical Documentation in the process?

Yes and no. The best IT solution is useless if it is used wrong. Editors should be clear in advance of the demands they would like to make on their IT systems and weigh whether the application is worthwhile or not.

Are the tools for XML structuring a solution like Xeditor?

Xeditor distinguishes itself above all by its flexibility and intuitive interface. So that employees, without XML know how, could archive in a structured manner no matter whether in the manufacturing hall or in the office. XML is one of the key technologies of Industry 4.0. Without structured information no intelligence. No intelligence no machine-to-machine (M2M) communication.