Welcome to our official guide on creating a production manual for a product. There are language barriers to manufacturing products in nations like China and Vietnam, so your instruction manual has to be concise and easy to follow for the manufacturing team.
Our step-by-step guide will focus on the key software tools, writing instructions, and methods needed to convert spec sheets and tech specs into a top-tier product manual that factory owners can follow.
Do You Need A Production Manual?
The short answer: Not always (if you’re placing a small order or a private label product). The production manual is a set of instructions that obliges the supplier to deliver according to your needs. If you’re placing a small order under $1,000, you won’t need to submit a production manual. However, if you’re putting thousands (or millions) of dollars on the line, you should deliver a detailed production manual that the factory owner will follow.
- We encourage you to visit the factory premises before placing a large order. The production manual ensures your product gets made at the highest quality standards without any delays or miscommunications.
Production manuals are recommended if you’re hiring a new supplier. The production manual is a set of instructions or a “flow chart” for each manufacturing process step. Suppose you ever had a bad experience with a manufacturer delivering products that were not up to par with your quality standards. In that case, this is because you lacked a detailed production manual.
Why You Need A Production Manual
Each product starts with a vision. The factory owner has the technology and workforce needed to manufacture based on that vision. Still, you have to lay out step-by-step instructions to ensure they can materialize the product idea. The way the manufacturing process is executed makes a difference between a successful product and a malfunctioning product.
Manufacturing errors are common even with large companies. Do you remember Apple’s iPhones that used to bend or iPads that overheated? These are preventable problems that can be addressed early on. Even simple acts like printing your logo on a product can be misconducted if you don’t instruct your manufacturer correctly.
- A production manual is necessary after you find a supplier and negotiate a price. We can help you design a production manual once you’re ready to go into production.
Most manufacturers can get a product done with a simple idea. If you deliver a rough sketch, the supplier should be able to deliver a product. This is why you should always inquire about samples when you’re starting before you approve large-scale production. Some manufactures have the experience to manufacture your product, but they lack the knowledge to execute it to your exact specifications.
Here’s how a production manual would look. Let’s say you manufacture e-Bikes, and you guide your manufacturer. The manual would look like this: Install the seat post -> Secure the seat -> Install the handlebars -> Place the battery, and so on. Always start with the end in mind and work your way back when you’re writing a manual. The manual will serve as a guidebook for the staff in the factory assembling each part. If you don’t know the details, you can consult us, and we’ll help you draft up a production manual for your product.
Benefits Of Designing A Production Manual: Top 7 Benefits
There are immense benefits to writing a production manual for your team. For one, it shows that you’re serious about the manufacturing process and will prompt the supplier to pay extra attention to your product. If the manufacturer messes up a product, you’ll have a reason to cancel the order and have them re-do based on the information you’ve provided them. The idea is to minimize the risks of error and make the supplier’s life easier.
✔Improve Supplier Relationships
Suppliers appreciate it when you provide them manufacturing instructions because it makes their job easier. Suppliers don’t like taking risks by experimenting with designs at the early stages and making samples you may reject. They want to know what you expect in advance so they can produce a product based on your vision. The supplier starts seeing you as a reliable partner who knows what they want, and this instantly improves your relationship with them. This is integral in respect-centric cultures such as China and Vietnam.
A production manual can save you time because you won’t have to answer questions during the production stage. If you don’t have a manual for each step, the supplier may call you half-way into the production process to ask if you want to use X material or Y material. This way, you can specify what you want in advance, and they’ll prepare for it. This can cause a logistical nightmare if the supplier runs out of material because they didn’t prepare in advance, leading to significant production delays.
✔Improve Quality Control
Quality control works only if you set a precedent or rule for quality. There are quality-control services that can check factories and determine if the quality of individual parts is right, but you may need to specify a quality standard. This is imperative for all high-end goods that require expensive materials. If you manufacture anything from leather jackets to ceramics, you want to know that your supplier uses high-quality parts for each step of the way. A QC service can check if the product matches your standards (or the manufacturer can apply their QC).
The production manual will improve the productivity of each individual team engaged with the production. Large factories split tasks between multiple departments and managers read the manuals to make sure they’re following protocol. Producing a production manual for each person in charge of production can accelerate the process and deliver a finished product on time.
✔Define Worker Tasks Step-By-Step
The most important part of the production manual is to assign work tasks for the organization as a whole. This will include assigning specific worker tasks and responsibilities. Example: The battery department has to assemble the batteries on the E-Bike. You can request that all factory workers follow the same standard or direct the manual to the factory owner so they can do this for you. This way, the evaluations, and QC can’t be tampered with by personal biases.
A production manual is updated over time based on the performance of the factory. If you notice any irregularities with certain parts, you can address that part of the instruction manual and make sure they are corrected. You only have to update a portion of the manual where you had issues. This improves follow-up when you work with the same supplier over multiple years.
✔Improve Safety In The Workplace
Safety is paramount for all workers involved in manufacturing. This section should be present if you order medical suppliers or chemicals that can be dangerous. You can specify safety standards that you want all workers to abide by in the manual. A quality control inspection can verify they abide by the safety standards to minimize injuries.
Why A Tech Pack Is Different To A Production Manual
The “Tech Pack” is not the most important document in manufacturing, and it’s vastly different from a production manual. A tech pack outlines technical details about the product you’re manufacturing. This means you’re only conveying which technicalities should be implemented in the manufacturing process, but you’re not laying out a step-by-step guide for how the manufacturer should execute.
Many designers in charge of overlooking tech packs will overlook the document, and this causes breakdowns in communication. Tech packs matter, but you also need a production manual to fill in the big picture.
The Tech Pack Is A Spec Sheet
Remember that a tech pack is essentially a specs sheet. The tech pack includes dimensions, sizes, materials, order details, and other specifications. Example: If you’re writing a tech pack for an office desk, you want to specify the table size expected: width, height, length. You also want to convey the materials used (whether it’ll be oak trees, maple wood, pine, etc.). The tech pack should also include order details such as deadlines, expected delivery dates, shipping dates, delivery addresses, and more.
The Production Manual Is What Gets Made
The production manual is the actual set of instructions that the factory owner reads when they’re manufacturing your product. The factory owner has a detailed look at the production manual to make sure they can carry out the activities as requested – and alert you of possible shortcomings. This is why you want to invest time in writing a production manual that can be easily followed but also includes important details for every step of the production process.
Make sure to put in significant time developing this manual because it will be followed for hundreds or maybe thousands of employees. Revisions are hard to pass once the product enters production and can be misinterpreted if they’re not concise (always remember the language barrier issue). The production mail has to be easy to read, outlining each step from material preparation to sealing.
How To Write A Successful Production Manual: 5 Steps
Step_01 // Install Software To Design The Manual
The first step is to install software that you can write a production manual on. Remember: The manual has to be printed on paper and delivered to the supplier. You only need basic tools from the MS Office set such as Word, PowerPoint, or Excel. Cloud tools like Google Docs can also get the job done. If you want to make a more advanced manual, you can hire a graphics designer to compile the text on a printable image using Adobe Photoshop or Illustrator. These tools are easy to manage and can make future editing straight-forward.
Remember there are no official tools for production manuals, which means you could effectively write the manual in Notepad. The content inside the manual is what matters. Many manuals were written using tools like Notepad++ as well. What’s important is to use a tool that allows you to write text and upload images that highlight how you want the manufacturing to be conducted. Basic tools like PowerPoint and Word have this ability.
Open a document and write a basic outline of the final product. This method helps you define a table of contents by working your way backward. If you start at the finish line, you basically have to explain to the manufacturer how you got there, and the supplier can follow up on that example with hundreds of individual pieces.
- Example: You want to assemble an electric bike. To assemble the e-bike, you start by assembling the frame. The handlebars are then attached to the frame. Once you have the handlebars, you attach the wheels. Once the wheels are attached, you attach the wiring, motor, and battery. This completes the bike assembly. Now you have a step-by-step production summary you can expand on.
Using a rough summary of this kind, you can expand on detailed actions for each step. Look into your individual product to find out how individual parts are assembled so you can transfer this knowledge to the supplier. Most suppliers can gauge what they need to do by looking at a rough outline – so don’t beat yourself up if you don’t get every detail right.
The takeaway here is to write a short summary of the assembly process you can use to write the production manual steps. If you can summarize assembly in less than 100 words, you can develop a whole production manual based on the individual steps (as outlined with our e-bike example).
Step_02 // Choose An Instruction Format
The production manual is essentially a set of instructions. These instructions are aligned in chronological order from start to finish. The supplier will look at this information as they assemble your product for the first time. The way you present the format can have an impact on the effectiveness of the manual. Here are some format ideas for production manuals:
- Step-By-Step Format: This is our most recommended format because it guides the suppliers through the production process from beginning to end. For instance, “10 Steps To Assemble A Bike” or “5 Steps To Footwear Production”. You can lay out the entire production system in a few steps, similar to how this article is styled. This makes it simple for the supplier to get the gist of the information because they know what’s expected from them with each step.
- Hierarchical Format. If you don’t want to pre-determine the entire manufacturing process in advance, you can use a hierarchical outline. This way, you can actually make decisions when you get to a certain point in the production process. The main difference is that you sort the tasks out by priority and then ask for consultations along the way. This way, you can keep your finger on the manufacturing process, and the supplier will stop to ask your permission before each step.
- Flowchart Model. This model is a bit hard to develop, and it involves graphic imagery with bubbles. It shows the manufacturing process’s general direction, and it’s a mix between the step-by-step and hierarchical models. Consider flow charts to brainstorm the manufacturing process and allow the supplier to give their input.
>> Get Input At This Stage
This is when you want to consult the supplier as you’re writing the manufacturing manual. Reach out to them to ask them how they think the manufacturing process should unfold. Many manufacturers display an outline or a flow chart of the manufacturing process on their websites. You should ask them for feedback about your general outline/summary. If they agree with your process, you can start writing the manual. If they have something to add, implement that in your manual.
Step_03 // Assign Responsibility
The next step is to assign individual responsibilities. This is where you direct a personal message to the supplier/factory owner, managers, and staff. You want to allocate individual responsibility to the collective or individual persons inside the organization. The key here is to inform them of their tasks and make sure they’ll be held accountable for the performance of the execution of this manual. The only way you can do this is if you know your audience and know who you’re addressing. Consider the following factors:
- The organization. Do you know who the CEO of the company is? Are you going to work with the CEO or a higher-level manager on this task? Who is responsible for your product being manufactured? Who can you turn to if there are problems with the manufacturing? This is why it’s recommended to visit a factory and get to know the staff before placing a large order.
- The language barrier. There can be major issues with the language barrier. For instance, in Vietnam, much higher-level management staff do not speak English, and you’ll need a translator. The manual will have to be written in simplified English or translated into their native language. This is also why you want to have boots on the ground.
- Basic training. If the organization has new employees, you have to write concise instructions for these employees to get started with. This is rarely the case, but sometimes, if you place a custom order with an inexperienced company, you’ll have to explain everything from scratch.
- Work assignments. Make sure to assign separate responsibilities and tasks for the people who will be working on your project. For instance, the upper-level management has to oversee and give you reports about multiple units’ production. The lower level management should make sure the assembly line workers are following your instructions correctly.
Step_04 // Write The Manual
Writing the manual is the hardest and most important part of the process. If you have a basic outline of the assembly process, you can develop this into an individual step-by-step production guide that the supplier can follow. The production manual can be as long as 500 pages, or it can only be two pages – depending on your preferences. When you’re starting out, you want to have the following structure:
- Introduction Page. This page should include information such as the manual’s publication date, the title, the author’s name, a brief overview of the assignment, and a signature.
- Table Of Contents. The table of contents should include a list of all pages in the manual with titles and page numbers. This makes it easy to navigate the manual if the supplier needs additional information from a certain chapter.
- Chapter Titles. Each chapter should start with a chapter title. If the manual is written on a step-by-step basis, the individual steps will serve as the chapter titles. Example: “Step 1) Unboxing materials”.
- Page Content. This is where you want to list the actual instructions for each step of the manufacturing process. Make sure to simplify this so the managers can understand what they need to do. Example: “This is how you unbox and remove the material safely: Flow chart/image #1, text, flow chart/image #2, etc.”.
- Page Numerals. Mark each page with a page # – this will make it easy to compile the Table of Contents.
- Safety Warnings. If the supplier is handling dangerous equipment or supplies, make sure to warn them of possible dangers.
- Equipment List. Make a list of all equipment necessary to perform the tasks.
- Summary. Provide a brief summary of the manufacturing process and reaffirm the individual steps a supplier has to manufacture your product.
At this stage, you should have a completed production manual that you can distribute to your staff and suppliers. The final review process is now underway.
Step_05 // Edit And Distribute The Manual
If you have a production manual, the following are the final steps to take:
- Review The Draft. Make sure to pass the draft through a spell check to identify grammatical and technical errors. You can use free tools like Grammarly and Google Docs to check the draft for errors.
- Simplify The Jargon. Make sure you don’t use technical jargon and stick to plain language in a way that is easy to understand for non-native English speakers (who will likely be handling your manual). This way, you won’t come across major misunderstandings halfway through production.
- Contact The Supplier. Get in touch with the supplier and ask them for input about your production manual. Check if they understand the instructions clearly and sign a written contract to deliver on the manual.
- Get It Approved. If you’re a large company, you’ll have to pass this manual to all shareholders for approval. Distribute and take your time until you get final approval.
- Test The Manual. If you have the tools and pieces needed to assemble the product, test the manual at home. This should give you an indicator that the manual is effective.
To wrap up: Once you’ve written a production manual and distributed it, the final step is to implement it on a large scale. The only way to test if the production manual is effective is to put it to use and review the final outcome.