Can you imagine this? A customer orders a technically sophisticated product on a web platform. From over 170 options, he chooses the desired ones. He confirms his order, which triggers both the production of his individual configuration as well as that of the corresponding user guide. Content-wise the guide is just as individual as the product – but finished, created, and integrated into the rest of the process without the active intervention of an editor.
How such a scenario with SCHEMA ST4 at its editing heart works is something that Arno Schmidt explained to his eager audience at the recent SCHEMA Conference. At Otto Bock HealthCare, for which he leads the technical communication department in Duderstadt, this process of order-driven manuals will go live shortly.
How it came about
Otto Bock Healthcare produces medical products, among others electrical wheel chairs. For their new optimized product concept which focused on individualization, not only order processing and production were faced with immense challenges. Technical editing and operating manual creation needed to be integrated into the individual order-driven process.
It quickly became clear: customized operating manuals for a product with over 170 options, with a production volume of 5000 units per year, can’t be manually created and maintained by a technical editing team. A completely new form of process automation was needed.
Complex Process in Fast Forward
What today – almost at the end of the development project – sounds simple and straightforward, kept at times a team of almost 15 experts busy. From Otto Bock, from SCHEMA as CMS manufacturer, from SealSystems as integration partner, and an SAP expert from Sycor BIT.
And this is how the process runs since the end of last year: A customer orders a wheelchair in Otto Bock’s web shop. But not just any wheelchair. Rather, he’ll order a high-tech product, individually customized to his needs. Front or rear-wheel drive? Spring-mounted steering swing arm or not? Lowest speed (6 km/h) or the fastest variant (14 km/h)? As already mentioned: there are over 170 such options.
The order is transferred to SAP and generates a production order. And as soon as assembly starts, documentation becomes part of the picture. Through the coordination of CMS Connect (a special interface) and ST4 Automated Publishing Extension (APX), ST4 as the editing system is fed with the product characteristics of the unique wheelchair. This means: to all modules that apply to the new product variant, ST4 adds a corresponding filter characteristic (realized via taxonomies). And as soon as this has happened, the operating manual is generated automatically.
The individual operating guide is saved to SAP, printed and delivered at exactly that point in the production process at which the final quality control of the wheelchair takes place. And thus the circle to the customer is completed. He receives, along with his order, a 100% matching guide.
As mentioned: all of this happens without anybody from the editing team needing to raise a finger. ST4 is part of a fully automated process chain, and is indeed remote controlled in this respect.
High Requirements of the Editing Team
Of course: “Automatic” doesn’t mean that no editing team is needed any longer. Just that the editing team doesn’t have anything to do directly with generating the output documents – which may well be a dream for some of our blog readers. However, there are quite a number of additional requirements for the responsible team of 2 editors and 1 graphic designer.
Number 1: Texts are completely standardized. Authoring for this project means adhering to very rigid rules at every turn. Without this, automatic generation of information products would be suicidal in regards to quality.
The high degree of product variance goes hand in hand with a corresponding fine modularization in ST4. Anybody who wants to participate in the editing process in this project must therefore also adapt completely to strict standards in regards to modeling and data organization.
A further aspect of editing: How can the quality of automatically generated documents be systematically validated and maintained? Otto Bock has established a special process for this: Every 30th operating manual is subjected to a special quality check.
All’s Well That Ends Well
As a manufacturer of medical technology, Otto Bock HealthCare is subject to demanding requirements regarding process reliability and traceability. After all approvals had finally been granted, the new process went live and “into production” at the end of last year – however, Arno Schmidt and his team are already looking ahead. After the 2016 pilot scheme has been completed successfully and the new process fully introduced, further product groups will follow into the world of fully automated operating manual creation.
Arno Schmidt completed his craftsman’s examination as master orthopedic technician in 1986. Since 1992, he has been working for Otto Bock HealthCare, responsible first for building and leading the research and development workshop in Göttingen, then for the product area of custom silicone manufacturing. In 2005, he moved to the technical telephone service, and took over the introduction of a database-supported information system for the call agents. Since 2008, he has been responsible for the documentation and technical editing department, and is head of technical communication.