Documentation department

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"Things never get boring"

Write it down to stick around – even politicians do this. Equipment is not allowed to be delivered to a customer without proper documentation. Writing and providing this documentation is a job for specialists.

Peter Schell took over as head of the Documentation Department about 20 years ago. Shortly after taking over he formed a solid team with Silke Askerc and Tanja Lippert with the help of a translation consultant. “Although documentation complexity has increased substantially in the last 20 years, we have always been able to successfully reorganize”, he relates. Paper has long since disappeared, digitization has streamlined the current process and  will continue in the future: “We are currently setting up a doc portal to make the documentation available to external users.” At the same time the portal performs an internal-use archiving function.

Communication is everything
Archiving and traceability are a major issue within the department. Documentation must be kept available over the entire service lifetime of a machine and updated, if required. “Modernization and retrofitting keep presenting us with challenges”, Peter Schell tells us. An update often causes the lifecycle of an old machine to expire and a new one is created with new specifications. Its documentation would then require to be updated.

This new documentation however is generally, more comprehensive and complex. For example, when certificates dating from the original year of manufacture are required for “old” components – the “Docs” team begin the hunt. “The bulk of our work is research – looking for the required information and documents. We therefore have to submit many requests which involves a great deal of communication – we couldn’t do our job otherwise.” From the word “go” the three colleagues from Docs work in parallel to manufacturing, at the end of which documentation is added to the machines. Once the order has been approved, a delivery timeline is scheduled. At this point, the docs team must determine the languages required for documentation and if any modifications to the equipment need to be considered. The documentation planning process, including any translation into the required languages, starts with this information. Overall the department manages documentation in 26 languages, some with country- / order-specific supplementary documents. “But we restrict ourselves to official EU languages – for example we use Portuguese but not Brazilian Portuguese. Otherwise the effort involved would be too much”, Peter Schell says by way of qualification.

A liability issue
“If an order is changed during the course of production, we need to know, otherwise the documentation is incorrect”, he explains. That then has legal implications. “The EU Machinery Directive requires that accompanying documentation corresponds to a machine’s as-built state. Otherwise the delivery has a flaw, for which Brabender Technologie GmbH & Co. KG is liable. If something happens in a customer’s production facility and incident’s occur, then the documentation forms an important part of the investigation.”

Peter Schell regards developing new products as the greatest challenge and at the same time, the most fun. “As an engineer I really enjoy communicating with my design engineering colleagues. As the Docs team we incorporate the user’s perspective, which always varies.” Larger projects can involve working closely together with subcontractors, whose documentation also needs to be included. These projects require additional documents like assembly instructions for the service engineers. Final documentation of equipment is provided to the customer at the end of the process. This is referred to as “as-built” documentation, which also includes any modifications performed during commissioning. “Documentation is dynamic, it needs to be updated every time there is a modification in order to ensure immunity from liability.” The more complex feeding processes and projects become, the more challenging the documentation is as well. For Peter Schell and his colleagues this is a welcome challenge: “It never gets boring, because everything is always in a state of flux.” 

 

(published in FLUX 2/2018)