Technical DocumentationConsider for a moment all the cutting-edge technology equipment manufacturers build into the product offerings of today. Whether it’s telematics, predictive analytics, autonomous capabilities, or “the next big thing,” these technologies allow for equipment end users to operate equipment efficiently, effectively, and – most importantly – safely.

None of it would be possible, however, without technical documentation. Loosely defined as “any type of documentation that describes handling, functionality and architecture of a technical product or a product under development or use,” technical documentation ultimately serves as the means by which manufacturers explain how to operate equipment efficiently, effectively, and safely.

“Technical documentation is experiencing a constant, steady evolution,” said Steve Meyer director of marketing and sales at AEM service member company Almon Inc., a developer of technical manuals, explainer videos, technician training, motion graphics, and apps to support a variety of industries and audiences.

“And to be honest, some companies are more ahead of the curve than others,” Meyer added.

A New Era

Much has changed in the technical publications industry in the last decade. Advancements in technology, specifically in the area of engineering design software, now allow for manufacturers to create high-quality animations. Meanwhile, the development of more complex equipment means more data to collect, process and analyze than ever before. The paper-based technical publications industry of 10 years ago is long gone, as the rise of content management solutions involving Darwin Information Type Architecture (DITA) has slowly, but surely, redefined how technical information is documented today.

Meyer

 

“Technical documentation is experiencing a constant, steady evolution. And to be honest, some companies are more ahead of the curve than others.” --  Steve Meyer, director of marketing and sales at AEM service member company Almon Inc.

 

Ixiasoft describes DITA as “a generic and adaptable XML-based open standard to manage, create and publish content.” Defined and maintained by the OASIS DITA Technical Committee, DITA uses topics, maps, and output formats to generate documents.” Currently used in the aerospace and civil aeronautics industries (and started gaining traction in the off-road equipment industry), its benefits are notable:

  • It helps organizations streamline technical documentation processes.
  • It speeds up the process of getting technical content to market.
  • It reduces translation costs.

“From the actual creation side, it allows a writer to access this structured content to the content management solution so that, when they go to build a new book, I dare say 50% of that information all resides in a repository that’s reusable,” explained Meyer.

“So, what that means is, it reduces time to market and reduces a huge liability of translation costs,” he continued. “Because, if you’ve written a chunk of information, typically that will go to the translator and be translated into – pick a number, 25, 40, – dialects depending on the breadth of distribution. So, I can’t emphasize enough the emerging trend of content management using DITA-structured content. It’s been discussed since the 1980s, and IBM introduced it in March of 2001. It just has taken companies so much time to adapt to technology.”

While manufacturers are still required by law to provide a paper-based operation manual in a unit when it’s delivered, companies are migrating digitally and working diligently to provide information in new and creative ways.

“This is especially true when they are using structured data and can deliver chunks on demand,” explained Meyer. “And I’m really a proponent of visual learning when it comes to this kind of information. Because if you’re in Singapore, Moscow or Milwaukee, the message is the same. Eighty percent of us, at least, are visual learners, and the next generation has grown up getting their information on mobile phones and tablets. Also, it really positively impacts your translation costs.”

Translations – Important, Yet Overlooked

Being strategic in how technical information is translated into different languages and dialects is something many manufacturers overlook, despite numerous potential implications. That’s a mistake, said Trish Stuart, U.S. office director at AEM service member company TerralinguaTranslations.com, a translation services provider.

“Some organizations are coming around on its importance, but we’re not quite there yet,” said Stuart. “The prevailing thought process is often, ‘We can Google Translate it now, and then, when we have the proper budget, we can come back and translate it the right way.’ But it might be better to not translate it at all.”

Stuart’s argument against employing Google is a straightforward one: It’s critically important for manufacturers to be able to provide clear, accurate information to help equipment end users operate machinery properly. So, if a manufacturer undertakes a significant investment of time, effort, and resources to ensure technical information is documented clearly in English, then how would it be nearly adequate enough for the next step to simply be running the information through Google Translate?

“And honestly, it just becomes less efficient – and more costly to come back and clean things up later than do it right the first time,” she added.

Again, however, advancements in technology have allowed organizations to equip themselves with tools that allow for efficient and accurate translations to occur. Where previously, companies would enlist the help of employees – or even, in some cases, distributors – to do translation work, many now invest in translation management systems or hire third-party translation providers.

“In doing so, manufacturers are able to reuse and recycle content and maintain a greater level of consistency,” Stuart added.

What is of greater importance, however, is manufacturers’ ability to maintain the asset created as a result of their work with third-party translation providers or via translation management systems.

“Usually, all companies care about is that they have a professionally translated document,” said Stuart. “But it’s important to have control over the translation memory, because that is the asset they will be able to take into the future as they move toward things like artificial intelligence and Industry 4.0.”

 

Stuart

 “Some organizations are coming around on (the) importance (of proper translations), but we’re not quite there yet. The prevailing thought process is often, ‘We can Google Translate it now, and then, when we have the proper budget, we can come back and translate it the right way.’ But it might be better to not translate it at all.” --  Trish Stuart, U.S. office director at AEM service member company TerralinguaTranslations.com

 

The Future is Now

A decade ago, those tasked with producing technical publications for OEMs were afforded greater access to actual, physical equipment then they are today. Advancements in technology have led to sophisticated 3D-engineered CAD data being relied upon to produce publications, as opposed to working with paper and iron, as was commonplace in the past. These changes are really starting to take effect, making it necessary for manufacturers to examine and – eventually – adapt their processes related to the creation (and translation of) technical information.

“The advancements that have made in engineering design software and its output have been just phenomenal. We’re able to take that software and actually create video-quality animations that you’d swear were motion pictures. We’re also seeing with the technology that’s being built into OEMs’ equipment that there’s a lot more information being delivered electronically to that equipment,” explained Meyer.

“Where, 10 years ago, we were a paper-based industry, now we’re not. The future is coming, and it’s right around the corner. Organizations just need to put in the work to get there,” he added.

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