Technical documentation

More than a manual

Technical documentation is not a synonym for a user manual, or any set of manuals for that matter. Even if a product comes with both an assembly manual, an installation manual and a maintenance manual (as well as a user manual), the technical documentation for that product can still not be considered complete. Why is that? Because any manufacturer should be able to make perfectly clear that every precaution has been taken to make its product(s) safe to use. Manuals can play a role here, an important role for sure. But more precise information is often more convincing if a thorough investigation is called for after an incident

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What is technical documentation?

It is true: manuals are an important part of technical documentation. Complex products come with a set of manuals, like an installation manual and a maintenance manual. But there are other kinds of technical information that can become very important if a technical question about a product arises, presumably after some incident or when a repair is needed.

What about:

  • electrical circuit diagrams;
  • 3D drawings;
  • datasheets showing specifications regarding temerature, humidity and the like;
  • a risk analysis;
  • explicit tests on safe use;
  • documentation pointing out that mass production will lead to identical products with identical properties;
  • declarations of conformity regarding any legal requirement.

If technical documentation includes all these kinds of information, chances are that the manufacturer cannot only help any customer. The vendor can also show to the best of his ability that a product is safe to use, minimizing risks of whatever incident might occur.


Why is technical documentation important?

Why is it so important to archive a so-called technical construction file (also known as simply ‘technical file’)? This is not only because it may be mandatory to archive such a file, as it is in the European Union.

It is also a confidence building instrument. Indeed: if an industrial installation is supplied with a complete and orderly technical construction file, a customer might be impressed and consider buying the next industrial installation from the same manufacturer.

But there is a second interest for the manufacturer to put every effort in technical documentation. This reason has already come to the fore. Suppose a repair is needed, or worse, an incident occurs. After all, incidents are never completely preventable. If they occur and the vendor can make absolutely clear that every precaution has been taken to prevent so an incident from happening, then its liability may be brought to an absolute minimum.


What does good technical documentation look like?

A technical construction file should be complete. It should include all items mentioned above. Also, each item should be clearly recognisable, using tabs in a ring binder, or, more probably in this digital day and age, digital folders in a root folder.

Also, any technical construction file should be up-to-date.

A ring binder may be more convincing when a manufacturer wants to show that its ‘TCF’ (as it is also known) is complete.

A digital folder may be more convincing when a manufacturer wants to keep its technical documentation up-to-date in an orderly manner.

It is this tradeoff that a manufacturer has to deal with. It is not a good idea to do both: keeping a ring binder in a cabinet and a folder on the computer network. This brings with it extra work and could also easily lead to a lack of synchronisation between the two. This might, in turn, lead to the handover of insufficient and/or outdated information.


Is there an expiration date for technical documentation?

Strictly speaking, there is no expiration date for technical documentation. If a product is available on the market and/or within its warranty, a manufacturer should be able to show its TCF to its customer and use it to help its customers. If the product is no longer available, it may be still be necessary to archive the relevant TCF. This has to do with legal requirements. The European directives, for example, demand a TCF to be archived for a 10 years period after a product has been withdrawn from the market.


A check on your ‘TCF’, your technical construction file

Do you want to know whether your technical documentation can withstand the test of time? Do you want help to make your TCF complete? Do you want easy access to your technical documentation for everybody – not only for your employees, but also for your customers and – if need be – for the authorities? Then please consult Manualise. As the name suggests, this Dutch firm specialises in setting up manuals. But we consider technical documentation as much more than manuals. Hopefully, this article in our knowledge centre has made this clear.

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