Safety Animations for Manufacturing

In today’s manufacturing industry a consistent series of issues run across the spectrum of businesses. First is the need for better plant safety training. Whether visitors to a facility or new employees, the need for clear safety instruction is essential. Beyond the basic issue of communication, everybody is dealing with a multi-lingual workforce and society. This requires instructional materials to be accommodating to these conditions.

Second are concerns that the cost of training and operations for staff is out of control. This includes operational training for equipment, plant procedures and product assembly. Is there a better way to instruct customers on the use, installation, maintenance or assembly of products?

This was the question when Turis Systems (Madison, Wisconsin) talked to Neenah Foundry. Turis showed Neenah (Neenah, Wisconsin) a safety animation it had developed for the construction industry and was surprised to discover Neenah had already been thinking along these lines.

Neenah’s main source for training documentation was a series of “Safety Alerts” put together in individual Word documents with images and text. While comprehensive in covering the necessary safety information, Neenah recognized the challenges its current documentation faced in communicating critical safety information. This format depends on people thoroughly reading the materials. Another challenge was that the topic, while critical, is not necessarily all that interesting and the documents were not very engaging visually. While having visually interesting materials may seem like a minor issue for something as crucial as safety, it is extremely important the materials hold viewers’ attention so they retain the instruction. Unfortunately, the vague potential for dangerous situations on its own is not always enough to keep people focused.

Neenah Foundry had recognized that taking advantage of the capabilities of modern graphics software could greatly enhance their materials. The examples from the construction industry reinforced this belief.

The first video for Neenah was designed to instruct visitors on how to safely proceed through the plant. The primary goal in reworking the training materials was to keep all of the existing information but use modern graphics software to enhance it. This would be accomplished by reinforcing the visual information with motion and audio to both help clarify the information and make it more engaging and memorable. A secondary objective was to create videos targeted to the correct audience, but in a way that would allow Neenah to potentially reuse the clips Turis created for videos targeted toward other audiences. The tools that would be used to accomplish all of this would be 3D Studio Max to model and animate each scenario and then the clips would be edited together in After Effects along with text and voiceover recordings.

While much of this could be accomplished by shooting a video, 3-D animation has a number of advantages over shooting video.

3-D animation provides a distinct advantage over paper and video in providing cost efficient, flexible and engaging training materials.

The process began with reviewing the “Safety Alerts” that would need to be covered in the video. Then there was a discussion between Turis and Neenah about how to target each of the “Safety Alerts” to the intended audience and the order in which they should be presented. Following that conversation, a script was put together including both the text that would appear online, as well as the voiceover and a description of the action that would be happening in the shot.

Upon the approval of the script, Turis modeled the necessary elements in 3ds Max and put together a storyboard, which included still images of the action that would be happening on screen along with the text for the captions and voiceover. Once that was approved Turis started animating.

The final product was a two-and-a-half-minute animation that visitors could quickly watch before entering the plant. All of the information from the original documentation was covered, but the visual interest and clarity of information was greatly enhanced by showing the scenario in question in an animated sequence. In addition, the animation was able to show scenarios in which the animated character did not follow proper procedure and the dangers that could potentially ensue. While Turis avoided making these scenarios graphic, they are a bit startling, which helps to keep viewers’ attention, thereby making the video more memorable.

While the text was mostly unchanged, Turis and Neenah were able to use less text due to the clarity of the animated visuals. This was all enhanced even further by the voiceover Turis recorded and edited into the video to reinforce the text and help ensure viewer engagement and retention.