Sunday, January 20, 2008

Scheduling – How low will you go?

manufacturing erp software
Every formula manufacturer performs some level of scheduling. Without a schedule or a plan no plant could function for very long and based on my experience most of the schedules are manual in nature. As a company grows past the $10 million in sales mark the manual processes may become burdensome and become a drag on the manufacturing process.
Unfortunately few small formula based manufacturing firms have the resources or knowledge about their scheduling options. I will try to provide a basic primer to begin the education.
Generally you can break the scheduling process into two primary components
  • Production Schedule
  • Shop Floor schedule

The production schedule identifies what products we will be making, the qty to be made and the start and end dates for the scheduled item. It does not attempt to assign resources such as machines or people. It is typically the result of ensuring capacity and material availability. Think of it as the overview of what a company will be making and when it will be completed and will often show data 1-2 weeks out from today.

The shop floor schedule is much more detailed and identifies what resources we will be using, the precise order the items will be made and dependencies required in running this item. It is very detailed and is often more detailed than users outside production need to review. This is the document that the shift supervisor works from and directs the line supervisors and is often limited to 1-5 days out from today.

Both are required to get the raw materials converted to finished goods in an orderly fashion. Additionally most (if not all) companies perform these tasks. The questions to consider are

  • How efficient is your schedule?
  • Could you produce more with the same resources?
  • How much time are you spending to prepare the schedule?
To a very large degree scheduling for a significant number of small to mid-sized formula manufacturers ($1-100 million in sales) is done in Microsoft Excel or similar tool. The data for the schedule is manually obtained from printed or electronic sales orders, inventory counts and best guesses of future orders based on history or a best guess. That manual process is the norm and not the exception.
Is that a bad thing? No.
It depends on the complexity of your business and how efficiently you are trying to run.
If you always make the same products, at the same quantity and in the same order – that is not a big issue. But as lot sizes continue to shrink, breadth of products offered continues to widen and lead times are reduced then a non-integrated "back of an envelope" approach may not work anymore.
When you decide to introduce electronic tools for scheduling you need to be very careful in selecting the tool. I my experience the tool should read open sales orders, forecasts, and quantity on hand. This data can be read periodically in a batch process if needed. There needs to be a greater relationship with the production system. For formula manufacturers you need your scheduling tool to understand the formula and required resources (machines, people and tools). This data is often more detailed than the ERP data and therefore more difficult to integrate.
With that information I would suggest discussing scheduling tools with your manufacturing application. If they do not have integrations to scheduling systems your options become limited but not impossible. At this stage you may choose a custom integration or considering a new production system. If this is your case the cost of adding an integrated schedule becomes pretty expensive.
If your production system does have integrations to one or more scheduling tools then pick the one that best integrates to your ERP system and is not too complex for your personnel to use.
One thing to remember – every scheduling implementation is unique to your own business. There is no such thing as a plug and play implementation of scheduling. It will take time and effort by your company. Therefore you should be certain that there is a high level of benefit before adding this tool. Electronic scheduling is not cheap. Often times integrated scheduling tools can equal or exceed the cost of your production system.
If the benefits are real and you have the rest of your production and ERP system under control then adding electronic scheduling tools may be the right next step for you. But whatever you do – keep your manual system as the primary system until the new system has made the manual one obsolete. After all – the manual system has gotten you to this point.

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