Why Production Scheduling Software Applications Are Not a Panacea

Scheduling manufacturing work can be a frustrating task.  This is particularly true if the organization has not determined the goals and priorities of its scheduling process. 

In my previous post, I outlined a few reasons why production scheduling is difficult.  The challenges I highlighted were somewhat general.  Of course, there are industry-specific challenges as well.  For example, consider the following: 

  • Many chemical manufacturers must keep a reactor working and the batch size must be within a minimum and maximum.  Then, there is often the difficulty of keeping storage tanks between their “heel” and capacity, not to mention the frequent need to synchronize production with transportation scheduling at the fill rack. 
  • In the paper and flat-rolled steel processing industries, there is the problem of sequencing jobs not only to minimize changeover time, but also to minimize trim waste across successive operations.
  • In the consumer packages goods space, it is often difficult to sequence production and packaging to maximize throughput and minimize the number and duration of setups.

Many scheduling software programs that claim to “optimize” (see second paragraph here) the schedule merely find the lowest sum of hypothetical or relative costs such as the cost of a stockout, the cost of carrying inventory, the cost of setups, etc.  These are rarely, if ever, a pure optimum, even assuming that the relative costs are exact and static, which, of course, they aren’t. 

I haven’t seen all the available scheduling software applications, but I have yet to see one that actually allows the user to answer questions such as the following, to name a few:

  • Do I want to complete the most orders on time?
  • Do I want to complete the most units on time?
  • Do I want to ship the most revenue on time?
  • Am I trying to schedule just one machine or work center?
  • Am I trying to schedule the entire shop floor?
  • Do the bottlenecks move based on the mix of items being produced?
  • Do I want to level the production workload?
  • Does my scheduling approach match the manufacturing process?

So, what’s the point?  Whether you are optimizing the product wheel for a chemical or food/beverage processing operation, leaning the flow of a repetitive manufacturing process, or trying to maximize the return on capital-intensive bottleneck assets, here are three fundamental guidelines that will serve you well:

  1. Determine the goals of your scheduling decision process.
  2. Understand the characteristics of your manufacturing operation.
  3. Select the simplest approach that will help you meet your scheduling goals and fits with your manufacturing operation and business model.

In my next post, I’ll conclude this topic with a quick survey of some approaches to production scheduling.

Thanks for stopping by again.  I hope you found something useful in today’s post. 

I leave you with these words from O.W. Polen, a fellow Ohioan, who passed away in 2010 at the age of 89, “You are who you are—and not what people think you are.”

Have a wonderful weekend!

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About Arnold Mark Wells
Industry, software, and consulting background. I help companies do the things about which I write. If you think it might make sense to explore one of these topics for your organization, I would be delighted to hear from you. I am employed by Opalytics.

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