In our work, we often come across incredibly talented and capable production schedulers and planners at our clients’ manufacturing plants. Without them, these plants would surely not run as efficiently as they do. The critical, but typically manual, nature of their work often results in their becoming overworked, irreplaceable resources. The effects can be seriously detrimental, both in terms of the employee’s wellbeing, as well as the sustainability of the operation.
Production schedulers must love their job. In fact, the scheduler job is often staffed by people who have dedicated many years of their life to the company. Over the years, they have learned the details about the intricacies of the production operation as well as the coordination between production and the procurement of raw materials, the packaging of finished products, and the shipping of customer orders.
To keep such information organized, and to make good scheduling decisions, the scheduler usually develops a large spreadsheet to keep track of customer demand, raw materials and finished goods inventory, labor availability, machine capacities, operating rules, physical constraints, etc. The scheduler must manually update the data every time a new schedule is needed, which could happen more than once a day. The process can take many hours each day, forcing the scheduler to arrive early at the plant, hours before production starts, or to stay well past the time when everyone has left for the day, to plan the next day’s schedule. Soon, these spreadsheets become so complex that it is hard for the scheduler to train someone else to use them. The effects can be dire for both, the scheduler, and the plant.
On one hand, the scheduler becomes an overworked, indispensable resource who cannot rely on someone else to back them up. On the other hand, since they have no real backup, the scheduler must always be “on call” in case something happens to disrupt production. As soon as a machine goes down, or an operator fails to show up, or a customer modifies an order, the production schedule must be adjusted. What happens if the scheduler has called in sick that day or – perish the thought! – is on vacation? They often are called back into the office to fix the situation.
To mitigate this problem, a plant can implement automated production scheduling software solutions. These solutions can help schedulers streamline their process by providing automated data input capabilities and an intuitive interface and advanced algorithms for making scheduling decisions in minutes instead of hours. A scheduler can also train other people within their organization to use the software. The benefits are obvious: the scheduler is no longer overworked and can now feel free to take a well-deserved day off or even a vacation, because they can rely on a real, trained backup. That being said, the software will never replace the need for schedulers, as it cannot replicate their years of accumulated knowledge and wisdom; it simply provides a tool to facilitate and streamline their work.
But the choice of a software solution is not trivial. There are modules within many ERP systems, as well as specialized, off-the-shelf software solutions that can help prepare production schedules. These usually work well for relatively simple operations, where the product offerings are quite standard, with little variation between products and relatively stable customer demand, or where production lines are independent of each other, such that products have dedicated resources and product changeovers are not an issue. For operations with a high product mix, a make-to-order type of operation, where products share much of the same infrastructure, and where changeovers involve lengthy and costly cleanings and machine setups, these ERP modules and off-the-shelf solutions are inadequate and cannot handle the complexity. In these cases, the plant needs a system that can faithfully represent the specific operation, to optimize the schedule based on its desired goals, while complying with its multiple rules, constraints, and requirements.
Do not wait until your production scheduler experiences burn-out or, worse yet, decides to leave your company for whatever reason. Request a complimentary, no obligation call with us today. We will assess your production scheduling needs and recommend a path forward. And don’t worry, you don’t need to have a PhD in computer science to run our models. We customize a simple, intuitive interface and provide on-site training to plant schedulers, who are typically quite happy to no longer be reliant on giant, 20-tab excel workbooks to conduct their scheduling, and can go home when the workday is over, like everyone else.
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