The art and science of manufacturing scheduling software

Of the many challenges facing today’s job shop owner, scheduling has to be among the toughest. Obviously, production and manufacturing scheduling software helps take much of the guesswork out of running your shop efficiently, but scheduling is still part art, and part science.

Variables such as customers changing orders, vendors letting you down, data not being accurate or not being communicated, machines and tools breaking down: all add to the ‘human’ aspect of scheduling.using-manufacturing-scheduling-software-in-job-shops-is-part-art-part-science

All you have to do is look at the volumes of research on manufacturing scheduling methods to get an idea just how scientific scheduling has become.

Lean production, for example, is an approach to business that has continuous improvement at its core. Lean, as it’s often simply called, systematically seeks to achieve incremental changes in processes to improve efficiency and quality. Emphasis on and. Lean emphasizes eliminating waste, which is measured in a value by your customer – shortened lead times, lower price, etc. Balancing efficiency (a la mass production techniques invented by Ford and perfected by Toyota) with quality (the artisanship/craft approach) is something job shops can do with optimal manufacturing scheduling.

Lean production principles aren’t just for big manufacturers

While you and most of our customers aren’t assembly line giants like Toyota – considered the pioneer of lean – there are lessons to learn and use in job shops.

Enter job shop lean – lean production tailored to the needs of make-to-order, small-to-medium manufacturers and job shops. Guys like Greg Lane and the Lean Enterprise Institute are taking lean principles and applying them to high-mix/low-volume manufacturing. Greg is really in tune with the pain points of a managing a job shop. A former job shop owner himself, he’s familiar with ERP systems for manufacturers.

Check out this short video for Greg’s take on typical issues affecting job shops using traditional lean concepts for scheduling…

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hQk9vsnkOXw

Matthew Jaster, associate editor at Gear Technology, writes the following in Going Lean Requires More than the Traditional Tools

No job shop is just one production line! Instead, what really is needed is that the entire production control and shop scheduling system work. When that is achieved, visual management can be done by displaying electronic schedules at certain locations where strategic buffers are being maintained, allowing material handlers and expeditors to know which order is ready to be moved when to which workcenter next, etc.

Machine shops have traditionally focused on machine utilization and mastering the conditions required to increase cutting speeds. Reducing the value added time addresses only a small portion of the output equation. The result has been the overproduction of materials and it manifests itself in the form of stagnation of work and no flow,” Dustin Ott says. “So the first step and the highest hurdle to get over is to truly believe that overall efficiency is more desirable than point efficiency.”

Derek Singleton, analyst and managing editor of Software Advice, points out the unique needs of job shops in his Production and Scheduling Software guide

The planning methodologies used by most MRP applications cannot handle the demands of large numbers of small runs of products, orders that change frequently, or large numbers of make-to-order (MTO) or customized products. That’s where manufacturing and planning scheduling software comes in.

While you evaluate production planning and scheduling systems, make sure you consider these market trends:

Convergence with MRP. As the power of desktop computing continues to grow, traditional MRP systems are adding advance planning functions to their toolkits. Planning algorithms that were once only found in high-end planning systems are now in more moderately priced MRP or ERP systems.software-advice-website-examines-manufacturing-scheduling-software

Direct interface with shop floor equipment. Some planning and scheduling systems can get utilization information from equipment, either directly or through the manufacturing execution system. This provides two advantages, the information is more current and it does not have to be entered by hand.
Increased employee satisfaction. Production planning systems can consider employee preferences when allocating resources to a job, allowing employees to work preferred hours or on preferred jobs.

Planning using data visualization. Traditional MRP systems produce reports and planning schedules. Manufacturing planning and scheduling systems do, too, but they are also beginning to offer other visualization tools, such as graphical comparisons of the results of different models.”

Manufacturing scheduling software for job shops

Tim Heston, editor for the Fabricators and Manufacturers Association’s thefabricator.com, illustrates how software can help with scheduling. He points out in his article, The Job Shop Schedule: Always Imperfect, Ever Adapting

Whether the strategy is homegrown or purchased, all sources agree that scheduling must adapt to change.

Opinions vary widely on how best to handle such unpredictability. Some handle it through Excel. Others use visual scheduling boards, and some use software. And these days scheduling software is very different from that used decades ago. Software vendors tout features such as advanced planning and scheduling (APS), which can integrate with enterprise resource planning (ERP) software designed to account for the variable environment of the job shop.

Scheduling methodologies abound (forward scheduling, backward scheduling, and so on), and different software vendors may prescribe one or a combination, depending on the situation. But all experts agree that the real world of manufacturing is ever-changing, and the logic behind software must help create a production schedule that can recognize and adapt to those changes.”

Michael Balle, a lean management consultant, author and faculty member at the Lean Enterprise Institute, posts in his column on How to Manage Stock and Be Responsive to Varied Customer Demand

So here’s the conundrum. The strength of an artisanship approach is the ability to produce one-off products with great care, and to be responsive to every customer’s unique requirements. The problem is that this diligence costs a great deal – artisans consider rework as a necessary component of quality and deadlines as lesser concerns to getting it right. And so artisans often price themselves out of the market, losing consumers to cheaper mass produced goods or services. Only in the luxury segment can excellent artisans make a living without having to improve drastically their efficiency. On the other hand, mass production operations could benefit greatly from the care artisans give to their work.”

Balancing quality and efficiency, art and science. It can be done. James Womack, considered the guru of lean management, cautions us that while we can learn some lessons from lean, there’s still an art to running and scheduling a job shop.

Lean manufacturing, does not however, lend itself so easily to the job shop where every day is different and every order is unique. “If you’re running a job shop where you never do anything the same way twice, you’re going to have a more difficult time utilizing the tools that have made lean manufacturing such a success on the assembly line,” Womack says. “That’s not to say that it can’t be done, you just need to be a little more creative in your approach.”

So what about you? How creative or scientific are you in your manufacturing scheduling? 

Download free buying guide for manufacturing software