How Manufacturers Can Streamline Production Scheduling

There’s no one-size-fits-all method to production scheduling. All of your products, processes, and plans are launched with a uniform goal in mind—profitability.

However the most valuable resource your business has isn’t a product or process—although it does start with a “p”.

It’s people—the people who are on the shop floor and the people who ensure timely deliveries and functioning supply chains. Namely, the people who have intimate knowledge of every aspect of the production process.

woman-in-white-labcoat-and-hairnet-reading-instructions-on-wallScheduling and maintaining high-efficiency production on the shop floor is often hard, grueling work. Whether you take part in backwards or forwards scheduling, there are drawbacks and limitations to each.

 Backwards scheduling sets the stage by establishing an absolute work order due date, but still comes with its fair share of logistical dilemmas. The inflexible nature of having an immovable end-date leaves little to no room for equipment malfunctions, material delays, manpower shortages, and a plethora of other variables that could cause production bottlenecks. In short: it’s not very adaptable.

 Forward scheduling doesn’t come without its drawbacks, either—designating a large number of orders as “in progress” undermines and hinders proper prioritization of work. In turn, this may cause materials to be unknowingly purchased much too far in advance, restricting the cash flow that may be required to service a more urgent need.

 So, where do you go from here? As you may have guessed by now, the answer to streamlining the scheduling process lies somewhere in the middle. More precisely, the answer is two-pronged—it requires a potent mixture of human insight and advanced manufacturing technology.


How Does Production Scheduling Go Wrong?

Before discussing some solutions to scheduling within the manufacturing industry, let’s talk about ways that production scheduling can go wrong.

As your organization’s production czar will likely attest, the process can be chaotic, repetitive, and frustrating. Most often, there isn’t a single person or cause as to which blame can be assigned. A hectic schedule comes with a silver lining—work is busy and plentiful.

However, there are some commonalities as to why production scheduling can go awry. We aren’t necessarily focusing on expected, day-to-day hiccups such as equipment breakdowns, staff shortages, and late shipments from suppliers. The issues we’re highlighting go beyond that, addressing larger scale, less obvious operational deficiencies that may be affecting the overall production process.


Fear and Uncertainty

The only thing worse than making a mistake? Having to admit you made one—and acknowledging the toll that it’s taken on your bottom line. It’s never easy to walk up to your boss and start a conversation with “Well, I have some bad news.” However, avoiding the issue and continuing to let it fester is a markedly worse strategy.


No matter what type of role you have in the process, it’s important to speak up if there’s an error in plain sight. For example, if your project is delayed longer than expected, speak up about it to your supervisor—the longer it takes to chart a better course, the more damage that will be done.

Sometimes, processes aren’t optimal. And just because changing them may not be a popular opinion, doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t try. Innovation can be messy—applying the right tools before major delays happen will help mitigate future production problems.


Inaccurate Data

Having data that’s “good enough” doesn’t cut it anymore. With so many manufacturers utilizing IoT wearables, industrial robots, and automation software, it’s tough to justify having incomplete—or worse, incorrect—data sets.

 Data comes from a number of sources: sales figures, material costs, production metrics, employee productivity scores, shipping estimates, tax costs—the list goes on.

By relying on word-of-mouth data and hand-counted tallies and totals, you’ll be giving competitors an edge.

 Jagannath Rao, president of Siemens USA’s customer service division, says this about the future of manufacturing:

 “By 2025, 85% of manufacturing will be connected. If you’re not on the bandwagon, you will lose your competitive advantage.”


Budget Variance Dilemmas

For some businesses, a positive variance to the monthly budget is more highly sought after than actually hitting the budget. Basically, by keeping expectations tempered, accolades accumulate due to “beating” the figures laid out.

While this certainly may do a bit of good in terms of boosting morale, it’s often outweighed by the damage it can do on a larger, long term scale. If the bar is set at a height that is easily surpassable, what spurs further innovation? What inspires the organization to outpace previously hard-to-reach goals in the pursuit of continued and persistent success?

Even though you are producing great, profitable products, setting goals that would be considered “incredible” to reach instead of “good” to reach will spur further innovation and success.

Establishing a company culture is hard enough—don’t let the desire to chase accolades outweigh the desire to continuously adjust and improve the production scheduling process.


How Can I Improve My Scheduling Process?

Before diving into the nuanced details of sharpening your production process, it’s important to take a step back.

 You know what your customers want, regardless of whether you’re a B2B or B2C operation—timely deliveries, high quality products, and excellent custome

r service.

These outcomes are essentially your business's endgame, so let’s work backwards by starting with some thorough planning to ensure that these outcomes are generated on a consistent basis.


Better Forecasting

When it comes to material estimates, many businesses rely on their own data. While it may seem intuitive to use internal records to forecast what you will need, this data set is far from complete.


Prior material estimates are just that—prior. They don’t always account for updated market conditions for the materials themselves, or within your own organization.

Has the cost of creating this product increased? Decreased? Has anything changed about the customer/s buying the product? Have your production methods or supply chain routes been altered in a way that would affect this product’s ROI? Has a key overseer of this product’s sales or implementation process left the company?

These are all examples of important variables to account for that may not be readily available from prior data alone.

Keeping Up To Date Records

Forecasting isn’t the only place where data will be your friend—data driven decisions can help your organization at almost every stage of the production life cycle.

Every company would say that their goal is to be operating at “100% capacity and efficiency.” While that is almost always the goal, it is seldom the reality. Machines sit waiting for repair, products sit waiting to be sold, and humans sit waiting for, well, lunch.

Perfection is never achievable, but the pursuit of perfection is what advances production capacity. By adopting data driven methods and technologies to help reduce mechanical downtime, decrease excess production, and maximize the ways in which your employees can work smarter, your organization will see steady improvements over time.

Assess the varied production flows of all of your products, how machines—and employees—can be more aptly arranged, and utilize manufacturing technology software to see the entire picture.

Having up to date information, bridging the gap between them, and observing, standardizing, and adjusting these processes will allow the complete picture of your production process to be seen from a “bird’s eye view.” Production scheduling needs to be taken one step at a time.


Eliminate Silos

Not every one of your employees will regularly mingle together, and the same may be able to be said for many of the products that your business manufactures. However, this should not be said about the various silos of your enterprise.

Sure, many of your operational procedures are already synced. But, for example, many businesses find that certain floor operators may not be briefed on how to handle a certain malfunction, which could effectively kill the day's productivity. The same can be said about the logistics of the procurement and production scheduling—autonomous employees are a boon, but autonomous employees who do not collaborate are not.

Where human communication falters, software can be used to bridge this gap. Every aspect of your business—production, accounting, transportation, HR, sales, among many, many others—need to be connected digitally. Not only will your data be safer and more reliable when sourced from a singular location, it will be easier for every member of your organization to utilize the information they need to be as effective and efficient as possible.


Production Scheduling Software

Silver-pen-sitting-on-black-and-white-job-plan-schematicEngineers, salespeople, and accountants all use software in different ways, but this doesn’t mean that they can’t use the same software. We previously talked about the importance of accuracy, synchronicity, and connectivity—all valuable traits of software required by all of the different people within your business.

Keeping the production process moving starts well before the labor begins. And in all reality, the production process is still greatly influenced by the end-stage use of the product (i.e., when it’s in the consumer’s hands). Every detail and variable matters—every part of the life cycle is connected and can be used to enhance your production scheduling.

From day-to-day task management to analyzing yearly profit totals, having a reliable MRP system that your entire organization can depend on will take your business to new heights. Your employees are working hard each and every day—make sure that their efforts and successes are amplified by a software system that enables each of them to work at peak efficiency.


Our guest blogger this week is Brian Rutledge, a Striven business and technology consultant with experience across a range of industries. Brian spent most of his early career as an entrepreneur and teacher, and he now brings the skills he gained from those experiences to the customers he serves. When he’s not dreaming up solutions to business or process issues, you can find him walking his American Bulldog (Petunia) or at home playing silly games with his wife and daughter.


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