Imagine it’s 7:30 PM. You’re staring at your production scheduling spreadsheet and you squint harder at row 503, searching for another shade of red to communicate to the Indiana plant that a customer order needs to be expedited. You triple checked tooling, change orders were considered, part shortages accounted for, and unmet production was added back to the schedule. But when you email your production schedule, it becomes glaringly apparent: the unrelenting flood of supply changes are finally taking their toll. The production schedule that took hours to complete in the past now requires multiple rounds of changes. More and more personal time is required to keep up with the velocity and frequency of changes.
As an automotive tier I supplier VP of Supply Chain summed up recently, “we are a $1B company but our processes and software are for a $100M company.” Unfortunately, this sole sourced supplier of critical stamped and welded metal assemblies can’t afford to disrupt their OEM customer plants when production downtime costs average $22K per minute.
Industrial manufacturers of complex product assemblies from automotive to power tools run much of their day-to-day production scheduling on labor intense spreadsheets. This operational house of cards expands in scope when digging deeper into the supply chain tiers.
What has perpetuated the profession’s manual approach to scheduling? In fairness, several macro trends have recently converged to simultaneously rattle our traditional methods. Significant changes, and the daily associated workload, can also hamper our ability to think deeply about strategic adjustments needed to how we go about our work.
Unique Scheduling Pains
Many supply chain leaders acknowledge change is needed, but few can stomach the idea of a multi-year rollout of enterprise resource planning (ERP) software. Not to mention that most legacy ERP software systems can’t handle the complexity of today’s global supply chains. Further, there can be a multitude of unique variable requirements that simply don’t dovetail well with rigid, off-the-shelf planning tools.
As an example, automotive tier I suppliers must plan for a wide range of raw materials such as steel coils and purchased parts like mechanisms. In addition, suppliers must effectively schedule production of work in process, like stamped metal parts made in house and finished goods such as welded assemblies. Scheduling gets more complicated when considering external variables. Below are some of the more common ones:
- Labor Shortages of talented supply chain professionals are causing leaders to reflect on how best to utilize precious supply chain brain power. Companies are seeking to rapidly shift away from repetitive analysis work to more engaging creative work to improve both retention and results.
- Value Added Suppliers are required to coordinate more information to ensure mutual success. Leaders are seeking real-time collaboration tools to extend their supply chain visibility beyond their organization to compress time to action.
- Supply Changes have shifted from being periodic events to expected constants. Almost daily adjustments to lead times, material substitutes, and transportation costs are requiring more frequent adjustments to scheduling input variables to reduce costs.
- Product Innovation Pace continues to accelerate as those first to market tend to generate outsized profits, all else being equal. The combination of new customers and shorter product life cycles are driving higher mix and lower volumes expanding the number of parts requiring scheduling.
Information Flow TriangleTM
Fundamentally, the goal of production scheduling is to optimize supply chain data calculations and information flows, both inside and outside of your organization.
Excitingly for supply chain leaders, the “virtual walls” we’ve placed around software to categorize systems are, to some extent, fading away. Many systems today can be seamlessly connected to store, modify and present the right actionable information at the right time.
The key to elevating production scheduling productivity is the connectivity of the stored data, relationships, and calculations. The three critical tools are electronic Plan For Every Part (ePFEP), eProduction Schedule, and eKanban that form an continuous Information Flow TriangleTM. These tools go by varying names depending on provider, professional background, and industry.
- ePFEP, often referred to as an Automated Plan For Every Part, is a Lean software tool for mapping, optimizing, and managing input data required to maintain a high performing supply chain. The tool is often utilized to document and maintain some and/or all raw material, work in process, and finished good production data in a digital collaborative software environment.
- eProduction Schedule is also commonly referred to as material requirements planning (MRP) software. Typically, newer eProduction Schedules involve cloud applications that empower multiple users to create, execute, and automate real-time internal intelligent production scheduling for more agile supply chain management.
- eKanban is a self-managing real-time electronic pull system that can be utilized internally and/or extended externally to sustain supply best practices. The tool is commonly utilized for inventory management, planning, and two-way Buyer-Supplier communication for Lean and just-in-time manufacturing (JIT).
Your production scheduling software should mirror virtually what you do physically. Too often large, one-size-fits-all systems require deviation. Consider the below to improve scheduling workflow and results:
- Data Inputs – Do you have accurate data for equipment capacity, tool capacity, change over times, and equipment maintenance time? Audit and augment what’s not available in ERP within your ePFEP to build a better digital scheduling data foundation.
- Data Relationships – What are the relationships between your equipment, tools, and parts? These unique relationships, like which tool will run on which specific equipment, are invaluable to further optimizing production schedules.
- Vital Calculations – What metrics make the most impact, and how much time do you have to act on information? Focus on the practical intersection of key metrics, units to develop, initial dashboards, and taking action to realize near term results.
- Scheduling Horizons – What are your ideal scheduling windows and horizons? Seek software tools that allow you to filter and adjust your unique preferences to enable more agile operations that can better respond to change.
Sustaining Scheduling Success
Small changes to variable data inputs in your production schedule can add up to large cost savings. Did a purchased part supplier adjust their lead time from four to six weeks? Is the actual output of an older piece of equipment consistently higher week after week? Set aside time with your extended team to periodically review the data and implement data input changes into your ePFEP software to improve results over time.
Strive to elevate the type and output of your team’s scheduling work to maximize productivity. Freeing up schedulers’ precious time to think critically is the most powerful weapon you have to combat supply disruption.
As an example, eProduction Scheduling software can create recommended production schedules that consider thousands of variables and recommend the more efficient plans. Professionals can then review, approve, and adjust schedules as needed. People, our most valuable resource, are then more empowered to attack change head-on to best maximize production scheduling outcomes.
Looking ahead, forward-thinking leaders are swiftly moving to automate manual tasks like the pulling of data updates for items such as trucking fuel surcharges to make better scheduling decisions. Configurable scheduling software automation tools can act as a valuable tool to empower teams to accomplish more and get more flow back in their day.