Scheduling: It ain’t what you do, it’s the way that you do it
When it comes to profitability, so much is down to how you make things, rather than what you make. You can seek optimisations in the manufacturing process and push to reduce waste and rework, but these are longer term projects. One of the most effective tools you have, and can wield every day, is scheduling.
When we talk about scheduling, we’re thinking of sequencing production jobs to fulfil orders that have been accepted. It’s a different discipline from planning (check out our planning white paper), which is about matching capacity to demand. If there’s excess capacity, this means there are unused assets that are incurring cost but not paying their way. If demand is too high, business will be lost. Clearly, planning has a huge impact on profitability as well, which is why it’s important to do it early enough to enable demand and capacity to be flexed. That can be achieved by selling excess capacity and renegotiating timescales or resourcing to meet excess demand.
Scheduling is all about making best use of the assets on the factory floor. Using techniques such as sequencing to reduce changeover times means that the available capacity is used more effectively, thereby increasing the throughput. Failing to make best use of available capacity can lead to poor customer service levels or increased costs to achieve target service levels.
There is no secret recipe for scheduling. Every company is different and needs to find an approach that works for them. One concept that has proven to be useful in many contexts is the Theory of Constraints, developed by Eli Goldratt. The central idea is that the overall throughput is constrained by the process which requires the greatest amount of time, the constraint process or bottleneck. The aim is to maximise the throughput of this process, because the other processes can always catch up. One way of achieving this is to establish a buffer of work in front of the constraint. Even if upstream processes go down, the bottleneck will be able to keep working by processing materials from the buffer. The constrained process may have different shift patterns and high priority support to help it to operate continuously.
There are lots of scheduling tools out there, but it’s important to choose the right one. Many of the tools have evolved to cover as many production environments as possible, but that means there are lots of features you don’t need and configuring a tool for your company may require expert input. Some tools aim to automatically optimise the scheduling for you. We’ve found that these tools often fail to cope with unforeseen events on the shop floor, which results in pushback from production managers and makes it hard to optimise throughput. The best solution is to employ a human scheduler who can understand all the nuances of production right now and support them with a bespoke tool that enables them to create schedules easily.
Whether you’re engaged in process or assembly manufacturing, Argenta can develop bespoke tools for you to help optimise your scheduling, and ultimately improve your profitability. Contact us here, or call us on 0121 318 6363.
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