Does Production Scheduling Matter?

The best companies focus on production scheduling. Even though Production Schedulers aren’t typically highly paid positions, the function will make or break your ability to serve customers, improve operational performance and accelerate cash flow. Thus, it should be a key priority if you want to achieve profitable growth.

Are There Best Practices for Production Scheduling?

Yes, there are best practice concepts for production planning and production scheduling. No matter the client, industry, and people, these concepts “work”. On the other hand, each situation is unique, and so the key to success is to tailor to the different set of circumstances and priorities at each client. For example, there are different people, processes, ERP systems, data sets, customer requirements, and more. The best way to determine your best path forward is to relate to different examples and determine which tools and skills best apply to your situation.

Client Example: Succeeding in Process Manufacturing with Production Scheduling

In an absorbent healthcare products manufacturing company, product started as materials at one end of the production line, was converted into an absorbent healthcare product and was packaged at the end of the line. All things considered, it was a simple process with one step. And, so why was production scheduling important? Depending on the production schedule, downtime, waste, and inefficiencies increased – or decreased. To increase output, better serve customers, and reduce stock levels (of both raw materials and finished goods), we had to schedule the fewest significant changeovers, sequence items in the most efficient order, and ensure the appropriate resources and support were available at key junctures. This optimized production, but didn’t address customer orders. Thus, we also had to balance operational needs with the appropriate inventory levels and sequencing of customer orders to meet customer needs while also optimizing production. After rolling out best practice production scheduling practices, we won awards from customers, improved operational performance, and reduced inventory levels, freeing up cash flow to invest elsewhere.

Client Example: Succeeding in Job Shop Manufacturing with Production Scheduling

In an industrial manufacturing company of storage solutions, there were multiple steps in the production process from fabrication to weld to paint and assembly. Although it sounds obvious, you need to have product available from the step prior before you can start the next step; however, in these types of companies, marrying up parts that go together in the next step operation is often an issue. There is no point in having 1 piece ready if you need all parts for the next operation. Thus, production scheduling must focus on clarifying the customer requirements and backwards scheduling the operational steps. Once you have this base schedule, the key to success often relies on scheduling certain material types together and sizes together. In this client, labor scheduling is also a critical priority to understand which work centers are scheduled to run on which shifts (and days) so that backward scheduling can ensure the correct parts are available at the “right” time. Otherwise, you have too much WIP (work-in-process) inventory and are chasing your tail to keep product flowing. Once a clear schedule was achieved, the fabrication schedule became visible, and production output immediately increased. Next, items could be optimally sequenced to further increase efficiencies and provide visibility to sales of product availability, thereby improving service levels.

Client Example: Succeeding with Kanbans with Production Scheduling

In a building products (piping) manufacturer, there was a combination of process and job shop steps to the production scheduling process. In this situation, we utilized Kanbans to pull product through the operation steps. During the busy season, we’d add Kanban cards and pull product through the process steps quicker. In this situation, the key was to level load the shop and ensure we kept enough resources to support production on a quarterly basis. We developed a high and low number of employees required to support the quarterly volume, and so long as we maintained these employees and/or reliable temporary resources, our Kanban system would meet customer orders in the most efficient way possible. The ERP system was important in supporting the production scheduling process by driving the backend (Kanban sizes, number of cards and barcoding) as well as providing capacity reporting by work cell which translated back to the demand plan. Results followed. They were able to respond more quickly to spikes in demand with higher service levels and were able to minimize costs by level loading production and minimizing spikes/ troughs in operational resources.

What’s In Common No Matter the Consulting Client?

There are a few items in common across the board for every successful production schedule. A few supporting factors that pop to mind include:

  • Production scheduler(s): You need a well-rounded resource who is excited about optimizing several conflicting priorities as balancing sales, inventory, and operations is not a good fit for the a person who likes black and white assignments.
  • ERP system tools: Whether it is MRP (material requirements planning), advanced planning systems, MPS (master planning), or a report showing orders, inventory, changeover groups, and more, you will need to use your ERP system to create a solid schedule. In 90%+ of our consulting projects, we expand the use of ERP and utilize advanced functionality to improve the process.
  • Operational data & information: It is impossible to schedule effectively if you don’t understand your capacity. How many people are required to run certain machines and support different work cells? Do certain products require additional support? Are your people flexible to run multiple machines? Can they go across work areas? How many people do you have in total? How many shifts run which lines? Are support resources in place?
  • Customer orders / demand plan: If you don’t know what is needed to ensure high service levels, you cannot schedule effectively.
  • Training & education: You will need to prioritize training (how to’s – click here, perform the job in this sequence, etc.) and education (why are you sequencing in this order, what are your order policies and why do they matter).

Don’t fret if these priorities are not in place. In 99% of our clients, they are not in place when we start. Yet most can be quickly put what’s needed in place at least to the degree required to start gaining results. They are not of equal priority in every client. In fact, half the battle is determining what needs to be done in what order, who has the capabilities to jump into scheduling and thrive, how to extract directionally correct data from Operations and your ERP system, etc. What is clear is that if you focus on this priority, your customer service, operational performance and cash flow will thank you!