Today, we begin a multi-part blog series on one of the most important, and most stressful, jobs in manufacturing—scheduling. With the shortening of lead times from customers, along with the fluctuations in capacity, maintenance, labor, and materials, it’s a wonder that most manufacturing scheduling works efficiently and productively. However, there are some tricks of the trade when it comes to improving scheduling processes, and in Part 1 we will introduce some of those.
Ask anyone in a manufacturing or project-driven company who has the most difficult job and without hesitation they will tell you: the scheduler/planner. Foolproof scheduling is critical to the smooth operation of most companies. Yet, planning and scheduling the workflow is like trying to juggle 150 different balls all at once. Only the balls are all different shapes and sizes, some move faster or slower than others, and while you’re juggling, other people are constantly pulling some of the balls out of the air and throwing new ones at you.
Keeping track of all the different orders, managing all the different tasks and work processes, and meeting all the due dates, change orders and everything else the customer throws at you is truly a Herculean task. It’s not surprising that many schedulers work 60 to 70-hour weeks and still feel like they need another 20 or 30 hours to get the job done.
At the same time, the job scheduling function has a huge impact on productivity and profitability. It also impacts the customer relationships your company depends on. Your ability to manage limited resources, satisfy customer demands and respond to the ever-changing conditions on the shop floor determines, to a large degree, whether individual orders and the company as a whole make or lose money.
For example, how many times have you gone in and pulled a job before it is completed in order to react to another, more urgent customer order? You know that prematurely pulling jobs will significantly impact the flow of work currently on the shop floor. Plus, you have no idea how it will affect future orders that may be scheduled days or weeks out. Yet, you do it anyway because the customer is screaming and you were late on their last two jobs and you can’t afford to lose their business. The resource relationships are too complex to be accurately accounted for with “gut feeling” guesses.
We all want to keep our customers happy. But the fact is, every time you pull a job in progress, you’re making a decision to lose money on that job. The job was in there for a good reason, and making a reactionary decision not only means that the job that got pulled will be late, but within the next few days, the customer whose job got bumped will be calling and demanding that you expedite the job. Chances are you will have to pull another job to get it back in the queue, which only leads to another round of headaches and potentially bad decisions. Moreover, unless you practice lean-setup procedures, you have now doubled your setup time, lost several hours of production time on that machine, and increased the probability of higher scrap and rework.
In Part 2 of this blog series on manufacturing scheduling, we’ll get into the nuts and bolts of how to both improve your scheduling, and in doing so improve your on-time delivery and make more of your customers much happier in the process.