Production Scheduling Software
Production Scheduling is the process of generating “to-do” lists or dispatch lists for the shop floor. As part of a larger planning and scheduling process, production scheduling is essential for the proper functioning of a manufacturing enterprise.
Typically, staff generate dispatch lists for key production resources, be they machine, tooling, or labor. The lists consist of operations sorted in start date order. Sometimes, schedules show start and finish times, calculated based on estimated set up and run times for operations and the available time of the resource. The goal of the process is for the shop floor to operate in the most efficient manner possible, while still satisfying the timing of customer requirements.
This process can over-emphasize efficiency at the expense of customer satisfaction, or customer satisfaction at the expense of efficiency. Therefore, the best production schedules are generated not by shop floor staff, who are measured on efficiency, or customer service staff, who are measured by on-time delivery, but by a third group within operations that receives input from both the shop floor and from customer service.
Production scheduling can be a time consuming, tedious task. As work is completed, as new orders are introduced, and as other changes (e.g. machine breakdowns) occur, the schedule needs to be modified and / or regenerated. Prior to the computer age and the arrival of production scheduling software, staff scheduled by hand using pad and paper or with magnetic wall boards. With the advent of computers, practitioners at one point believed that MRP systems would eliminate the need for production scheduling. Operations staff soon realized that the Master Production Scheduling and Capacity Planning paradigms did little to help schedule the shop floor, and that these systems in no way eliminated the need to do so.
This scheduling process continued to be performed manually until the advent of readily available personal computers. PCs allowed schedulers to make use of software such as spreadsheets (i.e. Excel) to essentially automate manual scheduling. While spreadsheets sped up the process, they did little to change the fundamental approach.
Improved Modeling = Improved Scheduling
By their very nature, spreadsheet approaches are limited in their modeling capability. Without robust modeling capability, production scheduling software loses its ability to accurately predict when operations will finish. Modern, commercially available Finite Capacity Scheduling software and Advanced Planning and Scheduling software give users the ability to create detailed models of capacity. When capacity is accurately modeled, schedules that accurately predict operation start and finish times over any time continuum can be easily generated. Just as importantly, the capacity models can be used as a what-if tool to aid in the decision making process.