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Advanced Planning and Scheduling Software for Engineer to Order Businesses

Finite Capacity Scheduling Software As a Strategic Weapon

Do you view shop floor scheduling simply as a way to order the next jobs into machines on your shop floor? If so, you may be leaving money on the table. The same technology that allows you to schedule your shop floor can give you unprecedented visibility into your operations. You can use this technology as a strategic weapon to transform your business.
Work is getting done on your shop floor. This work is dispatched to machines and people in a particular order. Therefore, regardless of the tool (or lack thereof) that you are using, you are currently scheduling your shop floor.
We’ve seen a wide range of tools used to schedule. We’ve seen people use manual tools such as handwritten scraps of paper, lists on whiteboards, and magnetic Gantt charts. We’ve also seen people employ software based tools such as ERP, spreadsheets, and project management software.
All of the tools discussed above, manual or automated, help you create an ordered list of what to run next on the shop floor. However, scraps of paper or list on a white board obviously don’t accurately reflect the reality of your shop floor. Quite frankly, computerized tools such as ERP aren’t much better since they don’t consider the real capabilities of your operation. None of the tools discussed above give you an accurate model of your shop floor operations.
Finite capacity scheduling software (also known as advanced planning and scheduling software) allows you to create an accurate model of your manufacturing operations, and allows you to develop detailed sequence lists (schedules) for the shop floor. Finite capacity scheduling software starts with accurately modeling your constraining resources. Examples of constraining resources handled by finite capacity scheduling software include machines, labor, and tooling. Advanced planning and scheduling software additionally handles constraining material. Constraining resources have availability – for instance, you may have different quantities of labor available different shifts, machines may be broken down, tools may be out for preventative maintenance, and material my fully allocated.
Finite capacity scheduling software / advanced planning and scheduling software then incorporates the demand for those resources. For instance, an order for a product may go through multiple steps. Each of these steps ties up (or consumes) one or more constraining resources for a period of time. Multiple operations of multiple orders can compete for the same resources (for example, multiple operations scheduled on a machine). When a resource is tied up (consumed), finite capacity scheduling software \ advanced planning and scheduling software will schedule operations forward or backward in time, considering the availability of the resource. The output of the process is detailed, accurate start and finish times for operations and for orders.
A detailed dispatch list (or schedule) can be created based on operation start and stop times. This detailed dispatch list can be provided to operations staff, and gives them direction on what operations should be run in what sequence on the shop floor. However, these schedules are just a small part of the benefits that the technology provides.
The same finite capacity model that you can use for detailed scheduling can be used to help you make better business decisions. The model gives you visibility into when work will finish. As the software extends detailed schedules out in time, it accurately predicts when customer requirements will be available, and allows you to make promises to customers that you can keep. Good finite capacity scheduling software \ advanced planning and scheduling software also will provide a wide range of different analysis tools. These tools should give you the ability to generate unlimited what-if scenarios, and to compare these scenarios against key business metrics. Examples of what-if scenarios that you might try are grouped into categories below:

  • Problems with capacity – breakdowns, quality problems, material loss / shortage, lack of people
  • Changes in demand – more orders, change in order priority / quantity / due date, drop in orders
  • Changes in the capacity – overtime, alternate routings (including outsourcing), off load, change sequence / expedite, reduce quantities / split orders, new equipment, change staffing

Performing the analysis described above will help you make significantly better business decisions. Consistently making better business decisions can give you a huge advantage over your competition. You can use finite capacity scheduling software and advanced planning and scheduling software, viewed by some as only a way to generate short term machine sequences, as strategic weapons to transform your business.

Advanced Planning and Scheduling Software for Engineer to Order Businesses

We define an engineer to order (ETO) business as one that creates a unique product to a customer’s specification. Examples of those unique products range from complicated electronics or machinery with thousands of parts, to much more simple items such as printing or packaging.
If you run an ETO business, regardless of your product complexity, you know that managing customer’s delivery expectations is critical to your success. Customers order unique product to fit a specific business need. Therefore, it only stands to reason that they are very concerned with when that product will be available. Often customers not only expect you to make and keep delivery promises, but also want you to report progress against important engineering and manufacturing milestones.
The key to promising delivery is future visibility into when customer orders will finish. Software that provides this visibility must schedule in a manner that explicitly considers constraints, and schedule work out in time based on real capacity.
Furthermore, good customer commitments in ETO environments need to consider both engineering and manufacturing. Tasks in either of these areas can take longer than expected, delaying overall delivery to customers. Lack of commonality between engineering and manufacturing complicates the situation. Time in engineering can be influenced by the amount of engineering required, and scarce, highly skilled engineering resources. Time in manufacturing can be influenced by a host of factors such as limits on machines, tooling, and material, as well as skilled manufacturing labor. Manufacturers have historically turned to two disparate tools to help; Project Management Software which helps plan engineering, and ERP Software which helps plan manufacturing.
Project Management Software allows engineering projects to be broken into an almost unlimited number of tasks, with complicated relationships (dependencies) between the tasks. There is some debate as to how well Project Management Software handles a single finite constraint (typically it uses a post schedule “leveling algorithm”). However, Project Management Software has little or no capability to handle the multiple finite constraints that occur in manufacturing. Project management software also is not designed for the intricacies of manufacturing environments. For instance, Project Management Software doesn’t do a good job of handling large volumes of orders. It also is not designed to handle alternate resources, automatic splitting of operations, batch machines (ovens), time per piece calculations, sequence dependent set up times, bills of material, etc.
While more suited to manufacturing environments, ERP Software also has serious deficiencies when scheduling. ERP Software traditionally schedules \ plans in a backward infinite manner, considering estimated lead times rather than real production constraints. ERP Software is also notoriously weak when considering the complicated task dependencies that occur in engineering. ERP’s lack of flexibility in handling task dependencies also impacts its ability to effectively handle ETO manufacturing. For example, rather than modeling complicated operation relationships (e.g. a top and bottom of a tool being processed in parallel) directly, ERP forces these relationships to be specified with bills of material.
Advanced Planning and Scheduling Software gives you the best of both worlds. Like Project Management Software, Advanced Planning and Scheduling Software can model the complicated task dependencies that occur in both ETO engineering and manufacturing. Like ERP Software, Advanced Planning and Scheduling Software can handle large volumes of orders, bills of material, and time per piece calculations. Advanced Planning and Scheduling Software also has the capability to address manufacturing complexities such as alternate resources, automatic splitting of operations, batch machines (ovens), and sequence dependent set up times.
Most importantly Advanced Planning and Scheduling Software can accurately model and schedule all constraints (e.g. machines, tooling, material, engineering and manufacturing skills) in a finite manner. Advanced Planning and Scheduling Software’s finite scheduling features give you the future visibility you require. Advanced Planning and Scheduling Software helps you make and keep customer delivery promises. Advanced Planning and Scheduling Software also allows you to report to your customers’ progress against important engineering and manufacturing milestones.