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.