How Can I Satisfy the Data Needs of Production Planning and Scheduling Software?

You’re thinking about implementing a production scheduling, production planning, or Advanced Planning and Scheduling software. You know these systems need the right kind of data to be successful. Do you have the data you need? If not, how do you go about getting it? Once you have the data, what is the best way to store, maintain, and access it?

Advanced Planning and Scheduling systems have a reputation for requiring excessive data. Whether or not this is true depends upon the capabilities of your scheduling system, and your goals for it. Ideally, you will have picked a vendor with deep experience helping customers be successful in a wide range of different industries. This experience should have bred a sensible approach to scheduling embodied in a practical production scheduling software product.

As is generally the case with most real world problems, the most workable approach to scheduling is to “start simple” and to build on success. With respect to data, this approach involves starting initially with minimal amounts of data, and augmenting and refining the data over time. The “start simple and build strategy” makes particular sense for data since it costs money (time, effort) to collect and maintain data, and you only want to access data that is truly useful. To support this strategy, initially your production scheduling software should be able to generate decent schedules with minimal data. However, the software should also give you the capability to add and refine data over time, and to see corresponding increases in schedule accuracy.

What data do you need to start with?

  • Primary resources to schedule – can be machines, tooling, people or material.
  • When the resources are available – i.e. their calendars and shifts.
  • Routings – the steps or operations orders go through in their production. For each step, the duration each resource is required.
  • Requirements to schedule – often called orders. Typically, an order has a quantity and a due date.
  • Priority – some “rule” which determines the sequence in which orders and / or operations are scheduled. For example, one simple priority rule is earliest due date.

What data should you be able to add over time? The software should be able to handle all of the data required to model both your operation and the way you want to schedule that operation. Different industries can have unique data needs. Below are a half a dozen examples of different types of data:

  • Additional resources which are required along with the primary resource to perform an operation. Examples might be labor, tooling and material in combination with a primary machine.
  • Groups of alternate resources that are able to perform an operation.
  • Complex relationships between operations in a routing. For example, sequential, overlap, parallel as well as complex networks of operations.
  • Characteristics by which operations should be grouped, sequenced, and scheduled back to back on a resource to reduce set up time. Also, the associated time penalty that occurs when changes in characteristics occur.
  • Characteristics of operations that can be grouped together for batch processing, for instance in ovens. Also, the associated oven capacity.
  • Values that determine how an operation should be split over machines with similar capabilities.

Where can you obtain production scheduling related data? The first place to look is your business system (ERP system), or other company data bases. Systems such as these should provide the basic data needed to generate initial production schedules. Unfortunately, production scheduling is an afterthought in most ERP systems. Therefore, rarely are such systems designed to hold the more detailed data that might be required to refine your production schedules.

If you need detailed data, you are probably going to need to turn to the true experts – your shop floor staff and industrial engineering group. Often these staff members will hold the data you need in their heads, or in personal data bases (e.g. in Excel).

Once your data is identified, the next step is to get it into an easily acceptable electronic format. One option is to add this data to your business / ERP system or company data base in unused or user defined fields.

An alternative to adding scheduling related data to your ERP system or company data base is to add it directly to your production scheduling or Advanced Planning and Scheduling system. The scheduling system should be designed for easy data input. In addition, it should have features designed for easy maintenance and change of bills of material and routings, which is where most of the specialized scheduling related data resides.

How should you access the data? Some data is best held and maintained in company ERP and business systems, and other data is best held and maintained in the Advanced Planning and Scheduling software. Your scheduling software should contain interface tools for transferring data easily and efficiently between systems. In addition, the software should have rules for merging different data from different sources in a seamless manner (e.g. combining data resident in the scheduling system with data transferred from ERP).

So, how can you satisfy the data needs of your production planning and scheduling system? By starting with readily available data and collecting more complex, detailed data over time, by storing the data in the system that makes the most sense, and by using the data transfer and data merging capability of your Advanced Planning and Scheduling system to pull the data together for effective use.