Should Your Production Scheduling Software Consider Labor?

You are evaluating production scheduling software. Should the ability to automatically consider labor constraints be a requirement?
In the vast majority of cases, emphatically yes! About the only exception is if every pieces of equipment in your facility is fully staffed for every shift you are operating, all the time.
In most manufacturing environments, even those that are nominally fully staffed, full staffing is not a 100% certainty. Change is a fact of life. “Hot” orders hit, you need to add weekend overtime, and not all staff members are able to work. People call off sick. You may have trouble keeping less desirable shifts (evening and graveyard) fully staffed.
Why is considering labor constraints (and associated skill levels) important? Labor constraints are a key component of your capacity. If you consider labor infinite, you could significantly overstate your capacity. If your available capacity is not properly considered, you will lose the predictive capability of production scheduling and advanced planning and scheduling software. The software will generate estimated completion dates sooner than you can realistically meet. You could create significant customer service problems if you promise delivery to your customer based on these overly optimistic dates.
A common situation is when you have your first shift fully staffed, a partial second shift, and a skeleton third shift. Assume there are ten pieces of production equipment in an area of your plant. Assume staffing levels on first, second and third shift of ten, five and two people respectively, and a staffing requirement of one person per machine. At the end of first shift, five pieces of equipment will need to be shut off due to lack of staff, and at the end of second shift an additional two pieces of equipment will need to be shut off.
It can be quite difficult and time consuming to shut off pieces of equipment manually to reflect labor shortages and job importance. You would need to not only shut off equipment today, but for the duration of your scheduling horizon. The task will quickly become unmanageable if you have more than a handful of pieces of equipment and a scheduling horizon of more than a few days. However, good production scheduling software will handle this task automatically, and keep the most important jobs running by assigning labor based on job importance (e.g. due date, priority, etc.).