Operations scheduling is attracting more and more attention from managers of small and medium-sized manufacturers, who see a huge unexploited potential for efficiency gains. But what exactly is scheduling? What is its impact on a company and its profit margin?
Scheduling and Its Goals
All manufacturers have to schedule their production, whatever their size, products, production system, or management philosophy. The aim is to coordinate the resources of production and to synchronize the operations so as to meet the demand for company products at the lowest possible cost.
The scheduling process is far from trivial. It has to find the best compromise between two contradictory goals: maximizing customer satisfaction while minimizing production costs. For example, you could shorten delivery time by increasing inventory—but at what cost? Or you could reduce the size of the production batches and thus increase the frequency of deliveries—but what would be the impact on factory preparation times?
So scheduling has to consider all of the factors that affect production cost and customer satisfaction. But that’s not all! To be efficient, scheduling also has to factor in the manufacturing constraints, like availability of materials, product routings, machine efficiencies, resource flexibility, skills of operating personnel, and working hours.
A Key Role
Concretely, scheduling generates a detailed work plan for each resource involved in production. This schedule has:
- the sequence of tasks;
- the scheduled time for each task;
- the estimated length of time;
- the manufactured product;
- the required resources, materials, and equipment.
The schedule also specifies the time for preparation and for disassembly due to transitions between batches or products. Finally, it identifies the periods when resources are inactive because the constraints are in effect.
The production schedule is reviewed (or re-optimized) in real time or at regular intervals to reflect any new unexpected situation. The review should quickly propose a new scenario when, for example, a piece of equipment breaks down, a customer changes an order at the last minute, or a raw material is late arriving.
Scheduling will bring together the company’s different departments and players around an operational game plan. The Purchasing Department will refer to it to ensure availability of supplies over the short term and to plan warehouse receiving over the long term. The Storekeeper will use it to prepare supplies for the work stations. Human Resources will consult it for personnel management. The Sales Department will use it to provide customers with realistic delivery times. The Finance Department will have a means to forecast performance and cash flow. Finally, operating and supervisory personnel will carry out the operations by following it closely.
Direct Impacts of Scheduling
A well-planned production schedule will work smoothly, predictably, logically, and efficiently. Without adequate scheduling, a company exposes itself to the dangers of lack of coordination: underutilized resources, accumulation of inventory, loss of material, and late deliveries.
In sum, scheduling is key to a manufacturer’s financial health. It shows how far the company can go in meeting customer requirements, in foreseeing and reducing manufacturing lead times, in using resources properly, in responding quickly to the unforeseen, in cutting production costs and, ultimately, in setting itself apart from the competition.
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