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Table of Contents
What is production scheduling?
Production scheduling is the process of maximizing production efficiency through the short-term planning and timing of manufacturing operations. It is aimed at achieving a more streamlined workflow and production line in order to prevent stock-outs, spot and eliminate bottlenecks, match production with demand, as well as balance the inputs and outputs of and between workstations. Production scheduling is an integral part of production management and a key tool for ensuring the timely and optimal execution of production plans.
The importance of systematic production scheduling cannot be overstated as it significantly contributes to the overall productivity of a manufacturing plant. In addition to the aforementioned utility, effective production scheduling enables manufacturers to meet projected production volumes, ensure on-time deliveries, respond adequately to changes in demand, and maintain a balance between supply and operational capacity.
What is a production schedule?
A production or manufacturing schedule is a flexible document that details all variables relevant to production for a given time period. It contains information on what must be produced, who will produce it, where, when, and how. Furthermore, a good schedule should include contingency plans in case of disruptions, as well as constraints, and factor in maintenance and downtime.
There are many ways in which to create and manage production schedules. Whether it’s conducted via Excel templates, scheduling software, or other means, a good production schedule should, in one form or another, include information about:
- projected customer demand and the types of products that need to be manufactured;
- the allocation of manpower and resource planning;
- material requirements and inventory movements;
- detailed production timelines;
- routings and other information on execution;
- quality control measures and contingency plans.
What is production planning?
Production planning is the general process of balancing supply and demand over longer timeframes. It revolves around deciding when to produce your goods so that customers could be served on time and in full, building a realistic capacity plan, and drawing up a materials requirements list for the procurement team.
A coherent production plan ensures that the company can develop, manufacture, and finalize work orders in an efficient way and within predefined time frames. Production plans are drawn for longer upcoming manufacturing periods, usually quarters, half-years, or for the whole fiscal year.
Production planning involves deciding:
- what types and quantities of products need to be produced for a manufacturing period;
- what time-frame this production needs to occur in;
- which raw materials and workstations need to be utilized to achieve this;
In a way, the production schedule can be viewed as the tactical implementation of the strategic goals set by the production plan.
Read our comprehensive guide on production planning.
The importance of production scheduling
Production scheduling is crucial for optimizing manufacturing process flows to ensure maximum efficiency while minimizing or eliminating delays, unnecessary wastage, or potential interruptions. By using production scheduling, organizations can allocate resources within a given timeframe in the most efficient way.
Let us take a look at some of the key points that thorough production scheduling helps achieve:
- Optimal distribution of raw materials, inputs, and spare parts. A balance should exist between production needs and available resources so that shop-floor workers have everything they need at hand when they need it. Planning for optimal distribution helps bring unexpected downtime and bottlenecks to a bare minimum.
- Balanced stock levels. Proper scheduling helps ensure that warehouses and distribution centers have the right inventory levels. When raw materials, components, and parts are in the right place at the right time, stock-outs as well as excessive standing inventory can be avoided and storage spaces can be kept better organized.
- Even labor distribution along planned time-steps according to production volumes and demand. Including the working hours, overtime or number of workers per shift in the production schedule enables meeting production demand more precisely. When demand decreases, excess staff can be assigned training, other tasks, or made redundant.
- Optimized equipment performance. As it deals with the sequencing and timing of operations, production scheduling reveals critical bottlenecks and other issues that help to iron out inefficiencies in equipment performance and utilization. Addressing this enables better resource allocation and capacity utilization. By keeping existing workstations utilized optimally, the need to install additional equipment or implement further production capacity is often eliminated.
- Inclusive financial considerations. Incorporating financial considerations into the planning and scheduling process enables optimally appointing financial resources and investments into the right project. This helps ensure the highest return and allows organizations to better manage the availability of funds.
- A balance between lead time and product quality. An optimally planned and executed output means that the time it takes to convert raw materials into finished goods is kept as low as possible without compromising on quality. This equals shorter overall lead times, higher customer satisfaction, and an increased profit margin.
Common production scheduling methods
There are a number of production scheduling techniques, tools, and software solutions available to handle the process. For example, many manufacturing ERP systems include powerful production scheduling capabilities. The more common scheduling methods include Infinite and Finite Capacity Planning, and Forward and Backward Scheduling.
Infinite and finite capacity planning
Capacity planning defines how work constraints should be considered during scheduling. Infinite capacity planning assumes that there are no limitations to work resources. In other words, that there are no resource constraints and there is sufficient capacity of manpower and workstations available to finish all planned jobs. This usually works well when there are few relatively larger manufacturing projects going on at once and there is no threat of resource capacity overload or contest to workstations.
Finite capacity planning, on the other hand, considers the predefined limits of the resources required for production. For example, a machine cannot be scheduled to work 10 hours per day if only an 8-hour shift is available. This method is beneficial when there are many jobs with complex routings scheduled on different workstations and there is a high risk of developing bottlenecks. If there is insufficient resource capacity available, the work is scheduled on the next available slot, provided that there is enough material available to start production at the time.
Forward and backward scheduling
Forward and backward scheduling differ by which operation in a production order the scheduling process starts from and in which direction it proceeds on the timeline. In forward scheduling, the earliest starting time is decided for each production run, and operations are scheduled moving forward in time from the first operation to the last, one by one. This is useful for make-to-stock setups who wish to pack their schedules as tight as possible.
Conversely, backward scheduling starts by issuing a due date – when operations must be finished by, for each job. Operations are scheduled moving backward in time, starting from the last operation until the first, one by one. This is useful when working with strict due dates and following the just-in-time methodology to minimize work in progress and standing inventory.
The stages of production scheduling
While there are many ways how to exactly approach the scheduling of operations, the general production scheduling process includes the following components or stages.
A crucial first step of creating the production schedule – planning involves setting strategic goals and timelines, analyzing available resources and budgets, as well as calculating labor and capacity utilization for the planned production period. This step often involves setting up a master production schedule. Planning can be designed to be static or dynamic, depending on whether production processes are forecasted to remain stable throughout the manufacturing time period or need to be flexible.
Routing refers to the path that the raw materials and components of the product take as they move through the production facilities on the way toward becoming finished products. This production scheduling step aims to determine the most efficient sequence of manufacturing operations.
The scheduling aspect involves calculating and planning the timelines of the production schedule. It is the central step in the production scheduling process and consists of the actual scheduling of time, workstations, tools, and workforce of each stage of the production process. It also involves deciding whether parts or all of the production will be forward or backward-scheduled.
Dispatching, execution, and continuous improvement
Whereas the first three steps are theoretical, dispatching and execution are practical and activate as production starts for the planned time period. Dispatching involves communicating the timeframes and adopted goals throughout the manufacturing operation. Execution is then putting the schedule into action in a coordinated way. Finally, continuous improvement involves two-way communication between management and the shop floor for feedback on variability, bottlenecks, etc.
Optimizing the production process
Plans are only as good as their execution. To make sure that the production scheduling steps mentioned above can be implemented hassle-free, it is important to consider how your manufacturing operation is set up. Let us take a look at some of the key aspects of manufacturing to consider in order to maximize the potential of a good production schedule.
Inventory and supply chain
It is important to keep inventory levels optimal to avoid stoppages, control production costs, and eliminate opportunity loss associated with under or overstocking. The right number of raw materials and sub-assemblies needed for production should thus be on hand or on their way to the production facility in a coordinated manner.
It makes sense to invest in proper inventory and supply chain management tools for manufacturing operations of any considerable size. A proper supply chain and inventory management system enables a host of automations and optimizations to efficiently manage shipments, procurements, customer orders, components, critical on-hand, pipeline inventory, and much more.
Equipment and workstations
To keep to the schedule and ensure stable production, the equipment and machinery need to be in order. Equipment maintenance should be routinely conducted to lower the chance of failures and breakdowns. Spare parts for vital equipment should be kept on hand. The workstations should be kept clean and unobstructed.
It is also important to have a good understanding of workstation routings, cycle and setup times. Here too, capable production management software is essentially a necessity to keep the shop floor running as efficiently as possible in the modern manufacturing company.
Manufacturing comes down to the staff who run the workstations and keep production flowing. The workforce should be well informed and have a good overview of the upcoming production time period. Effective communication of the production schedule to the staff is a must before starting production.
Not only should the employees be made available in the needed volume and appointed to the right posts, but they must also have the right training and qualifications to operate the equipment.
Finally, due attention should be paid to the general order of the manufacturing facility. Is the electric bill paid and do the lights stay on, are the compressors in order and pressurized, etc. The shop floor should be routinely maintained and set up in an efficient way to maximize the manufacturing potential of the facility.
This gets down to the details like keeping paths between workstations unobstructed, making sure that decoupling points can be restocked without having to stop machinery, etc. A well-planned shop floor is an essential part of the good manufacturing practices that every organization needs to have in place.
Choosing the best solution for production scheduling
There should always exist a balance between effort and gain. Choosing the optimal solution for the production planning and scheduling needs of a company is a balancing act to ensure that the total cost of ownership of a solution does not outweigh the benefits it brings.
Production scheduling using spreadsheets
Many production companies, especially new ones that are only starting their manufacturing operation, choose to not initially invest in powerful production scheduling software. They instead opt for the tried and tested spreadsheets approach and use Excel or its many analogs for managing their operations.
Excel is a well-known tool that strikes a pretty good balance between complexity and functionality for simpler and scaled-down operations. It does have a number of fundamental flaws, however, that limit its functionality as the manufacturing operation grows in scale and ambition.
Here are some of the disadvantages of using Excel for production scheduling:
- Files become too bulky. Excel files can be modified to quite a high degree, with even macros and custom coding being possible. As more and more data and functions are compiled, however, the file sizes eventually become huge, often reaching hundreds of megabytes or even gigabytes. This makes simple actions like opening and saving tedious and time-consuming and increases the risk of crashes and loss of data.
- Lack of functionality integration. Different departments need to have a good overview of the unfolding production processes to keep production flowing smoothly. The Manufacturing Planning team needs access to real-time Gantt charts, whereas Purchasing might need to customize the same Excel file to handle order tracking. This lack of integrated functionality and synchronization limits the capacity of Excel files to accommodate all production process needs.
- Errors from manual data entry. Research has revealed that most real-world Excel files used for complex business processes contain data entry errors. With a large amount of data entered into the system – as is the case with production planning – minuscule mistakes might snowball and turn into a data nightmare.
Manufacturing ERP with production scheduling functionality
Unlike spreadsheets, manufacturing ERP software compiles and streamlines crucial operational data from all relevant departments into a central database. This real-time data system enables procurements, inventory, management, and individual workers on the shop floor to get instant access to critical information through easy-to-use dashboards most suited to each department’s needs.
The production planning functionality built into this kind of manufacturing software goes far beyond what Excel can offer. A manufacturing ERP solution brings together everything you need to plan, schedule, monitor, and run your manufacturing operation with maximum efficiency. MRPeasy is a fully cloud-based manufacturing ERP system that combines powerful production planning and scheduling tools with comprehensive manufacturing execution (MES) and inventory management functionality.
With MRPeasy, you can take advantage of an interactive production calendar and Gantt charts, drag-and-drop dynamic scheduling, automatic order reporting and notifications, comprehensive multi-layered bill of materials (BOMs) and routing support, individual workstation and labor managing tools, automatically compiled reports, an accounting module, sophisticated traceability functions, built-in integrations, and much more.
Read more about How to Go from Excel to Manufacturing Software / MRP System.
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Accurate automatic planning and realistic production schedule. Reschedule dynamically by just dragging and dropping manufacturing orders and operations in the calendar or Gantt chart.
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