4 Key Features Of Advanced Planning And Scheduling Software

advanced planning and scheduling software infographic - 4 key features

Advanced planning and scheduling software is the operations management system that helps planners and schedulers save what remains of their sanity, after spending decades attempting to synchronize thousands of manufacturing resources including machinery, staffing, raw materials, and work in process (WIP) manually.

Advanced planning and scheduling (APS), the process that encompasses advanced planning and production scheduling is a challenge for even the largest, most sophisticated enterprise manufacturers.  Unfortunately, the complexity of modern production environments and the pressure on the production planning and scheduling process will increase as customers' preferences for products with a higher degree of customization continues to grow.

By now, you have likely realized that it is not possible to manage complex production processes, manufacture a wide variety of sales orders on time, and reduce production costs, in excel or with outdated APS tools.

Planning and Scheduling - What's at Stake?

What makes the planning and scheduling process so stressful is that low-quality plans and schedules can have serious consequences for the manufacturer:

  • Missed order deadlines (especially critical when related to sales orders placed by priority customers)
  • Inaccurate available to promise times
  • Bottlenecks reducing throughput
  • Changeovers reducing optimal machine utilization
  • Planning and scheduling taking a long time
  • The risks introduced by relying on tribal knowledge
  • Possible capital expenditure costs that could have been avoided through a more efficient operation

Advanced planning and scheduling is critical to the success of a manufacturing operation.  But while other key functions like enterprise resource planning (ERP), manufacturing execution (MES), and material resource planning (MRP) are managed with the help of sophisticated, dedicated manufacturing software systems, APS is still done by hand, in excel spreadsheets or at best in outdated software.  Why?

Obstacles to Creating the Perfect Plan or Schedule

20 years ago, manufacturers faced some serious limitations when it came to creating production planning and scheduling software.  These challenges seemed so difficult to overcome that a complete solution was never attempted.

4 Obstacles to the Perfect Production Infographic

Limitations in Computing Power

First of all, the computer processors available to manufacturers in the last decade did not have the necessary power to process the complexity of an enterprise production environment.  They didn't have the ability to look through billions of possible planning/scheduling permutations.  This made creating an APS software system that required a robust processor impossible.

Inability to Fully Model the Production Environment

Even if the processing power had been available, it would have been little use because there was no means of taking a complex production environment and convert it into a digital format, a model, that could be processed by a computer.

Once you have a map of the physical environment, including the routings, machines, workforce, and production resources, you then need to apply production constraints.  You need to digitize the tribal knowledge of your planners and schedulers and generate machine code for how different types of features/products need to be processed for maximum efficiency.

Excel certainly doesn't have these modeling capabilities and neither do the simplistic, visualization-based scheduling solutions.  At best these software systems use very rough estimates.  The result was and remains a schedule that will fall apart quickly once it hits the shop floor for execution.

Optimization Deficiency

Once you have a model and the necessary power to process it, you still need an engine that will perform the calculations to arrive at the best plan or schedule.  Excel is like a bicycle.  It has no engine of its own and relies on the planner or scheduler's brainpower to come up with an optimal plan or schedule.  Excel provides some leverage and structure, but that is not enough.

Simplistic heuristic solutions have a limited engine that takes shortcuts.  This engine does not have the sophisticated algorithms needed to compare each possibility to the next and then decide which one is best.  So it considers just a fraction of the total solution space and arrives at a sub-optimal plan or schedule.

Heuristic solutions will therefore come up with a plan or schedule that requires manual adjustment.  That is why most APS systems come with robust visual interfaces that are designed to help you drag and drop orders.  It is expected that your planning/scheduling team will need to rework the plan manually before it can be executed.  In many cases, reworking the plan generated by a heuristic tool can take even longer than generating a fresh plan in excel.

Slow Planning and Scheduling

Enterprise manufacturers need true optimization, the ability to consider all the possibilities to arrive at the best plan or schedule.  But even when the processing power, modeling capabilities, and algorithms needed for optimization became available, this process proved to be too slow.  It would take hours to produce a plan or schedule with last-generation optimization software.  In that time, the production environment would change and the generated plan would become obsolete the moment it is was created.  The algorithms powering the optimization-driven software solutions were just too slow and manufacturers were forced to make do with excel and heuristic solutions.

Solving An Impossible Planning and Scheduling Problem

20 years ago, one of the biggest tier 1 automotive manufactures, with one of the most complex production environments, decided to look for a scheduling solution, that could produce automated plans and schedules, accurately and quickly.

At the time, the prevailing sentiment was that the planning and scheduling problems were impossible to solve.  But this manufacturer decided to reach out to a wide variety of planning and scheduling vendors to see if there were any viable solutions on the market.

To their surprise, in a head-to-head competition with their native scheduling system, an innovative, constraint-based optimization APS solution generated plans and schedules that:

  • decreased planning/scheduling time by 90%
  • increased throughput by 10%
  • reduced delivery lead time by 50%
  • reduced changeovers by 25%
  • reduced finished good inventories by 33%

How Does Modern Advanced Planning and Scheduling Software Work?

If the advanced planning and scheduling problems were deemed impossible, then how are modern APS able to generate plans and schedules quickly and accurately?   20 years ago, a team of engineers decided to solve each of the 4 APS limitations.  Each solution was a significant breakthrough.  But when they combined these solutions in an APS software system they create a leap forward in advanced planning and scheduling technology.

Modeling the Production Environment with a Robust Constraint Library

Fortunately, silicon valley helped the engineers solved the first problem by producing the computer chips that had the necessary power to run the production planning and scheduling calculations.  But long after the computing power of the average server was more than sufficient to run just about any APS system, modeling the production environment remained a challenge.

The second innovation to the APS space was the introduction of a constraint library.  This modeling system allows a planner or scheduler to configure the entire production environment and all the constraints through a simple drag and drop interface, without the need for custom coding.

What makes the constraint library so powerful is that it is dynamic.  Any time a new type of constraint, process, or facility element is encountered, it is added to the constraint library and made available to all the customers.  And after helping hundreds of factories around the world model their production environments, the way that this library is used and the training offered to new customers becomes even more streamlined and efficient.

Today, the constraint library allows planners and schedulers to model any element of their production environment, including any disruptive changes in minutes.

True Optimization with Patent Algorithms

The rich, detailed model is fed to an optimization engine.  The optimization engine consists of sophisticated algorithms that compare each possible schedule or plan to billions of possible variations and determines the very best one.  This is a very complex process and the patented APS algorithms that make this possible are a recent invention.  The application of advanced mathematics to APS was the third breakthrough that makes modern advanced planning and scheduling software possible.


Optimization at the Speed of Modern Manufacturing

Not only are the algorithms able to conduct these intricate mathematic operations at scale, but they are also able to do this quickly ... hundreds of times more quickly than in the past.  Instead of taking hours to create a plan or schedule, one is created in minutes.  With the help of in-memory databases, it is even possible to complete these calculations in seconds for real-time applications.  The speed of modern optimization engines allows planners and schedulers to test what-if scenarios and respond quickly to disruptions in the production environment.

advanced planning and scheduling patent optessa

Optessa The APS Solution of Choice for Enterprise Manufacturers

20 years ago, Optessa presented its breakthrough APS solution to a tier 1 automotive manufacturer and proved that the "impossible" planning and scheduling challenges were in fact possible to solve.  Today Optessa runs in hundreds of factories around the world, powering the production facilities of enterprise manufacturers in a wide variety of industries.

Optessa's APS solutions allow enterprise manufacturers to simplify the production planning and scheduling process, and generate the best possible production plans and schedules by:

  • taking advantage of the full power of modern processing chips
  • modeling their production environments and constraints quickly and easily through configuration
  • applying true optimization to find the best possible solution
  • completing the planning and scheduling process in minutes or even seconds

To see a free demo of Optessa, tuned to your unique planning or scheduling application, please contact us and let us know your requirements.

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