Production Scheduling is "used in a manufacturing process to allocate plant and machinery resources, plan human resources, plan production processes and purchase materials".  What are the components of this production scheduling process? Let's introduce them briefly:

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1. Production Planning

It could be argued that the planning component of your manufacturing schedule is the most crucial. This is because the success of every other component of the schedule hinges on the success of this first one.  The output of the production planning process, the production plan, will serve as the input for the production scheduling process.  If the production plan is not properly optimized, then it will set a low ceiling for the production schedule quality.

Production planning strives to align material supply with customer demand.  The planners must take into account the people, places, and equipment needed to produce the goods, as well as the available raw materials and capital resources.  The outputs and often visualized with relation to their key performance indicators (KPIs) with charts or graphs.

2. Production Routing

After planning comes routing — in other words, the route that a product in development must follow in order to become the finished item and brought to market. Here, we aim to be as comprehensive as possible, taking in the whole journey from the initial raw materials right through to a fully completed, fully realized product.

Of course, we are not simply looking for any journey that takes us from this point A to this point B. Instead, we are looking for the most efficient and the most streamlined journey between the two points so the process of production becomes as cost-effective and as speedy as possible.

3. Production Scheduling

Despite the fact that the whole process is known as production scheduling, scheduling itself is only one of the five components. This component refers to the procedure of assigning dates and times at which each part of the production plan should be completed. Teams can then quickly and easily check back against these dates and times to ensure production is on schedule.

Scheduling can take a number of different forms. There is master scheduling, in which the whole process is tracked and scheduled, taking into account resource usage as well as customer orders. There is manufacturing or operational scheduling, during which the manufacturing processes are tracked and scheduled. And there is retail operation scheduling, at which point the retail end of the procedure is scheduled.

4. Dispatching

Dispatching refers to the action of taking a theoretical plan and then putting this plan into action by starting production. During this phase, you will get to know how the plan you have developed so far actually translates into practical reality.

As you run through the production process, you may notice that certain elements are working better than others. This is when you can use the dispatching component to hone the procedure and make adjustments to the plan to ensure that it works in practice. You can also add key bits of information and instruction to make sure the plan is executed in the right way.

5. Real-Time Rescheduling

A production schedule is not necessarily designed to be universal and everlasting. Instead, it needs to be honed and fine-tuned, as well as re-deployed and re-executed further down the line. This is where rescheduling comes into play. The schedule can be modified to secure ongoing efficacy.

Business owners can gather data directly from the production schedule, as well as from other sources, to gain insight into the process. This can then be used to initiate real-time rescheduling, achieving a more dynamic and reflexive approach to the honing of the production schedule.

Production Planning

When you are developing your production schedule plan, you need to take the following four key points into consideration:

Streamlined production

In other words, how can you bring your products to market in the most direct, logical and efficient way possible? Which areas of manufacturing and delivery can be condensed or integrated for maximum efficiency? What can you do to make the process more direct and intuitive from start to finish?

Situational contingencies

What can you do to make sure all situations are planned for? For example, what will you do in the case of increased demand? What will you do if there is a shortfall in key materials or in the products you are supplying? What will you do if a key bit of machinery breaks down, or if there is a bottleneck somewhere else?

Identifying inefficiency

What is causing inefficiency during manufacture? Consider factors such as machines that may not be operating at full capacity, as well as other, more difficult to define elements such as bottlenecks in the supply chain or inefficient traffic throughout your facilities.

Optimizing the entire process

You will not only need to iron out these inefficiencies, but you will also need to bring the whole thing together to create a fully optimized process from start to finish. This is why the planning phase needs to be so comprehensive, as it will give you a key vantage point from which to view the efficiency of the workflow.

Crafting Your Framework

The above four points are conceptual elements to be kept in mind throughout the planning component of the scheduling process. But what about the nuts and bolts of planning itself?

Follow this five-step plan for production planning. And, remember that the process should be a long-term, ongoing one, and not just an initial phase that is ticked off and forgotten once it is complete.

Step One: Understand the Need

In phase one of the planning component, you will be looking at the need and demand for your product. If you have launched similar products in the past, you can draw parallels with these earlier products and make estimates regarding popularity and demand.

If you are launching a completely new product, this may be a little difficult to define as you will have fewer points of comparison. You should already be using customer data and buyer profiles during the development of your products, and these data sets will help you understand more projected demand.

Double-check your projections against all available data and estimate conservatively for the best results while planning.

Step Two: Define Your Processes

Now that you have a good idea of how much demand to expect, you need to decide how you are you going to meet this demand.

At this stage, the planning is still on paper. Consider a number of theoretical options for completing the process and then analyze each option in terms of the following:

How quickly will this phase of production be complete?

How many personnel are required to see the process through to completion?

How many resources are required to complete the phase of production?

What kind of risks may be involved?

What are the potential points of friction or inefficiency?

Answer each of these questions in relation to each theoretical option and record the data.

Step Three: Deciding On a Viable Option

With the data gathered from Step 2, you now have a supreme vantage point from which to compare and assess each possible option. Consult with members of each team and gain their perspective as well. After all, they will have a more practical, experiential knowledge of the processes at hand and will therefore be able to provide invaluable insight.

Once you have reviewed all the data, you will be able to choose the ideal option for completing the process.

Step Four: Repeating the Process

The above method is useful for developing each aspect of the production process. In order to extrapolate the benefit out to a macro level, you will need to repeat this analysis for each and every phase of production, as well as interrogate a number of options for completing these different phases.

During step four, you will need to pay extra attention to how the pieces of the puzzle fit together. For example, when you develop a method for completing phase one, you will need to define how this flows into phase two, phase three and so on.

Step Five: Assessment and Adjustment

After deciding on a method, you will need to put this method into practice on a small scale. This is when you will need to assess its effectiveness once deployed in the field, and to make any adjustments that are required. By keeping the scale small, on a small production run for example, you can assess the manufacturing production planner you have designed without using up too much time or too many valuable resources.

Remember, planning is an ongoing process. You need a strong plan to give you a framework, but you also need to remain flexible and open to improving this plan as you move forward.

The Routing Component: A Closer Examination

When considering how to create a production schedule, you need to refer to your plan. After the planning phase, you now have a number of different routes you can use to bring your product through production and into the marketplace. Routing helps you decide which route is the most optimal and the most efficient.

Begin by running discrete sections of the production line in isolation and examining how these phases of production perform. Next, consider how these different phases of production link up.

Let's look at the production schedule example of a formula food manufacturer bringing a new product to their customers. They may already be producing a similar product, and they may have noticed a few areas of efficiency and inefficiency with this process. Over time, they may have ironed out some of these inefficiencies and streamlined the process. However, introducing new elements into the mix and deploying a new production schedule is likely to introduce new inefficiencies of its own.

This is where things can quickly get complicated, which is why production scheduling software provides a huge benefit. Keeping track of production schedule routing via traditional means, such as spreadsheets and other programs not designed for the purpose, can be difficult.

A dedicated production scheduling solution, on the other hand, provides comprehensive data that can be utilized to gain a holistic view of the entire process. This makes it much easier to catch bottlenecks and inefficiencies before they derail production.

The Scheduling Component: A Closer Examination

This component of the production scheduling process is really the meat of the whole procedure. While each and every component is important — particularly the planning component, which gives you the framework you need to implement an effective schedule — it is the scheduling component that pulls the process together.

We have already looked at how scheduling involves assigning times and dates to different portions of the process, and we have touched upon the three different sub-categories within the scheduling component. Here, we will be taking a closer look at this critical phase of production.

What Is the Scheduling Component?

The main idea behind a production schedule is that you can predict exactly which phase of production you will be at each point in time. This means you can know — as far in advance as possible — when each phase will be completed and when the product will be brought to market.

Of course, this means implementing milestones and checkpoints along the way so you can assess your progress at each. However, there is more to the process than simply attaching arbitrary time markers to each point in the process. A far more thorough, data-driven approach is required.  The data is collected and processed in a production scheduling software system.  The inputs in the scheduling system often come from connected enterprise resource planning (ERP), manufacturing execution (MES), and material resource planning (MRP) systems.

This is why it is best to break this component down into three sections.

Manufacturing Production Scheduling

When scheduling the manufacturing part of the production process, there are a number of factors that need to be considered.

Human resources

Which teams are responsible for each part of the manufacturing process? Who oversees each part of the process, and what are their duties? What are the strengths and weaknesses of each team?

This may not sound like scheduling in the traditional sense, but it provides you with data that you can use to develop your schedule. You will learn more about your team and your human resources so you can predict how long it will take to complete a certain phase of production.

There are also direct scheduling elements you can attach to your human resources. These include any planned leave or other absences that may have an effect on manufacturing at key points.

Maximum capacity

It's tempting to operate at maximum capacity during manufacturing, or at least to use maximum capacity data to plan your production schedule. After all, you invested in your equipment and your personnel because it is the best and therefore you want to get the best out of it.

However, this is a risky strategy. If you are operating at full capacity, it is very easy for problems to emerge and for you to fall behind schedule. When scheduling manufacturing, it is far better to leave a little in reserve so you can maintain a predictable level of output. Get to know your capacity and then scale it back by a few notches when assigning your schedule.

Supply chain

Where are your raw materials coming from? How quickly can you order and receive new batches of raw materials? How much do you need to store on-site to maintain the right levels of flexibility and agility in your manufacturing?

You cannot build anything without the right raw materials. When scheduling your manufacturing process, you need to define detailed timescales for the delivery and reception of these raw materials so there are no unexpected hold-ups during the production schedule.

The obvious way to side-step any such hold-ups is to stockpile raw materials on-site. However, this does not always work in practice as such storage solutions are subject to wastage, including damage or theft of raw materials, which can cause further delays and costs.

By getting to know your delivery times and your ordering schedules, you can ensure a steady flow of raw materials into the manufacturing process while minimizing shrinkage and waste.

Process itemization

In order to develop a more comprehensive and wide-ranging schedule, you first need to know how long each specific part of the process will take to complete. Your teams can help you develop realistic timescales for each phase, which you can then use to develop a more holistic schedule.

Don't worry about any external factors at this point. Instead, use the raw data to derive rough timescales at each point in the process. These will become building blocks that you can use to define future schedules and timescales.

Facility flow

Now that you have a rough timescale for each part of the manufacturing process, you can factor in other elements. How long does it take to transfer between different phases of manufacturing? What sort of logistical considerations are required as you move materials and products around your facility? How can the flow of traffic around your facility be optimized?

This is where you refine your data and get a more realistic picture of what you can expect. If you simply add all the raw data from each of the manufacturing processes together, you will get a nasty surprise when you try to put this into practice. However, when you consider the movement of materials and products around your manufacturing facility, you can build up a better understanding of how long your team will need to complete each phase of the process.

Retail Scheduling

Once manufacturing is complete, you will need to bring your products to market with efficiency and effectiveness. This means that scheduling is also required in the retail phase of the operation.

Seasonal demand

At which times of year are certain products in greater demand? What will you do to make sure products are on the shelves exactly when they are required?

By understanding your manufacturing schedule, you will know exactly when to begin production in order to bring products to market at the right time.

Other demand factors

Seasonal demand factors are very easy to plan for as they tend to be at roughly the same time each and every year. However, other demand factors may require a more agile approach.

Research and analyze customer behaviors. Get to know what is influencing them to purchase products at certain times. Then use this insight to predict surges or lulls in demand so you can supply retail spaces accordingly. You can also hone the manufacturing process to reduce time to market.

Factory returns

Retailers may need to return products to your factory, which will also need to be factored into your schedule. By developing the manufacturing schedule, the quality of your products will increase and you will find that factory return rates are reduced.

Master Scheduling

Master scheduling pulls all of the different elements to scheduling together. It is not feasible to assume that one entity will be able to oversee the whole scheduling process — nor is it possible to expect each individual team to handle scheduling themselves.

Instead, the two levels must work together. Individual teams report to a master scheduling team and provide all the insight and data required to oversee the whole process. This master team delegates duties and responsibilities to the individual teams on the ground so changes can be executed swiftly and easily.

The entire process needs to be data-driven, with teams deriving data directly from their operations and the master scheduling team leveraging this data to increase the efficiency of the entire procedure.  The master schedulers import their data and run the master scheduling calculations in an advanced planning and scheduling software system.

The Dispatching Component: A Closer Examination

At the end of the planning component of the production schedule, you began to put the plan into action on a small scale. Now, with the additional data gathered, the manufacturing production schedule template is ready to be put into action on a larger scale.

Initiating the Dispatching Component

By this point, you already have a good idea of the optimal route from raw materials through manufacturing into distribution and delivery. You can trust the plan you have already developed as it has been tested and refined to an extent. This means production can begin.

This means you can begin producing inventory and sending this to market. However, the assessment and refinement phase is not yet complete.

Examining the Production Schedule in Action

It is possible that, when rolled out on a larger scale, inefficiencies and bottlenecks you did not envisage begin to arise. This is not evidence of a failure in planning. Rather, it is an example of flexible production planning.

You will be able to gather data from the process as it unfolds, and feed this data back into ongoing planning. It is unlikely that you will have to go back to the drawing board. But, it is likely that you will notice small inefficiencies and bottlenecks in production that need to be worked on.

Assign personnel to the task of examining the production schedule on an ongoing basis. This is how to schedule production in a forward-thinking manner — by constantly developing and building upon the plan over time. You will also be able to use this as a manufacturing production schedule template for future projects that you may need to bring to market.

The Rescheduling Component: A Closer Examination

So, now you have a solid plan of action and a team of personnel who is assigned the task of examining the production schedule in action on an ongoing basis. What happens when this team recognizes problems that need to be ironed out? Or, what happens when situations change and you need to refine your product? After all, these alterations are inevitable as part of a flexible plan.

When you deploy the right production scheduling software, you can achieve real-time rescheduling. You do not need to bring the whole process to a halt. Instead, you can witness the need for change in real time and make changes on the fly. This is almost impossible to achieve via traditional scheduling methods. But, with the insight gained from the right solution, you can achieve long-term operational efficiency and a more effective route to market.

The aim of your production scheduling initiative is to get as close to zero downtime as possible. While your plan serves as an effective template, it is its ongoing evolution that supports your business on the way to optimization. The first six months of 2020 demonstrated how important a flexible approach is to organizations. With the right production scheduling plan, supported by scheduling software, navigating a changing market will cease to be an issue going forward.

The Production Scheduling Solution: Advanced Planning and Scheduling (APS) Software

Today's manufacturing relies upon Advanced Planning and Scheduling software. Customers now seek better delivery times and better cost efficiency, with factors such as an increased variety of products also critical across most buyer personas.

This type of software supports effective integration with enterprise resource planning (ERP) and material requirement planning (MRP) software. This enables the solution to cover shortfalls in existing software solutions while ensuring effective production scheduling.

APS solutions enable production schedule planners to do the following:

  • Save time
  • Achieve better agility
  • Adopt an evolving solution that meets developing needs
  • Adapt to changes in production schedules and inventory plans
  • Craft winning schedules that achieve high levels of efficiency and performance
  • Focus on key bottlenecks to push efficiency across the board
  • Optimize the use of resources
  • Achieve a level of supply that matches fluctuating demand
  • Ensure all personnel across all levels understand manufacturing capacity
  • Adopt a data-driven approach to scenario decision-making

Deploying this APS software enables a flexible and agile approach to production scheduling that will continue to be effective for years to come. You have already gained a high level of data from your existing ERP solutions — it's time to put it to good use in your scheduling initiatives.

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