The Speedy Case of the Electronics Corporation
I visited Company H, a large Japanese electronics corporations that has a major share in the Japanese market. They had already installed ten production schedulers and those schedulers were making a major impact on their manufacturing. The reason that I was making this visit was because I had received a report saying that the schedulers we had delivered needed debugging. The bugs consisted of inaccuracies in remote area situations resulting in imprecision and I was there to investigate the problems being caused. I was able to find out what the bug was almost immediately and got it fixed.
Looking at the data, I could see that more than 4,000 resources were registered, the largest number I had ever seen. About 3,000 of these were for tool and die. The reason that so many tool and die plants were registered was because there was a tool and die for each product type. As far as tool and die products are concerned there is more than one type. There are major restrictions on the preparation of a production schedule such as how the tools and dies are going to be used, we have to register all these different types in the production scheduler in order to schedule production. The main machines have fully adequate flexibility which is so that they can handle customer orders for very quick delivery time.
As soon as an order comes in, the production scheduler immediately starts scheduling going backwards from the delivery date and time, it checks the date of arrival and the available raw materials, and then sets the production schedule in place. That is how a just-in-time production schedule is made. Express orders are placed forward in the production schedule and we know when production will be complete from when production begins. Then we give an answer back to the customer on delivery time. That creates a production schedule with the shortest lead time.
We know precisely whether order with the most recent delivery time will be on time.
We also know at what time we should begin making the orders that have later delivery times and when to have the raw materials for them ready. Managing a production schedule that entails 4,000 sets of raw materials by manual production scheduling would be impossible.
I was able to see that one of the reasons this corporation is a leading force worldwide is accurate management of fast on-time deliveries through the use of production scheduling.
Case Closed. . .
The Case of the Auto Parts Factory
Production scheduling at an auto parts factory--preventing a company's collapse
One day I received a sudden visit from a newly appointed president of an auto parts company. This was an excellent company that had started up a production scheduler on its own. The new president was a section manager at the time the scheduler was installed, and now the young man had been elevated to the position of president. The first thing he said to me in giving his reason for the visit was surely an exaggeration that "the installation of that production scheduler has kept our company from going under. Truly, there are some things that only a new president would do.
I asked what the situation was. He told me that with the introduction of the production scheduler they had become more efficient, cutting inventory by 30 percent and lowering the break-even point by 35 percent--a very exhilarating experience for a manager. I told him, "That's terrific." He told me, "That's not all. After that the economic bubble in Southeast Asia broke and the auto industry was deal a heavy blow. We two had a very high level of export orders to Southeast Asia and those took a sharp drop. It's clear that if we had not installed a production scheduler, we would have been hit with a lot of red ink, but we weren't."
The excellent contributions of a production scheduler to corporate profits make the developer very happy indeed.
Case Closed. . .
The Case of the Fabrication Plant
Production scheduling at a semiconductor fabrication plant--Maximizing throughput.
The president of a semiconductor company called me and asked me to come and visit their plant. This company handled the latter stages of semiconductor production. The market was moving along very well and they were flooded with orders. At the production control manager's office, the customer liaison would hold daily meetings to check into whether their orders were being delivered to customers on time. The customer liaison officer had been staying for months at a business hotel not far from the plant . The production control side was also working frantically to handle more of the increasing orders. Even when they went home they were in frequent communication, on Saturdays and Sundays, via cell phone.
When I got to the company, everyone was waiting for me, from the president on down. The president had already check the operation of the free introductory version of the production scheduler that had been installed. The president was keen and clearheaded. The employees were also an excellent group possessed of a high level of knowledge and experience in IT and production control. I first gave a full general explanation of the production scheduler. The president said, "It will be a good thing if this production scheduler is a nice toy for our production planning manager." If we can tell what the delivery time to the customer will be and when the completion occurs at the factory, that will make the work of the manager much easier. He also said that, "Rather than reducing our inventory and cutting back on lead time, our most important task is increasing throughput." Our biggest job right now is to take the resources that we have available to use and the production scheduler and use them to increase the monetary worth of production to the maximum.
Keeping the introductory consultation to a minimum, I got the production scheduler up and running. Not only that, but the installation project took only the short period of four months. They didn't take most of the external installation consultation, and although I thought the startup time was too fast, as one should have expected, installation and introduction proceeded apace, which was mainly due to the visionary president and his excellent staff who were knowledgeable and well-experienced in IT.
After the business startup, I against visited the plant. The president told me, "After we installed the production scheduler, we found out that we could reduce our work force by 12 people. That is a cost reduction of ¥40 million per year, so that allows us to recover the cost of installing the production scheduler." Aside from the fact that they were able to reduce their work force by 12 people it actually gave them much more flexibility in the plant. There was also a visible difference in the people in charge in charge of production planning who now seemed much more at ease in their work. One could easily see how this easily acceptable projected had produced such excellent results.
Case Closed. . .
The Case of the Flexible Manufacturing System
Production scheduling for job shop type production [flexible manufacturing system, FMS] (small volumes of widely divergent product types)...Freeing oneself from the mundane nature of production schedules
I visited a factory that produces many different kinds of reagents.
At the plant, I talked to the person who is in charge of the production schedule and it was she who gave me an explanation of the kind of production scheduling they were doing right then. She said that at first the enormous flow of many different product types in small lots seemed like an seriously extreme task. We had a person doing the production scheduling manually, with extraordinary skill, and she was making those schedules every day based on intuition and perception gained through experience. This person may well have been one of the most experienced and skilled people in the company. If this person had to take time off because of illness, the people in the factory would have to go to her house and ask what the production schedule for that day should be and only then could the factory start operating. It sounds like a joke but that is exactly what was happening. It makes me shiver to think what would have happened if the production scheduler had to be in the hospital for a long time. Not only that, but in one or two years, the human production scheduler was set to retire. They had tried teaching a younger employee the job, but to no avail. The plant was in a really tough spot. It would have been very difficult to recruit someone who had the capabilities to do this job. That's when they came to the idea of trying out a computerized production scheduler.
In a situation like this we have the important task of removing the human variable by sharing data through the use of IT. Now the highly skilled production schedulers who had supported manufacturing during Japan's period of high economic growth are retiring one after another. I'm sure that many companies are in the same situation as this one.
Case Closed. . .
The Case of the Plastic Molding Factory
Production scheduling for a plastic molding factory...providing production scheduling for molds and dies.
I visited a plant for forming plastic. They needed management of the mold forming and their production schedule is complex. Not only that, but recently they have had to assembly of plastic product after it has been formed and that makes the production schedule even more complicated. They wanted to solve these problems. Another problem for them was that one of their customers, a car maker had announced that it was going to cut its number of suppliers in half and they also had this reason for needing to show the results of their making improvements. If those efforts failed, the carmaker would no longer do business with them.
When I was giving the demonstration, the president of D Company said, "That's enough. We've already decided to go for a production scheduler. Mr. E is in charge so recommend it to him." The points on which they had decided to install a production scheduler 1) the production schedules for the plastic molding machines and the too and die machine were done simultaneously, and 2) the production schedule for the assembly routine was also set up at the same time. In addition, they gave good grades to a production scheduler that could be set up immediately without any customization. I told them that we should first test a prototype to make sure that it would run well, so together with Manager E we built a prototype. This manager later started up his own production scheduler. This manager is very highly skilled. He started the production scheduler up successfully in a very short period of time. His was an approach getting the production scheduler started up without hitches and within the range of standard scheduler function, but the important point is how quickly it took him to succeed in starting the production scheduler.
I again visited the plant after the scheduler was in operation. The production scheduler was moving along very well. When I was ready to leave the section manager offered me a ride to the station in his car. On the way, he said to me, "Mr. Takahashi, thanks to your scheduler, we were able to survive that cut back in parts suppliers that the car maker implemented. And rather than losing orders, our number of orders is on the increase. Thank you for that. However, this busy period is a good one. Even if we leave things as they are, we're making money. But, what's going to happen when the demand falls off? If demand does drop off, the workers at the plant will make it look as if they're busy. I can understand that logically no matter how busy we are. When times are slack it would be better for the company to slow down and not produce a lot of excess."
The president is a wonderful person who makes good decisions quickly, but this section manager had the managerial perspectives for keenly seeing into the future. That is a company that will survive very well.
Case Closed. . .