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Production Scheduling Systemization

Q. At our company, we have an expert scheduling supervisor who has many years of experience, and it is his production schedules that we carry out. However, the production scheduling supervisor will be approaching retirement in one or two years. Because the production scheduling and operational details are enormous, trying to teach this information to his successor is close to impossible. So, we are investigating on possibly implementing a computer system to systemize our operations. What procedures should we follow to implement a production scheduling system and operations?

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Management of scheduling that relies on experience will eventually reach an impasse.

A. At the vast majority of factories I have visited, the reality is that the management of production scheduling relies on someone's experience and skill. You could say that it is almost always the situation that the work instructions that everyone uses to manage the production have been created by the scheduling supervisor who has a high level of experience and skill in scheduling.

For example, at a certain company, if the expert production scheduling supervisor has to take time off work because he is sick, then a factory employee will intrude into the supervisor's home and ask for work instructions from his bedside in order to allow the factory to continue working. It may seem like a joke but it's a true story. With your company's production scheduling supervisor retiring in 1 or 2 years, this will be a critical situation for you so systemization is an important problem.

Systemization is possible with a production scheduler

Systemizing the production scheduling with a computer to manage a person's experience and skills is an extremely difficult field. At one time, in order to systemize production scheduling, it would require a customized package at a cost of tens of millions of yen. Even if you spent such a large sum of money, the benefits of developing and managing a production schedule would still be worth it. However, the computer has quickly become very powerful and the know-how about computerized production scheduling has sufficiently accumulated to allow a relatively cheaper production scheduling system to be implemented and managed. Below we show the standardized implementation and management procedures that we have learned from our experiences of implementing production scheduling systems.

(1) First of all, use production scheduler to create a prototype system.

Different from financial accounting and payroll calculation, with production scheduling, the circumstances are very different for every factory. As a result of this, it would be best to utilise a demo version of a production scheduler and try to actually create a prototype using your company's data, execute the production scheduling and decide whether or not it would be able to handle the management of your factory.

If a part of the request specification can be achieved by systemization with standard functionality, then it's also possible to cover the other parts with management. What I want to warn against here is trying to rush for customization. Customization costs time and money as well as killing the general purpose of a packaged production scheduler. It's important to try and cover the areas that a production scheduler can't do with the standard functionality by first of all thinking about inventive solutions. Pursuing ideals too far is the cause behind the failure of many production scheduling system implementations. There is also the case where a system is too complex for the management to handle as well. In the case where you are having a hard time deciding just by yourself, then getting a production scheduler implementation and management consultation is also a possibility.

(2) Create an interface between your current system and the production scheduler

Diagram 1-The link between the production scheduler and the current system. By linking the production scheduling system to the current system, it will be possible to manage a smoother planning business. The linkage data is mainly the following four types: (1) Sales orders information (2) Master data information, (3) Work instructions and (4) Results information.

When managing the production scheduler, cooperating with the current production control system as much as possible (Diagram 1) will make it possible to have a smooth production control business. With Microsoft Access etc., because is it easy for even the user to put together an environment for program development and it is possible to develop and manage the interface between the current system and the production scheduler as well as the peripheral system.

In addition, by developing the periphery system yourself, you can accumulate know-how in-house, and this will give you the added merit of being able to add and change the functionality of the system in operation.

(3) Prepare the real production scheduling system data

Preparing the real data usually takes a great deal of effort. It depends on the case but it would be best to think that it would take one full time person between one to two months. For example, for the bill of materials (BOM), referred to as the master data, even if you limit it to only the scheduled items, it will still usually consist of tens of thousands of records. In addition, in the case that the current production control system has master records, then it is important to read that data in and use it effectively. In particular, you should avoid holding two lots of master data.

(4) Operational test

Combine the master data and peripheral system into the production scheduler and perform the operational test. It would be better to allow one to two months for the operational test as well. The greater the data volume you have, the harder the operation of carrying out the tests will become. Check that the work instructions generated by the production scheduler can be used on the factory floor during operations. At times, the shop floor will be too busy and be unable to keep up with the flow of work instructions being produced by the production scheduling system. In this case, it will be necessary to consider the operational situation and change the parameters of the production scheduler to provide a moderate amount of leeway in the production scheduling results.

(5) Maintenance

Even if you followed the above procedures and you were able to start up the production scheduler so that it perfectly matched the factory right from the start of operations within two to three years, the conditions of the factory would almost certainly change. If you can't keep up with these operational changes, then it's possible that the production scheduling management would come to a halt. Production scheduling is repeatedly improved with new functionality based on the opinions and demands of the users. In order to incorporate these improved features and sustain the system for many operational years, a maintenance contract is essential. In addition, it is important to continually make new requests to your production scheduler maker for new functionalities.

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