There are many production scheduling tools available commercially. Some are more tailored to specific environments (such as a specific type of manufacturing) while others are applicable to a wide range of applications. When we talk about Advanced Production Scheduling Tools, there are certain characteristics that we have in mind including the following:
1) Both materials and resources are scheduled simultaneously – With the Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems of old, schedulers would iterate back and forth through running
a. Materials Requirements Planning (MRP) to identify material replenishment requirements and then
b. Capacity Requirements Planning (CRP) to see if the material replenishment plan was feasible from a resource capacity perspective.
This would lead to a game of back and forth that at worst was incredibly frustrating and at best might give you the first “feasible” schedule which could be nowhere near the “best” schedule. To schedule effectively, a scheduler must be able to schedule both material and equipment simultaneously to be able to make appropriate trade-offs.
2) Graphical representation of the schedule that is user modifiable – The Gantt chart is the gold standard for representing a schedule with resources down the left hand side and time proceeding out into the future from left to right. (There are variations from the standard Gantt chart for the representation of the schedule that some users might prefer but the description given above is the classic representation.) Allowing this Gantt chart to be user modifiable is key to enabling ease of understanding, interpretation and manipulation of the schedule.
3) Automation / optimization where possible – Scheduling problems are notoriously difficult to solve. Employing advanced algorithms or classical mathematical optimization is key to being able find good schedules. Automating schedule generation allows the scheduler to user their expertise to manage by exception instead of having to generate schedules from scratch.
4) Seamless integration with transaction system – There is a lot of data that is required to create a production schedule. Much or all of this data is typically in the ERP system. Having a seamless bidirectional interface to be able to download data from the ERP system and then upload the schedule back to the ERP system us crucial to saving the schedulers time in importing / exporting data and improves data quality by avoiding mistakes made with a manual data entry approach.
5) Flexible tool that can handle a wide variety of manufacturing and business environments – As consultants, this is appealing to us because it allows us to develop expertise in a limited number of tools but then be able to implement those tools at a wide variety of client environments.
Scheduling tools with these characteristics rise above the crowd and typically enable our clients to create schedules:
1) More quickly saving the schedulers time
2) That better utilize resources thereby saving capital investment
3) While allowing our clients to make more reliable commitments to their customers.