Job Shops are some of the most complex manufacturing operations when it comes to work scheduling and tracking. No matter whether it’s metal working or plastic parts, orders do not necessarily follow “standard part routing” steps with the same time per operation. Variable set ups, limited tooling and available skilled operators also complicate the production scheduling and tracking process. It’s no wonder that many job shops companies can no longer depend simply on MRP logic and spreadsheets and have turned to scheduling software to help them quickly and easily produce an optimized production schedule. In addition, a number of these companies have also employed the use of factory floor MES solutions for real-time scheduling updates including touch screen based material and labor usage reporting. Here are five tips for improving work scheduling and real-time production tracking.

1. Link Customer Orders to Production Orders and Raw Materials

Many ERP systems do not provide a direct link between customer sales orders and the associated work order or job. This link is vital in providing a view of the manufacturing process and potential purchased parts necessary to satisfy each and every customer order. Scheduling software solutions today can provide this linkage. Often called “pegging”, this connection used effectively in a finite scheduling system can realistically project customer delivery dates and notify the scheduling department when orders are forecast to be late so action can be taken ahead of time to improve on time delivery.

2. Digitize Your Tooling Inventory

Tooling is a critical input to most metal and/or plastic production operations, and most ERP systems ignore it when it comes to work scheduling in production operations. It’s too late to discover that necessary tooling is out for repair or in use on another job when your team goes to set up a job. You need that information as you plan your shift dispatching.

Simply putting tooling in a separate desktop database or a spreadsheet doesn’t cut it when it comes to improving work scheduling. The information in desktop applications is siloed, making it hard for the entire team to share. And since it’s not integrated into your scheduling plans, you may find that the tooling you need is just not available.

APS systems use tooling as a vital part of the scheduling process. Tooling can be treated as a constraint on operations or a required resource and becomes part of the production plan. You won’t have to scramble at the last minute to find substitute work because tooling isn’t available.

3. Be Clear About Priorities

The best way to manage work scheduling effectively is to be sure production priorities are clear. Prioritize work orders needed to fulfill customer demand over orders that are supporting forecasts.

Most ERP systems at best provide loose links between shop orders and customer sales orders, making it hard to keep priorities in line with customer expectations. They also make no distinction between production orders released to fill forecast and those needed for actual customer sales order demand. Relying on paper routings makes it difficult for shop personnel to reorganize the floor part sequencing with changes in due dates that reflect the constant changes in demand. In addition, the infinite MRP planning used by most ERP systems almost guarantees you will have past-due orders that aren’t required for immediate customer demands, but it will prioritize them over other orders with real demand on the books.

An APS solution can use both forecasted and actual demand, but actual demand (Customer Sales Orders) can be linked to finished good jobs for clarity of resource usage and visibility to expected due dates. And it schedules shop orders based on your factory floor constraints (machines/shifts/tools/labor) for realistic schedules that help maximize revenue and on time delivery to customers.

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4. Adopt Lean Manufacturing Principles

Lean manufacturing is useful for more than just minimizing inventory. Used properly, new MES systems can accurately track operation performance throughout the entire production process and easily identify potential bottlenecks to help to streamline production processes and eliminate non-value-added steps. In addition, it will also help you to error-proof processes to cut down on scrap or rework. Monitoring real time machine and labor performance or quality specification thresholds can provide early warning when a process is veering out of control.

5. Simplify Setups Whenever Possible

The best way to increase OEE, uptime and throughput is to minimize downtime, whether planned or unplanned. You already know that keeping up with recommended preventive maintenance schedules will help, but simplifying setups can help by getting the most production process “performance” time out of your equipment on a shift-by-shift basis.

One of the best ways to simplify setups is to run jobs with similar setups consecutively so that you can take advantage of the common raw materials and/or tooling and setup elements already in place. It’s extremely difficult to sequence jobs manually, and most ERP systems don’t even try, but it’s all in a day’s work for MES and APS software.

6. Cross Train

It’s wasteful to have a job all ready to go only to discover that you don’t have a skilled operator available to run the job. Even if your ERP system allows you to put a skills code on a routing step, most don’t do anything with the information when it comes to scheduling.

APS and MES systems understand that operator skills are required input to an operation, and real-time labor reporting will help provide visibility into operator availability as the shift wears on.

Along with letting your MES system help by scheduling skilled operators on specific jobs, consider implementing a cross-training programs that helps build needed skills.

A cross-training program helps improve quality, operational flexibility and employee loyalty. Employees enjoy learning new skills, and your most skilled operators can be energized by teaching newcomers or rising stars.

7. Implement Scheduling Software the Right Way

Scheduling software such as APS should be implemented with a production tracking software, such as, a MES. It will increase the effectiveness of the APS and improve the productivity on your shop floor by enhancing visibility through the real-time labor reporting and improved visibility. In addition, these solutions help increase schedule accuracy because they can schedule to much finer increments than ERP scheduling solutions, which usually have a day or a shift as the smallest schedule increment.

More accurate scheduling results in smoother downstream operations and helps you to provide more accurate delivery insight to your customers, which makes them very happy. Delighted customers spend more money, so investing in a combined solution, with MES and APS, will help you differentiate your company from competitors and increase revenue.