Managing Your Production Schedule to Improve On-Time Delivery
December 04, 2013
Small Intervals in Lean Production Scheduling
These days, customers expect you to be shortening your overall lead times – meet the delivery promise 100% of the time and have perfect quality. Delivery performance metrics are a big issue that can help you drive new business. If you can improve your delivery performance and thereby increase customer satisfaction, you’ve just increased the odds of keeping existing business as well as growing new business opportunities.
It’s key that any improvement initiative based in Lean thinking involves the person responsible for planning and scheduling from the outset. Traditional manufacturing processes were designed to handle big batches, and typically focused scheduling over long time horizons (i.e. one month out). Lean Manufacturing shifts the focus in scheduling and planning production to the very near term. This is because the closer your manufacturing processes are tied to meeting defined customer needs, the better chance you have of meeting the production schedule customers expect.
The goal is to optimize your production schedule relative to timing and mix, and to bring it down to the smallest interval. It’s a very different approach from past efforts to optimize production schedules by running large batches.
Shorter Measurement Intervals for Faster Troubleshooting
Lean thinking focuses on producing the right quantities at the right time for the right customers. You need to best utilize your resources to shorten lead times and continuously meet your promises. Knowing at any given moment whether your production schedule is meeting customer expectations gives you the increased ability to meet changing customer demands. You can’t just measure whether your production schedules worked at the end of the week or month; you need to measure them continuously – even on an hourly basis, if possible.
Some manufacturers worry “what if something goes wrong? Won’t a shorter measurement interval compound the problem?” Undoubtedly, things will go wrong occasionally. The key is that with production schedules managed to small time frames (i.e. hourly), you can react faster to solve production problems as they may arise, helping to stay on track with customer demand. In support of managing this information, you’ll also need to ensure that you have a learning organization with effective problem solving abilities as well.
Discover Where your Schedule should Begin
Lean thinking applied to your production processes will identify the one area that is the slowest point in your operation. This constraint point is also an important control point for your scheduling.
We call this point “the pacemaker,” and it’s from this point you should schedule. This is because the pacemaker point really controls what happens through the rest of your processes, setting the overall speed of product flow or product pull. To determine the optimized production schedule that shortens your lead times, we first calculate a time interval for “Every Part Every Interval” or EPEI. This value is based on your quality levels, times required for machine setup, the production cycle itself, and the operating performance of the machinery (machine utilization). The EPEI ultimately helps you to establish your planning horizon for your product mix.
Establish the Right Metrics
Many organizations are tempted to schedule by “gut instinct” and past experience. Maybe you’re used to your schedule being, say, two weeks – and Lean Manufacturing tools could cut it to just eight days. How much capacity would that free up, and be filled with new business? Or what impact might this have on shortening lead time or increasing on-time delivery performance?
While a master production schedule gives you the broader outlook, you also need to be looking at the schedule more in real time, with shorter EPE intervals. This enables you to always know where you are in your schedule on a real-time basis. It requires a thorough understanding of your capacity as well as the management of resources creating that capacity – your equipment and your people.
The right metrics help you understand where you are relative to meeting the schedule in real time. Releasing a schedule for the week and then checking against it at the end of the week is simply insufficient. Understanding where you are in the schedule should be a dynamic process that is continually monitored against the proper metrics. Utilizing a visual schedule board will give you immediate and real-time information on the status of actual to plan.
Not everyone needs to be involved in production scheduling, but it’s critical that the right scheduling people be part of your lean initiative. The end result of managing the plan correctly will be improved performance, greater on-time delivery, and increased customer satisfaction – the trifecta of driving overall business growth.
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