3 red flags when Excel is no longer a good fit for production scheduling

    Elmar Karlowitsch
    June 22, 2023
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    In a high-mix low-volume production environment scheduling has a core position within the corporate planning process. Many managers and planners use Excel as a tool to schedule production, but undoubtedly it can be sufficiently helpful only at an early stage when the scheduling environment is not yet so complex and dynamic. There are 3 red flags that tell you that XLS-based scheduling is no longer effective.

    Increased complexity and dynamism 

    In general, rising complexity in an HMLV environment goes hand in hand with the following development:

    • An increasing number of jobs and operations
    • An increasing number of resources
    • An increasing number of order types
    • An increasing number variety of order types
    • An increasing number of links within your routings

    At the same time, rising dynamism in an HMLV environment goes hand in hand with the following development:

    • An Increasing number of unforeseen incidents, such as
      ◦ Increasing number of “rush jobs”
      ◦ Increasing number of resource downtimes
      ◦ Increasing average throughput times
      ◦ Increasing number of back loops from the shop floor that operations need longer than initially estimated
    • Due to this, your schedule constantly is/should be in motion and there is an increased need to update the schedule

    It becomes clear that from a certain level of complexity and dynamics, scheduling with XLS no longer makes sense. If this point is exceeded, the manual maintenance of using an XLS-based schedule is a time-consuming Sisyphean task. A spreadsheet simply does not offer the appropriate functionality to tackle the situation and modify the schedule easily. 

    Eventually, as needs change or operations grow in complexity, XLS ceases being useful and becomes even more troublesome; its maintenance starts using up important and scarce capacities without providing the benefit once intended.

    Signs when it's time to stop scheduling with XLS

    There are 3 red flags that tell you if XLS-based scheduling has turned from “tool to trouble”:

    1. Schedule maintenance takes up so much time that different scheduling incidents pile up before the schedule is updated. Or the schedule is only updated if a very important decision requires current scheduling figures.
    2. There is only one person in the company that is capable of “taming the XLS beast.”
    3. Scheduling is done more out of desperation. However, the addressees no longer have lasting trust in the results.

    I have seen that this point is reached fairly quickly with HMLV shops. Therefore, in my opinion, XLS should only be used as a temporary solution for the early phase of a business. Here, I even advise using XLS, as a spreadsheet will do the job at the least cost. Unfortunately, however, I had to learn that many companies are under the misconception that the suitability of XLS will grow with the company. But that is not the 
    case. On the contrary, XLS will significantly slow down growth compared to the alternative of using a suitable Automatic Finite Scheduling (AFS) system.

    Automatic Finite Scheduling (AFS) is the key to success for job shops

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    It includes many valuable tips on how to choose the right AFS, implement it, and also solve typical scheduling challenges of HMLV manufacturers ongoing.

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