3 Do’s and 3 Don’ts of Machine Shop Scheduling in a Small Job Shop

    Jake Hostetler
    May 17, 2017

    The beauty of a product-centric business model is that it can take you anywhere that your product is needed. For visual scheduling this means we go where the time-centric and resource-oriented planning data goes, we go where customers need visual schedules; hence in a word (and with a geographical meaning), we go everywhere.

    This broadness on a global scale has afforded us at NETRONIC the opportunity to collaborate with dozens of small job shops all around the world, helping them to build and use a visual machine shop schedule with just plan it. Here are some of the do's and don'ts we've learned along the way.

    In small job shops, like in many aspects of life, there are do's and don'ts. Do make a list. Don’t wait until tomorrow to do the dishes. Some of these lessons are clear from the beginning; others, learned only through experience (and I know it’s a struggle with those dishes!).

    Here is our list of the top three don'ts and do's when it comes to machine shop scheduling in your job shop starting with the don’ts.


    The Don'ts in machine shop scheduling:

    1) Don't treat all prioritization factors as equal

    Simply put: job shops are not all the same and even if they share common patterns of business, their processes and needs are different. This means that while one shop may focus heavily on prioritizing jobs by customers (always moving certain customers to the front of the production list based off relationship, higher profits, etc.) another shop may focus more heavily on optimizing a bottleneck process or utilizing the recently purchased machine.

    Not only do these these factors vary between shops, they shift and morph within one job shop as well. Prioritizing solely on bottlenecks, for example, is not going to be the end all solution for a job shop. Prioritization factors are flexible and change over time.  

    Takeaway: Reassess daily (as a starting basis – could be changed to weekly or monthly based on your needs) how you prioritize your jobs and if your applied rules still makes sense.

    2) Don't assume anything

    The nature of small job shop environments is volatile. This means flexibility is imperative and that means nothing should be assumed. This differs from large production environments where larger batch sizes and more homogeneous products allow more steadfast patterns. Which in turn creates more stable and predictable manufacturing processes off which scheduling and planning can be based. In a small job shop, a batch size can often equal one (unique product) and a comparable basis for assuming based off homogeneous products (for example: the run time on unique items) is non-existent.

    This is not to say that a basis isn’t there. A basis is certainly present and certain processes such as the operations making up a job routing will certainly reoccur throughout jobs. However, data is much volatile, and hence assumptions are far less deterministic.

    Takeaway: Implementing rules for your machine shop scheduling (for example: we know that X equals Y so Y will always be Z), such as algorithm based assumptions, can be dangerous due the highly volatile and high velocity nature of a job shop's business.

    3) Don't lose too much visibility

    We have now more data at our fingertips than we can conceivably look at. This datas' plentifulness, while advantageous, can also make it difficult to sift through to the important stuff.

    In many systems, a tabular format is used to show the many jobs flowing through a shop. Tables can be great for holding many columns of data but the reality is that the timing around a job, including a clear picture of its anticipated delivery date, trumps all other measurable factors. And for visualizing the due dates around your jobs in relation to one another a tabular format can restrict overall visibility.

    Takeaway: Maintain or implement a machine shop scheduling system which allows for a complete visibility across your jobs and resource - especially as it pertains to job timing and projected delivery dates.

    You are a high-mixed-low-volume job shop manager and struggling with your machine shop schedule? Why don't you contact our scheduling experts and let them show you how to easily control and manage your resources, operations and orders with just plan it - a scheduling software specially designed for your requirements? Free of charge, of course!

    The Do's of machine shop scheduling:

    1) Maintain an agile system

    The ability to remain flexible in your job shop allows a much needed degree of adaptability which can ultimately save you in times of crisis. Remaining flexible means maintaining a machine shop schedule which allows you to not only view but quickly and effectively manipulate data (think drag and drop) to suite the current needs of your shop; even minute to minute.

    Takeaway: Ensure your machine shop scheduling system, whether homegrown or otherwise, is agile. This means that changes such as moving jobs to alternate resources or prioritizing one job above another are easy to make and easy to see.

    2) Use the volatile nature of the business to your advantage

    As a job shop you’ve been able to survive and establish yourself as a company most likely due to one major factor. Namely, you have a quality service which can deliver on time. This is a fact which cannot be emphasized enough as it is the nature of the small job shop (high-velocity, small batch size of often unique products) that gives this type of manufacturing its power.

    The best shops know that capitalizing on their strengths brings them further. And capitalizing on their strengths means excelling in the areas which have the most impact.

    Takeaway: Keep the largest emphasis on delivery times to your highest priority customers and of your most in demand services. Utilize a scheduling system with which you manage to have your machine shop schedule reflect this.

    3) Trust your intuition and keep balance

    Perhaps the most important “do” on the list is one quite often underrated in an age of computer dominance. The tacit knowledge assembled throughout your machine shop scheduling team over years of experience is not something to be taken for granted.

    This is why sole responsibility of scheduling in a small job shop should not be given 100% to an algorithm-based software. A software will not know that one technician is slightly better at handling a certain task than another or that specifications on a customer order have suddenly changed and require a different resource be assigned altogether.

    Takeaway: Technology has its place in today’s small job shop world and it is next to, not in place of, the planners and employees who make the work actually happen.

    This list is in no way exhaustive but it should provide an overview of some of fundamental lessons learned while working with myriad small job shops and their machine shop scheduling practices.

    Did you enjoy this post? Think something is missing from this list? Let us know in the comments.

    Free e-book for a deeper look

    Here is a free e-book for all job shop owners, plant managers and scheduling experts, that gives an introduction, best practices and requirements for an effective machine shop scheduling software - in case you need to bring your machine shop schedule to a next level.

    Get free Ebook Introduction to Machine Shop Scheduling


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