Software for HMLV production scheduling should include these functions

    August 30, 2022
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    Even make-to-order or engineering companies, that previously planned their production with pen and paper or possibly with Excel must face up to digitization. Cost pressure, competition, and growth - are all reasons why manufacturers of very customized products must now open up to software-supported production scheduling. Of course, the search for a suitable solution is time-consuming. Plus: since the scheduling processes of these manufacturers, who produce a high variation of products in low quantity are very complex and not standardized, finding the right solution becomes a difficult task.

    There are many software solutions on the market, which promise that with their help production can be controlled super efficiently and easily. When it comes to the market of small make-to-order manufacturers, the choice quickly becomes very small. Why is that?
    Well, for one thing, these small job shops are not the focus of the large ERP/MES/APS solution providers because the expected revenue is rather small due to their size. On the other hand, these large production planning and scheduling systems with their many optimization functions are suited to companies that produce in high volumes, where an optimization algorithm can then develop its full effect. And finally, it is really a challenge to build a functioning scheduling software with little standardization in production.

    So what functions do make-to-order or any kind of high-mix low-volume production companies need comparing to those that produce low-mix high-volume oriented?

    Let's first look at the differences between the two production methods and then summarize the special scheduling requirements of HMLV production companies.

    Fundamental differences in production between LMHV and HMLV manufacturers

    LMHV manufacturers sell mass products, i.e., products of the same type in large quantities. Instead, the products of HMLV manufacturers are planned according to the individual needs of their customers. They are manufactured in small quantities.

    LMHV manufacturers have a long planning horizon - they often have long customer relationships with regular acceptance of their products. They know their market well and can make forecasts about future sales. The high level of automation in this manufacturing process reduces the use of labor. The operations are relatively consistent. Due to the high use of machinery, the data quality that can be obtained in the production process typically is very high. Approaches to optimization lie, for example, in a reduction of set-up times, reduction of inventory costs, and improved machinery use. In this case, for example, an improvement in machine occupancy, even if it is only in the cent range, can have a high savings effect because of the high number of pieces.

    In contrast, the manager of a job shop or HMLV manufacturer never knows exactly when the next order will arrive and what its production structure will look like. This means that the planning horizon is very short, and the production structure per order is very complex and individual. Therefore, a good overview of the entire order network with all its operations and dependencies is hard or even impossible to achieve. Rescheduling is a standard task for the planner, and on the other hand, he must always make sure that delivery dates are met. The overall environment of the HMLV manufacturer is much more volatile and unstable compared to the LMHV producer.

    HMLV manufacturers are usually not very digitally oriented, i.e., their data situation is very imprecise. They often still plan roughly with paper and pencil, or with Excel.

    Employees of an HMLV manufacturer play a crucial role in manufacturing because assembly tasks and operating or setting up a machine are a large part of the production process. They are typically very well-trained and versatile.

    Different requirements for production scheduling software

    The above-mentioned differences in the production processes result in different scheduling requirements. Consequently, scheduling software must be completely different if you want to determine the production order sequence for either LMHV or HMLV manufacturers.

    Since the planning environment is very stable for LMHV manufacturers, reliable input data can be generated. This applies both to incoming orders and to the duration of operations and resource allocation. Optimization solutions for this given planning environment can be easily calculated using mathematical heuristics. The software's specifications as to when which task is to be executed in which batch size is then a fixed specification for production.

    We have seen above that this stable planning environment is lacking when it comes to HMLV manufacturers. Accurate input data also exists just to a small degree. Digitization in the production process is not very advanced and data collection of shop floor progress is usually non-existent. Inaccurate data leads to erroneous calculations. Hence, optimization calculations are not realistic or even prove to be outdated after a short time.

    It is more important for HMLV manufacturers to be able to react efficiently and effectively to the dynamics in the schedule with the help of software. This includes the planner being able to quickly find production orders that run in danger to be late and identify bottlenecks or capacity gaps. If he gets this information quickly, he can make rescheduling decisions easier. Then, a good HMLV scheduling software should automatically recalculate the entire production order network including the resulting resource allocation.

    The most important functions a scheduling software for HMLV production should have

    To sum it up: if you are looking for suitable scheduling software for your make-to-order or any high-mix low-volume production company, look for these features:

    • graphical planning board to get an overview of the entire schedule, including visual aids, e.g. to warn of missed delivery dates, bottlenecks, etc

    • option to manual intervene in the schedule 

    • automatic rescheduling by a simple scheduling engine without optimization and with an ASAP planning strategy

    • integrated feedback system to collect data from the shop floor

    • consideration of workers' skills in the scheduling algorithm

    • interfaces to Excel or other ERP systems, or to use as stand-alone

    • easy to use, to quickly start without long training effort

    • cloud solution to avoid additional installation, maintenance, and update costs.

    Insights from many years of experience

    Why do we know so well what requirements these manufacturers have for production scheduling software? Because we have developed software that was designed precisely for this type of manufacturing, which is constantly being further developed in close cooperation with make-to-order companies. just plan it thus precisely reflects the special requirements and helps HMLV manufacturers to grow.

    Further readings

    We have summarized our experiences on production scheduling in a high-mix low-volume production environment in an ebook, explaining the special concept of just plan it in an easy-to-understand way. Feel free to download a version and check whether it also covers your ideal of software-supported scheduling in your company. If you find something that you think is not yet covered but is important for your production scheduling, please reach out to us. We always look for new challenges to make our software the best production scheduling solution for HMLV manufacturers.

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