What Is Machine Shop Scheduling?

    Martin Karlowitsch
    June 20, 2016

    In recent years, the ability to combine software technology with lean ideals has transformed the way large manufacturers orchestrate their supply chain, resources, and production runs. As result, we today know a plethora of sophisticated production scheduling and planning systems, which come with powerful optimization algorithms. These algorithms though depend on being fed with highly specialized and always current data. Consequently, these enterprise-class scheduling systems fall short when applied in an SMB manufacturing environment such as is the case for most make-to-order job shops. This blog post outlines characteristics why SMB machine shop scheduling is specific, and why it differs from production scheduling in large enterprises.

    Constant change as the only constant

    Here is what makes a small machine shop really unique - and also "interesting" from a scheduling point of view: any machine shop can be characterized by the phenomenon of "constant change". Typically, the machine shop's scope is a high variety of products to be manufactured in very small batch sizes. Predictability is low as new jobs often are won short term with the customer requesting a quick delivery. As change is the one constant in a job shop's day-to-day business, also the schedule must get changed constantly.

    Controlled chaos

    For that, you need to successfully coordinate your orders and inventory with your resources (manpower and machinery), while simultaneously adjusting to fluctuating variables like change orders, deadline alterations, and logically dependent jobs.

    pixabay_smarties-50838_1920.jpgEven if you are using an enterprise resource planning system (ERP), your daily production schedule probably depends on immense whiteboards or Excel-based “systems” that do not adequately deal with the constant changes and resources conflicts you experience. When a customer requests a rush order, there’s no way to easily see the impact it will have, or to modify your shop schedule in order to minimize the effect. So, rather than be able to support lean methods enabling your "close to batch size 1" type of business, you spend most of your time in a reactive mode, scrambling to maintain production targets so that you can meet shipment deadlines. This type of controlled chaos makes it difficult to ensure happy customers. Without the benefits and efficiency gains that can be orchestrated through mass production, you must ensure that the quality and timeliness of your throughput builds your reputation; but that is very difficult to orchestrate manually.

    Common Scheduling Issues

    Both ERP systems and Excel-based scheduling "systems" can’t effectively address the scheduling factors that you need to juggle in make-to-order (custom fabrication) operation, which include:

    • Delivery Times and Commitments—managing numerous small batch orders with the ability to integrate continual additions, rush orders, and changes to existing orders in an on-going production schedule. The problem with most traditional methods is that you don’t have any ability to observe the consequences these changes create on the floor.

    • Finite Capacity Scheduling—optimizing machine utilization so that inactivity and overlapping are minimized. This is especially important in machine shops with orders that consist of a number of logically dependent operations. With whiteboards or Excel, the sequential movement requires an excessively manual approach, so your scheduler is basically running the floor, desperately trying to coordinate tasks.

    • Inventory and Materials Availability—your own materials inventory also effects scheduling your shop floor operations. If you’re operating with a JIT (just in time) or ASAP (as soon as possible) system, unforeseen interruptions in deliveries means rearranging your shop schedule to ensure that production continues despite the lack.

    • Labor and Resource Management—your schedule must adapt to fluctuations in labor and machine operation parameters that include unplanned work absences, machine breakdowns and normal PM schedules.

    All of these conditions are also subject to your particular order priorities and machine run-times. Your mission critical goal of delivering high quality parts and components to your customers on time means that you must establish a system that eliminates obscurity. Machine shop scheduling software delivers exactly that.      

    Machine Shop Scheduling 101      

    Lean manufacturing practices can be created in a make-to-order environment. Specialized software that employs visual machine shop Gantt charts substantially increases your visibility into floor activity and offers a comprehensive, yet alterable production schedule that integrates all of the volatile factors you deal with each day. And an effective scheduling system will make actionable provisions, including:    

    • When rush orders are placed, shop scheduling software produces instant “what if” analyses so that you can confidently project completion times and provide accurate delivery dates to your customers.      
    • For orders that require a variety of temporal movements, shop scheduling software delivers a visually integrated alternative, which allows you to instantly comprehend production dependencies to optimize machine usage and production time.
    • If the shop scheduling software is cloud-based software it does not require extensive, costly, or difficult infrastructure changes. You won’t need to spend time training your staff or make investments in additional IT personnel. Keep the attention on maintaining quality and timely deliveries, rather than introducing complicated new systems.  

    Basically, effective machine shop scheduling software makes it easy for you to manage your production schedule without headaches or lost revenue from missed deadlines. It provides you with the ability to easily adapt to the myriad changes you face each day in order to maximize your productivity, reduce wastes, and build your reputation for dependable quality and service. 

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