Machine shops are defined - and often define themselves - by uncertainty and uniqueness. They typically produce highly customized products in low volumes, and their product mix varies constantly. Hence, machines are reconfigured over and over again, staff is required to learn and unlearn new procedures, new equipment and tool, and jobs have to be rescheduled with the ever changing customer specifications and deadlines. In such an environment, many machine shop owners decide to operate on an ad-hoc basis and to tolerate efficiency issues which never would be accepted in a high-volume shop. This blog post provides thoughts why even (or especially!) in this very volatile machine shop world, proper scheduling is a must do.
The giant impact of infinite vs. finite capacities
When you operate with unlimited resources, whether it involves manpower, machinery, or materials, there’s not a big effort required to orchestrate production operations. Literally spoken: You simply need to arrange your processes and press “go.” Indeed, with an infinite resource capacity there are no operational limits, any resource may be apportioned to any number of operations simultaneously. And, rather than focusing on effective ways to control wastes and lessen the constraints on your throughput metrics and run times, the emphasis is placed on developing efficient sales funneling techniques and marketing procedures.
Hence, in a shop with infinite resources, the rallying cry should be "sell, sell, sell".
However, when you conduct machine shop operations in a make-to-order setting, that type of freedom is unattainable. The inflexible delivery constraints that you deal with are subject to a variety of finite production capacities. Equipment and labor limitations, change-overs and waiting times, and multiple production dependencies conspire to generate a ‘situation-normal’ atmosphere on the floor which resembles thinly veiled bedlam. Which is exactly why some type of machine shop scheduling or planning system is required to organize your production tasks.
Means, as soon as your resources are constraint, your rallying cry should be "schedule, schedule, schedule".
Scheduling as the definitive solution to limited capacity
Even if you’ve somehow managed to orchestrate a tenuous production schedule, delivery times usually don't equal the sum of your production times. Trying to accurately deliver on-time, small batch orders to your various clients using mammoth white boards or an advanced Excel program is difficult. The lack of visibility and “what-if” scenarios presents daily challenges.
For example, what happens when:
- Some, or all of your key shift operators fail to show up?
- Your machinery experiences a malfunction and requires immediate repairs?
- Your inventories are inaccurate and an out-of-stock situation halts production?
- Materials deliveries aren’t made on time?
- Your biggest client requests a rush order for an intricate component?
- A current order requires a change in specifications or batch quantity?
And, these are just a few of the factors that can negatively hinder your delivery times.
Balancing production time with resources
Ongoing efforts are required to balance your production intricacies with continuous changes. Working from white boards or Excel ‘systems’ simply can’t cope with such excessive unpredictability. You need an effective method for managing your various constraints (like necessary waits) to organize floor activity and maintain on-time deliveries. Your business reputation depends on it.
With manual scheduling, you're basically compelled to conduct operations from a reactionary standpoint and often you find yourself being driven by your schedule (although we all agree that it should be the other way round). Consequently, there’s no proactive way to optimize your resources using this style of management.
Moreover, the lean principles which have proven so effective in large manufacturing assemblies break down when applied in a job shop setting because of the “custom” nature of the orders. This is exactly why introducing a dedicated machine shop schedule is so crucial. Read this blog post if you want to learn about job shop scheduling benefits.
A machine shop schedule provides solid answers
Essentially, everything boils down to intricate time management. Your customers need specific parts and components to maintain their production line activity, which means that any delayed shipments have a ripple effect; and you can’t afford to lose the confidence of your buyers.
By orchestrating a series of “what if” considerations, a machine shop schedule allows you to examine the impact new orders will have on your floor operations, and outlines possible avenues of optimization that improve your overall performance. For example:
You need to understand the impact a new order (or a change of order) will have on your current production.
- What are the related dependencies and waiting times?
- How will those dependencies influence current orders?
- Will the inclusion negatively affect completion times on another important batch?
- If so, which tasks can be rescheduled to ensure that both are completed on time?
You also need to incorporate your specific resource parameters.
- Will scheduled manpower be adequate to meet the new requirements?
- If not, how can you work around it?
- Are preventative maintenance tasks arranged to create the least amount of downtime?
- What if one of your materials deliveries is late?
Running a machine shop without a schedule is like flying blind
Trying to deal with these types of (typical) unexpected changes manually becomes more difficult as your business grows. For SMB’s, your total production time is what affects your profitability; and without accurate planning capabilities, you're basically operating blind.
However, developing an efficient machine shop schedule solves your time management dilemmas and eliminates operational obscurity. By generating comprehensive production transparency, it gives you the tools to increase your management proficiency, and improve your overall output. With highly visual “what if” situations, it accurately analyzes and portrays the production time constraints that influence your operation so that you can immediately comprehend the impact.
A machine shop schedule is important because it improves floor productivity, helps reduce wastes, and allows you to focus on your most important task—fulfilling your commitments to your customers on time, every time.