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How to Prevent Customer Changes From Killing Your Production Schedule

Visual Business Solutions
By:Jamie Bzdok

Lean manufacturing is now a way-of-life for many manufacturers; its principles, methodologies and process have helped hundreds, possibly thousands of manufacturers in all sizes and industries cut waste and inventories while speeding up production.

However, some Lean manufacturers are faced with increasing customer pressure to maintain more inventory than the manufacturer would like. This is often a result of the customer’s inability to plan accurately and the desire to reduce lead times as much as possible. However, maintaining too much inventory, of course, runs counter to the very core of Lean manufacturing principles.

One of the most effective – and the most obvious – strategies for minimizing customer disruptions of your production schedule is to spend the time and effort to really understand their manufacturing and inventory needs, sales cycles, and distribution. By gaining a comprehensive picture of how their sales and distribution system works, it becomes easier to anticipate production and scheduling needs.

In today’s high-speed manufacturing environment, production items -- from raw materials to subsystem components -- are flowing through the manufacturing process at very high rates, with constant pressure from customers to reduce lead times. To accommodate this level of manufacturing and production schedule timing, it can be valuable to have customers provide you with their forecasts.  The data from these can be imported into a flexible ERP system to more accurately evaluate material needs and production schedule requirements. By integrating your customers’ forecasting into your resource planning and production scheduling system you can better react to their needs and even anticipate changes or other potential glitches that could disrupt your production schedule.

Your ability to react positively to any customer changes that can adversely affect your production schedule is directly related to how well you maintain and utilize your ERP system. For example, if your company uses an ERP scheduling module in addition to Lean methodologies and focusing on products that actually ship out the door, you can more effectively prioritize your production schedule and proactively address customer needs to minimize disruptions. An ERP system enables you to quickly see where you need to add or shift capacity to accommodate customer requirements. 

Properly implemented, the right ERP system enables you to run “what if” scenarios that can help you determine how changes will impact your production schedule. You can then communicate with customers in a timely manner to avoid unnecessary changes, or inform them of additional costs incurred by unforeseen last-minute revisions early enough in the production cycle to help avoid damaging customer relations.

Good customer communications are key for building and maintaining a successful and profitable partnership relationship. End-to-end manufacturing process visibility that comes with a well-maintained, sophisticated ERP system enables you to stay ahead of most manufacturing issues or help you make well-informed decisions to minimize their impact.

Jaime Bzdok