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Proven Production Scheduling Techniques

Visual Business Solutions

By: Jacques Pelletier

Production scheduling boils down to two very simple questions: “what should be done first?” and “who should do it?” In technical terms this is referred to as establishing “priorities” and “capacity,” both of which are used to determine the timing for performing a task – the simplest definition of production scheduling. 

Unfortunately, many manufacturers have trouble with production scheduling and for a number of reasons. Often they’re able to produce quality products and ship them on a timely basis to customers, but they struggle with a set of inadequate or inefficient planning and production processes, unreliable or inaccurate information, ad hoc responses to unexpected issues, and a myriad of other challenges to production efficiency and effectiveness. At the heart of the production scheduling problem is human decision-making that is too often based on guesswork, opinion, and faulty information. Fortunately, ERP systems were developed to address these very issues. 

There are three main benefits associated with production scheduling: 

  • It helps you understand how much of your manufacturing capacity is already occupied
  • It identifies possible future threats to on-time deliveries
  • It helps your production, procurement, and shipping departments work together as a team

To implement reliable and effective production scheduling, it’s important to:

  • Have a good definition and understanding of your resources and processes
  • Know your capacity for any of those resources
  • Update and maintain accurate times for production set-up, routings, and the cycle time for any routing operation
  • Keep and manage a calendar of availability of all resources and exceptions such as maintenance and downtime

Identify and avoid production scheduling bottlenecks

Constraints – more commonly known as “bottlenecks” -- are a main adversary of any efficient manufacturing operation. They can be defined as any facility, function, department, or resource whose capacity is equal to or less than the demand put upon it. Effective management of bottlenecks is a key to productivity and profitability.

The Theory of Constraints is a methodology for identifying bottlenecks that limit manufacturing and finding ways to improve or work around that bottleneck so that it is no longer a limiting factor in production. Often the fix is more expensive than the limitation, and so work-arounds and best-practices become the most efficient way to deal with bottlenecks.

Some recommendations for increasing capacity at a bottleneck include: 

  • Improving bottleneck processes as much as possible
  • Adding resources at the bottleneck operation when cost-effective
  • Adjust your production scheduling to minimize overall demand on the bottleneck
  • Always have a part in process at the bottleneck to avoid as much delay as possible
  • Always have the bottleneck working even when other operations are idle
  • Minimize downtime by adjusting maintenance schedules around the bottleneck and keeping resources available as much as possible to meet its needs

Sometimes, in an effort to minimize bottlenecks, manufacturers will fall prey to a desire to optimize set-up in an effort to improve production operations, but end up hurting their ability to produce the correct amount of quality goods in the amount of time required. The lesson here is don’t optimize for optimization’s sake. Some processes really are better left alone.

Production scheduling best practices

Production scheduling is a juggling act that requires keeping a lot of elements moving. This requires a level of focus and efficiency that can be challenging for anybody. In an effort to make production scheduling as easy as possible here are some best practices you can employ:

  • Optimize set-up where needed to ensure quick turnover on the production floor without sacrificing your ability to effectively produce goods
  • Work should be based on material availability as much as possible
  • Schedulers should have knowledge of what’s happening on the production floor at any time
  • Routings should reflect all the products that need to be built on the production floor
  • Schedules need to be able to change based on evolving priorities and available resources 

In manufacturing, every product in production is competing with other products for resources. Proper production scheduling is vital for bringing order to potential chaos and ensuring that all goods are produced in the right quantities at the right time.