I was exhibiting recently at a national ERP user conference where the show attendees are users of several different manufacturing ERP systems. The messaging displayed at our tradeshow booth to these attendees is basically (and I’m paraphrasing here) – “We Can Fix Your Production Scheduling Problems!”.

I Just Need To Be Able To Answer 3 Simple Questions

Over the course of the show we had many visitors to our booth but on the last day of the show one Manufacturing ERP user in particular stood out. After confirming with us that we “do Scheduling”, and in a rather exasperated tone stated, “_I just need to be able to answer 3 simple questions_”. The three questions laid in front of me were:

  1. What job should I work on next (shop-wide, or in any dept/work center)?
  2. Where is the job, how is it progressing?
  3. How can I tell my customer – with confidence! – when they’re going to get their order?

Here was a Manufacturing Operations professional (VP of Operations if I recall correctly) using a Manufacturing ERP system that had some level of Production Scheduling functionality embedded in it, and he is struggling to answer these 3 fundamental questions. In that moment I thought to myself, every person in any company that has a manufacturing shop floor really needs to be able to answer these questions. To rub salt in the wound, he had just gone to his system’s “session” on its Scheduling functionality and he came away with no hope of getting closer to his quest, the enhancements that were touted as “coming soon” were not going to even come close to answering his three questions.

What’s Happening in Manufacturing

I began to ask myself, what’s happening out there? The reality is that ERP has had scheduling functionality embedded in it since the 1980’s. So how can a Manufacturing professional, now almost 1/5 of the way into the twenty-first century, still be grappling with how to answer these fundamental questions about the heart of his company?

Here is the first of a four-part blog series I will publish in the coming weeks. For this first part, let’s look at each fundamental at a high-level:

#1. What are most shops using to prioritize jobs, and is it working? If you were really to get down to brass tacks and actually follow an order or two through the shop, you’d probably be surprised. We think jobs are being prioritized in a certain way, but the reality of the situation may be something completely different. Operators, and even their supervisors, may be using various priority systems – formal or informal – within the same shop. Truly, the heart of a manufacturing company is the shop floor where production happens; the way work flows through your shop is directly related to the health of your company, much like proper blood-flow is necessary for your good health. So it’s important to know what’s happening out there now, but equally important is understanding what prioritization method should be used to allow for maximum flow and the greatest health quotient for your company.

#2. Knowing ‘where the job is’ can be valuable information but even that can be problematic. Just because you may know ‘where it is’, knowing how it’s progressing against its due date is another thing altogether. A job’s current status – knowing ‘where it is’ (in what work center) and whether it is currently waiting or being worked on should be simple if you’re already tracking job status in your ERP. But many companies are not asking staff to log on/off jobs, and further, they find the added work required is not worth the extra information. This is true especially if companies don’t believe the costing information in the system, or if they can’t use the actual times in a “scheduling” tool. But at the end of the day, there should be a simpler way to allow the shop floor staff to easily record completion information on operations versus having to log on/off every operation on every job.

From a company’s perspective it can be good to see ‘what’s been done’, but how do they know what’s still left to accomplish and how they’re planning to get that remaining work done by the due date? For example, if there’s two weeks to go on a job, does it simply need just another few hours in De-burr, Inspection and it’s done? Or does it still need to go outside to Heat Treating, and then through six other operations once it gets back here? These are tough questions for today’s ERP system’s to answer in even the best run shops and is directly related to the bigger picture question laid out in #3 below.

#3. Here is what I see as the million-dollar question manufacturers want to be able to answer: Given all the other commitments that have been made to our current customers for delivery dates, now along comes a new customer (or maybe a very good existing customer I want to please – or even an existing order my customer now wants expedited two weeks earlier than what I originally committed to), how then do I go about knowing how to confidently answer that? And why hasn’t the scheduling program in my ERP helped me with that? Isn’t that what it’s supposed to do??

In future articles, we will look more closely at each of the shop-floor fundamental questions by going further into the reasons for the struggle and providing some solutions to finally be able to provide answers that make sense so you can gain visibility of what’s happening in your shop and have the confidence to answer these questions for your internal and external customers who want to know.