In chess, players are taught to think at least three moves ahead. Every action in the game has a reaction, which can be predicted only to a certain extent, and each possible reaction must be planned for in order to efficiently execute a winning strategy. If each piece on the board represents mission critical resources and manpower, then your short- and mid-term planning must take a holistic account of the board and the structure of the game into account in order to be certain that time and resources are not wasted.
For the modern manufacturer, the job shop is in many respects like a chessboard. Manufacturers must decide which machines and which processes (i.e. which jobs) should be used in what sequence in order to minimize makespan while meeting specific customer requirements. To do this, it is important to “see the whole board,” so to speak, gaining a deeper understanding of the complex relationship between different jobs. For many, the best solution is to utilize job shop scheduling (JSS), a method for optimizing job shop processes in order to reduce makespan. Here are some interesting facts about JSS
1. Though it has traditionally done by hand, efficient job shop scheduling actually represents a complex operations problem
All manufacturers seek to move products through their production environments as efficiently as possible, but doing so requires short- and mid-term plans that account for rules, restraints, part availability, machine and operator capacity, and other factors—a task too complex to be done optimally in an Excel spreadsheet. In fact, it is a task that computer scientist and operations researchers have been trying to perfect for many years. Not only does one risk information siloes and opaque planning structures by tackling scheduling by hand, but one virtually ensures that the optimal route through the job shop for each product won’t be implemented. As a solution, JSS can offer manufacturers a concrete, efficient plan, based on all relevant parameters, for:
- Order creation
- Mapping out machine, material, and employee usage and the interrelations between them
- Workflow optimization
In so doing, it offers a reduction in siloization, and a move toward intelligent planning, with an increase in clarity across the value chain.
2. It helps make the most of flexible systems
Unlike continuous flow production facilities, job shops present companies with an operational environment that is flexible by design. Products don’t necessarily move from one machine to the next in a particular, endlessly iterated order; instead, different jobs take place at different times, each one related (or unrelated) to the other in a fluid and nuanced way. As we saw above, this level of flexibility can be daunting, presenting significant planning challenges and opening up the possibility of waste and inefficiency. Flexibility, however, is also a great virtue. Thus, by alleviating the logistical and operational pressures that stem from the job shop environment, job shop scheduling does more than solve it problem: it helps manufacturers to reclaim the power of flexible processes. With JSS cutting through the inherent complexity of these processes, flexibility can become a value-added proposition, bolstering agility and giving planners more room for creativity and innovation.
3. JSS creates planning stability
In addition to promoting increased clarity and agility, JSS helps to create a firm operational foundation on which to build and reproduce optimal production processes. This, in turn, gives planners new freedoms and improved foresight. With a stably built process, bottlenecks and other potential hiccups become much easier to predict, and businesses can take steps to address disruptions in the supply stream. The end result is an environment in which predictable day-to-day processes pave the way for improved maneuverability and longer-term intelligent planning.
4. It also promotes future-oriented planning
By the same token, the increased visibility and stability that JSS promotes also paves the way for much more effective long-term planning. Rather than basing decisions on past needs and outdated, opaque information, companies that make use of job shop scheduling can take a forward-looking approach, utilizing a number of tools designed to break the patterns of backward-facing planning, including:
- Real-time production feedback, including alerts, error messages, and other critical notifications
- What-if scenarios for different job allocations
- Highly-visible timetables and production programs
- Industry 4.0 supply chain integration
The result is that OEMs can increasingly make decisions based on highly-accurate, up-to-the-minute information. Not only does this wealth of mission critical information promise a boost in short-term efficiency, it offers manufacturers the chance to think bigger, leveraging new optimizations in the production processes into a more cost effective supply network overall.
5. It can be integrated into existing planning and production platforms to synergize with the entire supply chain
By now it should be fairly clear that job shop scheduling is about more than just production processes. Yes, JSS helps businesses to think three moves ahead, maximizing their value added on the production floor, but its effects extend to many aspects of supply chain management. With increased visibility surrounding manufacturing processes in particular, companies can turn new efficiencies and insights into actionable data about the relationship between supply streams, throughput, and customer demands, all while decreasing overall makespan. Ultimately, this type of data-driven approach will form the pillar of any industry 4.0 supply chain, leading to cutting-edge improvements across your organization.