Agile Production Planning is a Home Run for Supply Chains

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Today’s supply chain managers are like batters in baseball waiting for the next pitch, only to receive a constant string of curveballs that disrupt operations and jeopardize the ability to fulfill customer orders:   Spikes in demand. Backordered raw materials. Pandemic-related labor shortages. Equipment breakdowns.

Without modern digital tools that allow production planning to flex based on wildly changing conditions, it could be a strike out.

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Digitization covers the bases

A solid game plan starts with digitization. Digitization is the process of is transforming information into a digital format: Spreadsheets, maintenance logs, equipment downtime, inventory levels – everything that impacts the ability to satisfy customer demand.

In the past, it might have been enough for supply chain planners to churn out the same volumes every year, tweaking them up or down based on the most recent demand numbers. Planning of this sort, even in today’s digital manufacturing landscape, is still often completed in Excel or manually entered in comparable programs, which provides very little in the way of centralized data sharing and often results in functional silos across a company’s various touch points. 

As manufacturing organizations become more complex, optimizing production from a tangle of legacy systems, siloed data, spreadsheets, workers’ institutional knowledge and other factors becomes nearly impossible for an individual—or group of individuals—to manage. Only once your whole network has been effectively digitized can you begin to use advanced analytics and other technologies to optimize these structures for modern planning flows.

Playbook for success

But to achieve the level of flexibility needed to adapt to today’s supply chain volatility, you need more than just digitization – you need a state-of-the-art planning system. Integrating data from a variety of sources across the supply stream with analytics algorithms allows planners to visualize the plant’s capacity relative to likely demand and identify the optimal path forward. Agile planning solutions can provide this, in addition to being flexible and adaptive when events occur. With order scheduling and sequencing solutions, production planners can schedule orders while maintaining a high level of flexibility and ensuring stability throughout production, even in the event of high fluctuations in demand.

A winning solution

To better understand how digitalization and agile planning systems can optimize production, consider the case of a light truck manufacturer that wanted to increase productivity at one of its plants. With an agile planning solution, planners have a clear view of the status of all production lines and components. The plant can react flexibly to fluctuations in market demand and schedule order changes based on assured material availability. Orders that cannot be built are identified early and can be rescheduled with sufficient lead time. In this way, preventive measures can be taken in good time and supply bottlenecks avoided.

In another example, an auto manufacturer used agile digital solutions to more effectively launch two new vehicle lines, three engine lines and related axle production. The complex scheduling requirements needed to take into account different order types, separate throughput times per order, a variety of process flows and a high degree of special case orders. Agile planning solutions allowed them to easily monitor the current factory status and the planned and unplanned orders and evaluate throughput times including a plan versus actual comparison. The result is a stable production line with an extremely customer-specific sequencing that optimizes workflows in real time.

Production planners realize the supply chain volatility of the past two years is quickly becoming the new normal, requiring flexible solutions that improve efficiency, visibility, and collaboration. Agile technologies can provide the insights needed to slot and schedule production more efficiently and improve productivity along the way. And that’s a home run for manufacturers.

Find out more in our Guide to Transformation of Manufacturing Processes:

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