Life in the digital age is meant to be easier for manufacturers: rather than using spreadsheets to plot out potential production and logistics plans that attempt to meet customer needs within existing constraints, you’re supposed to be able to plan digitally—arriving automatically at the optimal route for your fleet to take from the factory floor to the distribution center, or the right production ratio to minimize downtime. This is where things like advanced planning and scheduling come in. They offer digital planning processes for the digital era, helping manufacturers to boost efficiency and limit disruptions.
Unfortunately, things don’t always go as smoothly as all that. Just because you implement an advanced planning and scheduling solution within your production or logistics network, that doesn’t mean that you’re automatically going to reap huge rewards in terms of ROI. Why? Because it’s possible to implement APS software in such a way that its planning optimizations either don’t succeed or can’t be implemented.
The question is: how can manufacturers avoid this fate? What steps can be taken to ensure that your APS is actually driving better decision-making and helping your planners to smooth out the entire value chain? In other words, what are the wrong ways to implement this kind of planning technology?
In a Planning Silo
Because APS technology typically doesn’t feature the transactional elements of, say, an ERP system, it’s surprisingly common to find that a given company has implemented its APS software in way that leaves it disconnected from the rest of its software ecosystem. For instance, in a factory where the digital planning flows aren’t connected to IT infrastructure used for order creation and management, planners might easily find themselves with the ability to generate production plans but no way to access the relevant demand information that would inform those plans. By the same token, plans might get generated that don’t reflect recent changes that have been to the production area, such as the introduction of a new machine or workflow, making them functionally useless.
To combat this kind of disconnect, it’s helpful to adopt a Postmodern ERP mindset. What does this mean in practice? Essentially that each element of your IT infrastructure, though separate, is able to communicate and interoperate with each other element. Your APS software, for instance, would be able to send plans to whatever system you were using to set routes and tours for the drivers in your fleet, just as it would be able to take in information from your order creation system to ensure that relevant constraints were being appropriately reflected in any production plans. At this point you might object that it sounds like we’re more focused on information silos than planning silos, but, in point of fact, when it comes to the world of APS the two are hard to separate. There’s a fluid relationship between plans and information, both of which need to flow freely from one value chain touchpoint to the next.
Without Real-time Data
We mentioned data in the section above, but we certainly didn’t exhaust the topic. It should come as no surprise that the more data APS systems have to work with, the more effectively they can provide workable plans. Likewise, it shouldn’t be shocking that the way to get the most out the analytics processes at work in a given APS solution is to do whatever you can to ensure that the information is up-to-date. For practical purposes, the epitome of each of these concerns is the integration of real-time data. This can and should include information from as many touchpoints on the value chain as possible—from data derived from IoT (intent of things) sensors on your factory floor to live fuel pricing and transport costs to inventory information recorded by smart containers and pallets.
If what we’re describing sounds suspiciously like the technology that powers Industry 4.0 (and its supply chain counterpart, Logistics 4.0), that’s because Industry 4.0 is one of the most important drivers of supply chain visibility and integration in the modern manufacturing space. As it happens, integration and visibility are precisely the factors that power dynamic, future-oriented plans that effectively account for changing conditions. The power to analyze data in such a way as to reach an optimal production plan in a complex environment is out there, but it’s much less valuable if it isn’t given the tools it needs to do its job.
Without a Heuristic for Execution
Okay, we’ve seen why implementing an APS system without access to data and without intra-operational visibility is a recipe for failure. But what else should supply chain and production planners avoid when working take their planning flows digital? Perhaps most importantly, you should make sure that your planning software has a clear path to actual execution. This is, in part, a matter of ensuring that you take the advice that we offered up in the first two sections, but it’s also a question of meeting certain operational requirements. Right now, in your production facilities, how are plans actually carried out? How do your floor managers, for instance, receive their marching orders, and what happens if plans need to change at the last minute? What mechanisms are already in place for feedback and accountability?
Once you have answers to these questions, you should be able to answer the follow-up questions: how can the personnel in charge of execution access plans as they’re created? How can they be alerted to updates? How can they give feedback on them? One of the biggest pitfalls—not just with regard to APS adoption—in the manufacturing sphere is underestimating how difficult it can be to turn theory into practice within the supply chain. Though there’s no one-size-fits-all approach here, the more successfully you’ve overcome the first two hurdles the better poised you’ll be for this one. If you can get buy-in from key stakeholders across the value chain, you can position your APS system as an integral part of your ongoing success. If not, you may struggle to achieve ROI.