Have you ever headed out for a family picnic, only to arrive and find your favorite meadow has been dug up to make way for a new housing development? Or left the house for a walk, and had it start pouring rain once you were ½ mile away? Did you have a contingency plan for that picnic, a backup location already selected? Were you carrying a raincoat in your backpack on that walk? These are examples of real-time planning in the regular world, but the concept transfers directly into the manufacturing realm in the form of being able to adjust and pivot as necessary. This real-time planning ability relies on more accurate demand forecasts, better visibility into the production line, and greater reporting functionality. In order for your company’s APS (advanced planning and scheduling) to be effective, let alone real-time, there are some contingencies that you’ll need to take into account.
It’s these contingencies we’re talking about today. The concrete steps you can take to establish the infrastructure needed for real-time planning capabilities. Some of the crucial factors that will need to be addressed are:
- Production line visibility
- Prudent deployment of the right technologies
- The development of a free-flowing data stream
- Appropriate use of automation techniques
And in order for these factors to be properly handled, there are IT steps to address—and questions to answer—beforehand. This list will cover the top 5 of these steps that will guide you toward implementing real-time planning for your organization.
1) A Robust IT Infrastructure
That free-flowing data stream? That’s going to require each site with data to share having the most robust network infrastructure possible. That doesn’t mean every location needs full gigabit access and the latest and greatest in AI-assisted routing technology. What is does mean is that for each location where data will be generated or analyzed, the wider the pipeline, the better. Real-time means just that, a latency time in milliseconds, not minutes. Data streams are growing, and the more IoT sensors you deploy, the more yours will grow as well. Having the backbone in place is step one to ensuring this data can flow as freely as possible and is a key piece of the real-time planning puzzle.
2) Digital Twins: Multiple Benefits from One Implementation
Digital twins have been around for some time now, but they’ve just hit their stride in recent years as the necessary technology matured, and their uses in manufacturing are myriad. When it comes to implementing real-time planning capabilities, there are two main aspects where digital twins really shine: predictive maintenance and modeling internal systems and processes.
The very same sensors you deployed to monitor the health of your production equipment can also provide the data input to fuel predictive analytics. This AI-based solution can combine real-time data with historical data to provide early warnings of impending downtime. Say one piece of machinery has a record of needing work every 30-45 days. Add to that information the fact that one particular module is reported as causing the majority of these faults. Your IoT sensors can detect when that module is approaching failure and alert your team to the upcoming disruption. Now they can perform the necessary maintenance during pre-scheduled downtime, averting any delays in production. The benefit to your real-time planning should be clear: without unplanned delays in production, your planners can be confident in the completion date of each run and plan accordingly.
At the same time, your digital twin can provide you a sandbox of sorts. A place to model upgrades and deployments, safe in the knowledge that your changes won’t affect the workforce. Once you’ve implemented a twin, you have a fully functioning model of your organization’s infrastructure, processes and all. Now, say you’re considering a new piece of networking hardware. You can insert it into the model and run simulations of daily operations to see how it will integrate with your existing network. If there are problems, you’ll know about them pretty quickly and can make the adjustments needed to smooth things back out. And all of this is happening in the safety of your digital twin, so your real-world operations are unaffected. Once you’re confident in the hardware’s settings, you can deploy it to the physical network with confidence. And again, the benefits to your real-time planning goals are huge, you’ve removed the chance of causing disruptions to company workflow, meaning planners can continue their activities knowing that the network will be there to support them.
A step that is often overlooked, much to the detriment of the whole APS process, is documentation. To ensure that every stakeholder has the information they need to conduct their stages of every business process, documentation is critical. Establishing what’s called a “single source of truth,” or SSOT, early on is a best practice we’d love to see more organizations take advantage of. This refers to a single repository for all manuals, spreadsheets, and data sources for your process documentation. Executives often cite lack of access to the information they need as a major factor in delayed decision making. Don’t let that happen to your company. Create an SSOT, then assign a “gatekeeper,” doling out access as appropriate and as needed to ensure everyone has immediate access to the specific data they need to make timely decisions and adjust plans in real-time.
4) Prudent Use of Industry 4.0 Technologies
Industry 4.0 is here. There are myriad ways to implement this set of technologies that will serve you now and going into the future. On the production floor, IoT sensors rely data about production levels and machine health to the back office for analysis, allowing adjustments on the fly and prescriptive downtime to keep the equipment functioning at full capacity. At the loading dock and throughout logistics, RFID tags and smart pallets allow inventory to be tracked in real-time. And in the office, advanced analytics, powered by AI, can be used to parse the data coming in from both ends of the supply chain, allowing for further adjustments to be made instantly.
5) Integrate Wherever Possible
The more dashboards, management consoles, and wikis a planner has to consult, the longer the decision making process will take and the farther away from real-time you’ll be. The SSOT discussed above is one solid step you can take toward integrating all of your data sources. The next step in the progression is to implement an integrated SCM solution. This will bring all of the data coming in from divergent sources, locations, and systems, and give your planners one single place to look no matter which phase of the value chain they’re working with.