In his seminal work of economic theory, “The Wealth of Nations,” Adam Smith famously uses a pin factory as his example to illustrate a number of basic concepts in what was then modern capitalism. Today, the production of something as simple as a pin can essentially be a global affair. In all likelihood, your production facility needs to receive shipments of raw material from elsewhere in the world via a complex set of routes and distribution points. The factory itself may be part of a larger, international organization with diffuse planning processes taking place in parallel all across the world. And the finished product, once it’s been produced, might be sent anywhere in the world—after all, people all of all nationalities and backgrounds sometimes need pins.
The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry—and nowhere is that more true in the worlds of manufacturing and supply chain management. Sometimes it seems like even the most visible and adaptable supply stream is always one disruption away from chaos. For production planners in particular, you’re constantly battling the risk that new, unexpected orders will come in and you won’t know how to slot them into your existing flows, or that a machine on your production floor will break down and bring your whole operation grinding to a halt. To some extent, occurrences like these are just a fact of life. But that doesn’t mean planners can’t work to prevent them, just as it doesn’t mean that planners can’t work to gain more value from the processes that are already working smoothly.
Let’s say you have to schedule a medium-sized meeting with some of your coworkers. If you’re a traditionalist who likes to do this kind of scheduling by hand, you’ll first need to brainstorm a list of which people (i.e. which creative and organizational resources) will need to be in attendance. Then, you’ll have to pick a time that works for you, and check with each person on the list to see if that time also works with their schedules. In the extremely likely event that the time does not work for everyone, you’ll need a master list of everyone’s availabilities so that you can find a time slot that works for everyone. Or, if not everyone, then at least the largest possible number of vital attendees.
If there’s one thing today’s planners and managers wish they had to ensure their planning and production strategies, it would be a crystal ball. A magical ability to glimpse into the future in order to cut the complexity and uncertainty of modern manufacturing and provide a path of stability and certainty in a variant-rich value stream. While a crystal ball is obviously an impossibility, planners and managers do have a critical tool to help predict future planning and production needs while at the same time managing inventory levels and job allocation strategies for maximum efficiency and productivity.
Intelligent production programs begin well before materials hit the production room floor. Even with an optimized production sequence with the latest in production technology platforms, today’s manufacturing companies cannot fully realize an efficient manufacturing cycle without a transparent, agile intelligent planning architecture.
Consider the idea of a hybrid car. A platform that combines elements of power via electricity and those of traditional gasoline. Each side of the coin provides its own set of benefits and liabilities for motorists, but when combined hybrid vehicles leverage the best of each fuel type to enhance both the driving experience and the benefits of green energy and technology.
It’s the holiday season. You’re planning a big meal for friends and family. You’ve decided on the menu, selected recipes, made a list of ingredients, and identified the tools you need to actually prepare the meal. You’ve made a prep list, blocked off time in your day to actually put the ingredients together and cook. And in completing all these tasks ahead of time, you’ve given yourself enough of a base to finish the meal on-time, within budget, and in the most pleasurable way possible.
There’s a saying when it comes to American football: Games are won during the prep time between Monday and Saturday, not on the field Sunday. Understanding the opponent and creating a strategy or scheme to combat that opponent actually has more value than how the players perform or the events that happen during the game. And the same is true for today’s manufacturing landscape and how planning and production strategy are the most important aspects of a successful production cycle.
There are a number of tools manufacturing companies have at their disposal to help solidify planning and production strategy at the front end of the production cycle. Procurement. Resource allocation. Job allocation. These are valuable in helping companies chart an accurate course for efficient production based on market and customer demands. But while these safeguards in demand planning give manufacturing companies some level of insight and maneuverability in responding to alterations in rules or restraints in production programs, many of the most significant events or occurrences in today’s global manufacturing supply chain happen in the moment and without much warning or advance notice.
Topics: Planned Production Programs
Imagine trying to walk a tightrope. You must have incredible balance, be extraordinary nimble, and understand the nuances of each step as you complete your journey from one side to other. You also have to account for the context in which you’re walking the tightrope: weather or climate conditions, barriers or impediments along the wire, or other significant hurdles along the way. In short, to successfully negotiate such a challenge, the tightrope walker has to execute a number of tasks in quick succession (or sometimes simultaneously) to make it from Point A to Point B.
The same is true for demand capacity planning in today’s manufacturing and logistics landscape. Particularly in variant-rich industries, the proposition of balancing demand and capacity - the amount of product or component parts needed to successfully fill orders and maintain efficient production schedules versus the sheer volume of components and parts required on-hand at all times - is intricate and complex. Many supply chain analysts and manufacturing industry insiders believe, even given today’s technology via integrated planning systems, that this issue is at the core of supply network logistics, especially given expansion and growth into emerging markets in new parts of the world.
To understand the importance of aligning planning and execution, think about the task of writing a memo or some kind of office communication. What’s the best strategy for effectively communicating ideas to peers? Do you compose the email in one session without filtering what you want to say or the information you want to convey, only then to go back and reread and edit the email at some later date? Or (and perhaps mostly likely, at least for many people), do you compose the email and edit as you go, deleting phrases, substituting words, or changing ideas and adapting the information in the moment as necessary for the best possible communication?
Odds are the most common method of emailing is the latter where edits and alterations are made in real-time as thoughts, ideas, and information hits you during the composing process. Where the first example may be a relic of the past when typewriters or handwritten correspondence was the norm, digital communication and the capacity to edit, rewrite, and revise in the moment means greater maneuverability in creating moments for effective, streamlined, and more productive communication. Where writing and editing/revising were at one time two distinct processes, today these functions are more or less integrated into one function with a greater level of process efficacy.