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.
Let’s think about the idea of bifocals moment. Essentially, bifocals combine two different focal lengths or intensities into one cohesive line or path of vision. Whether you have difficulty seeing great distances or difficulty seeing images up close, bifocals allow you to experience an enhanced visibility by bringing two seemingly disparate functions into one harmonious operation.
Now, what do bifocals have to do with production scheduling? Well, just like how bifocals combine two distinct modes of vision, production scheduling combines two distinct elements of the manufacturing cycle into one optimized function: sales forecasting and production planning. By combining these two elements of the production process, companies can not only increase their internal visibility, but they also have the ability increase productivity, accuracy, and agility, each of which is a core driver in enhancing customer service and client relations.
Because production scheduling brings together so many aspects of the production process under one umbrella (everything from the procurement of raw materials to job allocation to monitoring the movement and transport of finished product to ensure on-time delivery), the traditional silo structure often found in global supply chain logistics is broken down and manufacturing companies can better integrate all parts of the manufacturing cycle to better equip themselves to address disruptions or breakdowns in variant-rich industries.
It’s summer. You’re planning a big road trip. You’ve consulted maps, charted a route, marked off places to refuel your car, grab a quick bite to eat, maybe use the restroom. You’ve maybe even planned a few alternate routes in case of road construction or other disruptions, and you’ve even simulated your route using GPS, Google Maps, or some other smart mapping platform. And in doing so, you’ve worked ahead of time to ensure the most pleasureable road trip experience and to troubleshoot any potential issues with getting from point A to point B.
You might be asking: What does planning a road trip have to do with manufacturing or global supply chain management? The answer is simple: The ability to successfully plan an undisrupted road trip is not entirely dissimilar to creating table and efficient planned production programs to meet customer demand in a timely manner. Especially in short and mid-term planning, manufacturing companies have to account for the ability to receive orders, allocate resources and production sites, ensure inventory, and meet delivery timetables, all based on a number of rules and restraints in the production cycle.
Because of the global nature of today’s automotive supply chain, slowdowns or valleys in production programs are constantly on the minds of OEMs and others across the supply stream. With so many disparate parts of the world now in play with production, distribution, warehousing, or transportation hubs, holidays, seasonal lulls, and other brands of disruption in terms of productivity can not only be frustrating for various players in the automotive landscape, but they can also be significant pain points for companies who do not utilize this time effectively.
For example, take a recent article in the commerce publication MarketWatch suggested this past summer was atypical in terms of production levels - at least throughout Europe, primarily in Germany - with manufacturing continuing at a brisk pace throughout the usual summer slow season, many within the global automotive supply chain still experienced lulls in orders and planned production programs. With so many employees on vacation and crucial parts of the supply stream in something of a holding pattern as the industry prepares for the busy fall season, it’s tempting to view the summer months as nothing more than downtime - a breather from the harried spring ramp-up in production. Given the 24/7, 365-nature of today's automotive industry, this summer slowdown instance is just one example of periods when production can slow and productivity can wain.
In any business, the right proportion of personnel and resources are critical drivers in fostering productivity, efficiency, and success in both the short and long-term. Companies must have the right people in the right positions with access to the right tools in order to ensure tasks are completed effectively, on-schedule, and with a high-degree of accuracy and quality. Shortcomings or misallocations in either personnel or resources can spell disaster for companies, particularly those competing in variant-rich industries on a large, global scale.
Much the same can be said for OEMs in the automotive supply chain especially when it comes to allocating machines and resources within a given hub for planned production programs. Planners and managers must leverage a finely-tuned strategy of available machines and resources in order to create effective short and mid-term planning platforms. Such platforms are then critical in ensuring on-time delivery, combating potential bottlenecks or breakdowns, and fostering robust, efficient production programs with the visibility and agility necessary in today’s ever-evolving supply stream.
Principles like machine and resource scheduling - along with intelligent, integrated planning solutions like job shop scheduling - provide planners and managers with the insights necessary to properly assign production programs based on a number of defined parameters, restraints, and rules.
As we approach the midpoint of summer, OEMs kick production into high gear to meet demand for component parts and ensure on-time deliverability to customers across the globe. With spring and fall being the busiest time of year for auto retailers and dealers, OEMs and other third-party manufacturers ramp up production during the summer to meet upcoming demand from consumers.
It’s pretty simple logic: the more parts in production, the greater the need for efficient, streamlined processes to ensure the proper quantity of parts arrive at the right place and at the right time to facilitate production schedules.
It can be a hectic few months, a peak production season fraught with the potential for disruptions and bottlenecks as the increases in planned production programs can often usher in increases in the likelihood of order modifications or changes, material shortages, production facility capacity miscalculations, and other constraints or restrictions that can result in major production or supply breakdowns.
When my wife and I recently moved into a new home, my father-in-law came to stay with us to help hang photos, arrange our belongings, and assemble some new pieces of furniture, one of which was a dining room table and chairs. We spread out the component parts on the dining room floor and set to work - I took the task of preparing the tabletop while my father-in-law worked to complete the table legs and associated joists necessary to secure each leg into the top.
Without delving too deep into my own shortcomings, it’s fair to say I’m not terribly handy or mechanically inclined, so it didn’t take long for my father-in-law to complete one leg while I continued fumbling with the tabletop. Noticing this, I told him he could stop, take a break, and wait for me to catch up, but he said that wouldn’t be very efficient and quickly completed all four legs and moved onto other steps in the table’s assembly as I slowly worked through my task. Finally, when I caught up, we were able to finish complete assembly of the table without any disruptions in workflow, and we were dining on the newly constructed table later that evening.
This lesson in production control got me thinking about the issues many manufacturers experience in looking for ways to increase production efficiency - particularly when it comes to upstream areas like paint and body shop work, which can act as something of an internal supplier to the finished product.