How to Achieve Flexible Production Scheduling and Planning in Manufacturing

Michael Parent
Consulting Services

Trying to stay one step ahead of daily production goals can seem as achievable and realistic as looking into a crystal ball — particularly when manufacturers aren’t using integrated systems with access to customer-driven, real-time data.

  This is what we think we have. This is what we think we can sell.   

Sound familiar?

Demand-driven data is essential for efficient production scheduling and planning in manufacturing. As discussed in the first blog for this e-guide series, customer demand can change without a moment’s notice due to current events, natural disasters, and other unforeseen events. This means that averaging historical data for capacity management doesn’t work, and it doesn’t work for production scheduling, either.

The first e-guide in this series, Implementing Customer-Driven Capacity Management, describes how to increase production capacity in manufacturing by using the right manufacturing capacity planning tools. The second e-guide in this series, Leveraging Demand-Driven Scheduling, explains how to use a customer-centric approach to production scheduling and planning in manufacturing.

In this blog, we’ll introduce a significant ideology behind demand-driven scheduling, Kanban, and why it’s essential for production scheduling in flexible manufacturing systems. 

Topics include:

  1. Key Principles of Lean Manufacturing

  2. Kanban in Production Scheduling

  3. Flexible Production Scheduling and Resiliency

  4. Core Production Scheduling Techniques

Key Principles of Lean Manufacturing

Since its introduction to the Western world in 1990, the Toyota Production System (TPS) has been the gold standard for lean manufacturing: a production method focused on continuous improvement in terms of productivity by increasing efficiencies and eliminating key sources of waste. Lean manufacturing is used by many major manufacturers today due to its success in optimizing production scheduling techniques in manufacturing environments.

The term “lean production” was coined by then MIT researcher John Krafcik, who has since gone on to be CEO of Hyundai Motor America, CEO of Google’s self-driving car project, and CEO of Waymo. Lean production was further analyzed in the 1996 publication Lean Thinking: Banish Waste And Create Wealth In Your Corporation.

 Lean thinking is lean because it provides a way to do more and more with less and less — less human effort, less equipment, less time, and less space — while coming closer and closer to providing customers with exactly what they want.

-  Womack, James P.; Jones, Daniel T. (Lean Thinking: Banish Waste And Create Wealth In Your Corporation)

This generalization of lean thinking principles has expanded the use of lean thinking in other industries, including artificial intelligence. Working with Intel to produce optimized software for deep learning in the cloud, researcher Alexey Gokhberg has made lean thinking foundational in the design of his solution, Arhat.

 Arhat is lean by design…producing only the code necessary to run the solution. As a result, it runs fewer computation cycles, produces less heat, and requires less space. The leaner code incurs smaller deployment costs and is potentially more reliable.

- Alexey Gokhberg

While software engineers like Gokhberg implement lean thinking in a different way than manufacturers, ultimately the fundamental principles are the same: simple, consolidated systems that minimize waste while maximizing output. For plant leaders, however, it is critical to utilize real-time data to streamline production scheduling techniques in a manufacturing environment and keep up with volatile demands.

A 2021 survey of 800 manufacturers found that most saw a 25% to 50% increase in demand during COVID-19, yet 60% were only able to increase capacity by 6% to 10%, with only 11% able to increase capacity above 10%.

A customer-centric, real-time data approach to scheduling is the only way to keep up with volatility.

Strategy in Motion: A Guide to Project Implementation and Operational Tracking

Just-In-Time Manufacturing and Its Cousin, Kanban.

The previous blog in this series introduced just-in-time manufacturing (Takt time), the foundational principle of TPS. Just-in-time manufacturing uses data — ideally, digitized real-time data — to enable manufacturers to produce just the right amount of inventory at the right time, cutting costs in a slew of ways compared to traditional just-in-case manufacturing models.

Critical to just-in-time manufacturing is the concept of Kanban, another innovation the TPS revolutionized across manufacturing. The literal translation of Kanban from Japanese is “billboard,” and was originally just that. Kanban boards are used to visualize projects by clearly depicting each action item to give workers and management a holistic view of the project.

Kanban: a lean workflow management method that utilizes visualizations to maximize efficiency and minimize waste.

In its earliest stages of development, Kanban was as simple as sticky notes on a board being moved from columns labeled as planned, in progress, and complete. But the digitization of Kanban boards planted unsurprisingly early roots given Krafcik’s involvement and the generalization of lean thinking as a widely applicable business tool. In fact, highly sophisticated digitized Kanban boards are now used in close conjunction with the latest software development agile framework, Scrum.

Kanban in Production Scheduling

While they utilize the same “lean” ideologies, manufacturers obviously don’t need the same technical bells and whistles as deep learning artificial intelligence. In fact, utilizing state-of-the-art advanced Kanban tools would be a violation of one of the TPS’s critical areas of waste, extra-processing: the unnecessary processes or overly expensive tools for the job at hand.

Physical Kanban cards and standard inventory controls are sufficient tools for efficient production scheduling. However, they’re the most useful when paired with manufacturing-specific software solutions that monitor active inventory levels, production cycle times, changeover times, defect rates, and machine downtimes.

The global smart manufacturing industry is expected to grow to $658.41 billion by 2029. The most significant market trend is the Internet of Things (IoT), which is the concept of a single, unified platform linking all technology within a system.

Kanban-enabling software solutions that offer customized features specifically for manufacturers to connect machines and siloed teams with at-a-glance, plant-wide insights. The data is displayed in a highly visual format via a single data source that can be shared across interdepartmental teams.

Flexible Production Scheduling is Essential for Resiliency.

A major driving factor for implementing integrated digital solutions across industries is the recognition of business vulnerabilities to sudden market shifts, and the determination to be resilient in the face of volatility.

Businesses with an optimized digital transformation are more likely to prioritize resilience to market shifts as their top priority.

A key component of resiliency is flexibility, or the ability to quickly adapt to changing demands — and it’s impossible to stay ahead of rapidly evolving landscapes without access to real-time data. Production scheduling in flexible manufacturing systems needs a simple but robust foundation that analyzes real-time, customer demands and breaks down barriers across interdepartmental silos.

 We're using advanced analytical techniques to understand and act on real-time monitoring data, including Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE), scrap rates, production yield rates, and more….Real-time data helps us be more proactive protecting employees and helps us make better decisions about processes, about equipment; we can look at from machine to machine, which machine gives us the best results. Having that data is critical.

- Geoff Foster, CEO and Founder of Core Technology

Master the Core Production Scheduling Techniques In A Manufacturing Environment.

When it comes to production scheduling in flexible manufacturing systems, there are several primary concepts plant managers need to thoroughly understand to be able to properly implement successful production scheduling techniques in a manufacturing environment.

Between inflation and global economic challenges, the skilled labor shortage, and supply chain issues, the high level of uncertainty within the manufacturing industry is expected to continue over the next 12 to 18 months.

In Leveraging Demand-Driven Scheduling, SafetyChain provides a complete the ins and outs of demand-driven, data-based production scheduling and planning in manufacturing for risk-proof insurance against rapidly changing national and global challenges.

Are you prepared for a long period of volatility? Read the e-guide.


About the author: Michael Parent is a management consultant and Principal of Michael Parent Consulting Services. He is a Lean Six Sigma Master Black Belt and was named a 40 Under 40 "Rising Star" by the American Society for Quality. Throughout his career, Michael has coached executives through strategic problem-solving and operational excellence and has led continuous improvement projects in a myriad of manufacturing sub-industries.