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A Fundamental Flaw in Production Planning

Production planning is critical to operations for a complex manufacturer, but its inefficiencies are no longer acceptable with the technology available today. It’s time for a fundamental shift in how we all think about planning production.


Read the full series on The Future of Production Planning:

Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 (coming soon)

For production planners at a complex manufacturing site, a typical day is controlled chaos. Their morning starts by doing rounds through each work center that they manage – gathering status updates from the previous day and reviewing the day’s schedule with their team. Once back to their desk, they synthesize the health of their production and update internal stakeholders. What happens next is a game of roulette – will it be a machine going down, a supply chain delay, a production quality issue, misplaced documentation, a hot order booked, or another one of a hundred reasons to modify the schedule?

All that is certain is that unplanned events that impact the schedule will happen. A successful production planner must respond to these events to keeping operators productive and communicating the impact to relevant stakeholders.

Production planning is a vital role for any complex manufacturer. As the nexus of all operations, it provides direction across many functional groups:

  • dictating the daily activity for operations on the floor to maximize production efficiency
  • communicating realistic timelines for account managers to manage customer expectations
  • informing the sales team of the current lead time given the order backlog and resource capacity
  • illustrating to operations managers when resource changes might be worthwhile

As if that isn’t enough, production planners must weigh business objectives in every decision they make to produce the best possible outcome for the business given the circumstances and constraints.

A Broken Solution Landscape

For an activity as mission-critical as production planning, surely there’s a market for great tools. There are niche solutions for niche industries and there are underwhelming offerings bundled with ERPs. In our experience, most complex manufacturers can’t find a tool that fits their needs. Often, they resort to building an internal solution with either Excel or an Access database disconnected from other business systems. These solutions are often serviceable for planning but far from ideal – specifically for distribution to the floor and visibility for the many stakeholders dependent on it.

When changes need to be made, new copies of the schedule are printed and redistributed to operators on the floor, and an update email is sent to relevant stakeholders with the latest revision. It creates clutter and introduces an opportunity for an operator to reference an outdated schedule and throw production out of sync.

Limitations of current solutions and legacy tools:

  1. Inability to push updates to the floor in real-time
  2. Unresponsive to events on the floor
  3. Disconnected from other business systems
  4. Outdated interfaces that are tedious to use
  5. Challenging to manage and compare what-if scenarios, if at all
  6. Performance metrics must be done manually, if at all

Root Cause Analysis

Though there are many limitations to current solutions, the root problem with production planning today is relying on humans to compute the optimal schedule and constantly recompute when something doesn’t go as expected. When things rarely go as expected, it takes a lot of brainpower and perseverance to do this day in and day out. For many, this problem seems very familiar, and the solution seems obvious – just throw a computer at it and auto-schedule. Sure, that sounds great, but it only addresses half of the problem.

The approach of scheduling altogether is the most critical part of the problem. Complex manufacturing is full of noise. Unlike an assembly line where cycle time is effectively fixed, the time to complete each operation varies widely. To build a this-then-that schedule based on assumptions about upstream tasks across dozens of orders guarantees either error, production inefficiency, or both. It puts humans and computers, alike, in a can’t-win situation of projecting when the previous task will be complete and when the order will be ready for the next work center. 

Everyone knows going off-schedule is inevitable. So why don't scheduling systems account for it? Instead, it treats the unknown as the exception and requires a reaction from the production planner when an unplanned event occurs. It’s the best a human can do, but for a computer with access to real-time progress data, the ideal solution looks much different. 

The Future of Production Planning

Production planning in the smart factory era requires a fundamental shift in approach. Complex manufacturers don’t need auto-scheduling – they need a production planning system that allows them to do some high-level capacity planning and add some order timeline constraints but doesn’t require the time and energy that systems do today. That system must then take those inputs and any other relevant order data to automatically implement their unique business logic and prioritize work for the operators on the floor. That’s what we at FactoryFour intend to provide with our all-new Production Planning application.

In addition to the fundamental change in approach, there are also many limitations in the implementation of current planning solutions that need to be addressed for a fully functional application. Many of these limitations are things FactoryFour has been specifically built to address from Day 1. The next blog in the series will review the existing FactoryFour infrastructure and functionality that makes the new application possible.

Want to be among the first to demo the FactoryFour Production Planning App? Reach out to one of our experts here or book a demo today.