Manufacturing execution has always been at the heart of FactoryFour, but our high-mix customers first need a production plan to execute. It is clear that existing planning solutions are insufficient when most complex manufacturers we talk to are building an internal solution with either Excel or an Access database disconnected from their other business systems. Given our existing platform, we understood that our agile approach to execution made us uniquely positioned to deliver an integrated planning solution that would meet the needs of production planners and address the most common pain points of other systems.
We also understood production planning as no small undertaking. As we explored in the first post of this series, production planners are the nexus of operations for any complex manufacturer with many stakeholders to satisfy. They are expected to:
Our goal with the FactoryFour Production Planning App is to enable all of these functions as seamlessly as possible without redundant emails, phone calls, or printed schedules.
In its most basic form, the FactoryFour Production Planning App is built to schedule workflows at a high-level. Workflows are made up of tasks and jobs (sub-workflows) informed by the required production data capture but are often too granular for scheduling purposes. To allow production planners flexibility to schedule with an appropriate level of detail without interfering with the underlying workflow, we have introduced milestones to the workflow configuration.
Milestones break up a workflow into schedulable components that represent the underlying tasks and jobs. Each workflow naturally has a start and end, which are treated as milestones to make any workflow schedulable if expected task durations are set. Additional milestones can be placed before or after any task or job in the workflow and named to represent their place in the workflow. To set milestones on parallel paths in a workflow, milestones can either be set independently for each path or can be shared across many paths at the planner’s preference.
Milestone colors: defining milestone colors allows for milestone color-coding to add another visual distinction between milestones
Once a workflow is configured and applied to an order, it will be added to a backlog of unscheduled workflows. To add it to the schedule, assign the desired start and end dates and then FactoryFour will recommend milestone dates by evenly distributing them across the date range by expected duration. As with most actions on FactoryFour, this manual process can be automated using rules whenever a workflow is added to an order. Milestone dates can then be modified as needed by the planner.
One unique behavior to highlight here is that tasks don’t occupy only the length of their duration but instead span their entire window of opportunity for completion such that the workflow stays on track. This is foundational to our approach as it allows the task board prioritization algorithm to handle the micro-tuning of the schedule, relieving the planner from having to make a decision that—more likely than not—will have to change multiple times as production progresses.
After all desired schedule modifications are made, they can be published and automatically distributed to all relevant stakeholders. For operators on the floor, their task board will update according to the task prioritization algorithm set for the board and the updated schedule. Account managers are automatically notified of production dates for any newly scheduled orders or altered orders that they are following. The next time a member of the sales team looks at the current production schedule they will see the updated lead time.
For some manufacturers, using scheduling without capacity planning may be sufficient, at least to start, but the value of this application exponentially increases when capacity planning is layered on top. The objectives of capacity planning are to a) improve the accuracy of the production schedule by referencing capacity utilization and b) illustrate to operations managers when resource changes might be worthwhile to optimize staffing.
The fundamental components of capacity planning on FactoryFour are work centers and resource groups. Individual human resources and fixed asset resources are given daily working hours and assigned to resource groups based on capabilities. For each day, both hours of operation and total resource-hours for a resource group are calculated, which function as capacity constraints for the schedule. Resource groups may be assigned to one or many work centers as appropriate.
Now that we have available capacity, let’s review the configuration for capacity consumption. During workflow configuration, each task is assigned to a work center, which gives it access to all resource groups in the work center. For each resource group required by a task, an equation for the required resource-hours is defined. The most common equation for workflows that produce a variable quantity will have a fixed requirement for change-overs plus a per-unit requirement.
When a workflow is added to the schedule, workflow milestones define the windows of opportunity for tasks, then the required resource group capacity is decremented over the entirety of the window of opportunity. For example, if a six-hour task that requires one tool and two operators has a window of opportunity of two days, then three resource-hours from the tool’s resource group will be consumed on both days and six hours of operator-hours will be consumed on both days. These capacity utilization calculations update in real-time as changes to the schedule are made to help the planner build an achievable schedule.
Our objective is to make production planners as efficient as possible in this new application. So now that the general functionality is in place, we want to immediately focus on bulk operations, keyboard shortcuts, and smart actions. In this initial release, we included a few of these features to quickly manually modify many milestones and entire workflows, but we have plans to give the production planner more control when they need it and intelligent automation when they don’t.
As established, production planning is no small undertaking. We are proud of the functionality that we can provide with this initial release, but we are equally excited to continue to push this solution forward. We have a number of features on our roadmap, but as always our customers are our greatest source of insight and inspiration. We’re looking forward to gathering feedback from some of our early users to help shape the future of this product.
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.
Director of Product at FactoryFour