Modern life is complicated — and you don’t need further complications if you do business in the manufacturing sector. Flying by the seat of your pants works in some industries, but if your company is a vital cog in the supply chain of an important product, you can’t afford ad hoc production or slapdash scheduling. You need a plan.
With immediate customers, as well as end users, relying on the efficiency of your operation, it makes good sense to invest in robust production planning. Manufacturing concerns and the supply chain workers who power it all can save ample time and money by getting organized in a new way.
Here’s why it’s so essential – and how you can get started with five of the most important elements of production planning.
It’s true you can’t plan for every contingency life might throw at you. But don’t believe for a moment that you can’t prepare yourself for certain types of demands and problems, even if you can’t foresee with perfect clarity when they’ll appear or how severe they’ll be.
Forecasting properly can help you avoid duplication of effort or conflicting demands for limited production equipment. For example, you should have a visual system that delivers notifications when your users inadvertently create scheduling conflicts. For instance, without some kind of oversight in place, some of your production equipment might end up double-booked during peak activity times.
That’s the kind of snag your operation probably can’t afford. Worse, it’s a setback that will leave the other parties that depend on you in the lurch.
You are almost certainly familiar with the concept of lean manufacturing, which is nothing more or less than making the most efficient use of your resources.
Lean manufacturing is a kind of inventory control that’s helpful in making sure you don’t produce more of a given product than is necessary at any time. It also helps make use of limited storage space, since you won’t need to store inventory for overly long periods. You can make what you need, send it out to your customers, then spool up your manufacturing processes again next time an order is placed or demand spikes.
Thanks to automation and ever-more-advanced assembly technologies, manufacturing tends to run more efficiently than ever these days — but even the most finely tuned machines are a waste if you’re not planning ahead.
Think of the tasks you perform daily in your personal life. There’s a good chance you tried multiple techniques before you landed on the one that works perfectly for you. Now you unload the top rack of the dishwasher first. You dust the bookshelves before you vacuum the floor. You apply tire black to your treasured workhorse only after you’ve chamoised it dry in the summer sun.
The point is, whether you were conscious of it or not, you have standardized most of the trivial tasks you busy yourself with in an average day. And you did it because some processes fall to pieces if they’re done in the wrong order, at the wrong time or by the wrong personnel.
Standardization may well lie at the heart of planning and scheduling for manufacturing businesses. You can’t plan ahead if you don’t know how long critical tasks will take — and you won’t know that until you’ve dialed in a repeatable, reliable, predictable and efficient process.
When you commit to taking scheduling and planning seriously, you open up new ways to make the best and most efficient use of your physical infrastructure, including the very equipment you use to produce your products. Anticipating periods of heavy use is vital, since it helps you, for example, more evenly spread out your electricity use and anticipate which machines will be in use and when.
It may also help you improve the longevity of your equipment. During busy seasons or periods of peak activity, running your machines full-bore all week because you didn’t manage your time well could dramatically reduce their expected lifespans and lead to premature failure. Planning ahead for seasonal changes in the weather is also critical for businesses in certain parts of the world, since keeping your equipment properly cooled saves time, money and energy.
Instead of relying on chance, scheduling your jobs in advance and plotting your equipment use can help you spread the workload across your production facilities as much as possible and gives you a greater degree of control over which machines are running at any given time.
Manufacturing is not without its dangers — your facility potentially has a number of ungainly machines working to satisfy demand. As a result, worker training is hugely important if you want to maintain the safety of the people in your employ and protect your reputation.
Additionally, as we already touched on above, manufacturing is wildly more efficient when workers know what’s expected of them. Plus, quality control is far easier to police when your processes are predictable and repeatable.
Part of creating a predictable process involves developing and communicating best practices, tolerances, error margins and acceptable levels of waste — and all of those variables filter back directly into your approach to worker training. You can’t train your workers to perform standardized work if you don’t have standards in the first place.
Plus, even the most well-intentioned worker can set you back if they don’t have accurate expectations about how long each of your manufacturing steps should take or whether they’re up against specific tolerances or regulatory guidelines that are unique to your industry.
Don’t Suffer From Lost Profits or Unnecessary Delays
In case it’s not obvious by now, planning is the key to the solvency and continued success of your business. And it’s not just profits at stake, either — inefficient production workers are unhappy workers. Employees want and expect clear expectations and well-communicated benchmarks to hold themselves to and test themselves against. Planning is key.
Observing what works and what doesn’t, having a strong sense of priorities and communicating well — not just with your employees, but also everybody else in your supply chain — are the keys to successful planning.