APS work for me? Thats not what Ive heard

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Mike Novels, Preactor International, explores manufacturing myths and describes genuine reasons for applying advanced planning and scheduling software.

Information technology (IT) has far too frequently been portrayed as the answer to everything in manufacturing. Yet in recent years, theres been a growing reaction against this 'cures all known manufacturing maladies' view, with IT often seen as being a distraction or even worse, part of the problem. A kind of anti-ITget your processes sorted, and you dont need ITapproach evolved. This of course remains the stance of a third view, which has never quite made the transition to IT in manufacturing because of a perception that while suitable for others its not suitable for my business. What is true for IT as a whole is even more so the case for specific IT applications, for example, advanced planning and scheduling (APS).

There are as many myths as there are genuine reasons why a company should or shouldnt consider using APS software. The best way to sort fact from fiction, and to debunk these myths is to listen to others experiences and apply them to your own situation.

Myth 1: We cant integrate APS with our ERP system
Some APS packages attempt to do much the same thing as ERP system. Consequently, the greater the overlap the more integration that is required. Other packages are designed to enable rather than replace ERP and therefore have well defined methodologies to map and synchronize data between the applications.

Grotto Defranceschi, a manufacturer of stainless steel tanks to order wanted to improve its customer delivery promising capability. The company needed to know if it took another order, when it would be able to be delivered! Manual systems took hours to maintain and could not react fast enough. Defraneschis ERP package had very limited scheduling functionality. Yet Craig Howell, the financial and IT manager, and Bryan Bristow, the production planner, were able to define exactly what the company needed and configured, implemented and integrated an APS system with the existing ERP package in only a few days.

Myth 2: I dont need itI use a spreadsheet or project planning software
There is understandable temptation to use a general tool such as Excel or MS Project to do a specialist job such as capacity planning and scheduling, especially when the planning and scheduling requirements are relatively simplistic. But these general tools do not provide the features that many planners need or so are heavily customised they are difficult to maintain. These tools dont have the capability to carry out what if comparisons of alternative schedules and hence see the impact of decisions before they are made. The situation becomes more critical as the planning and scheduling requirements increase or have to adapt to new and more complex business models.

Paul Lambert of Cash Bases, a UK manufacturer of cash-handling equipment, outlined some of the historic problems they had and what benefits they obtained from a specialist scheduling solution.

Production backlogs were resulting in a number of late deliveries, with resultant customer dissatisfaction. Planning was done on an Excel spreadsheet, with bills-of-materials information coming from our legacy ERP system, said Lambert. Since going live with Preactor APS, WIP has dropped from 30 to 10 days, WIP savings achieved of around 200,000 and on-time delivery improved from 34 to 94 per cent.

Darren Dowding of Cosworth Racing recounts a similar experience when Cosworth decided to automate its scheduling. The company originally used Excel spreadsheets with a rough 12-month forecast, but when personnel moved into core teams the team schedulers needed a more visual planning solution. A switch to Microsoft Planner delivered definite benefits but it was still very manual and time consuming. For example, when a job had to be moved, the links between all the processes associated with that job had to be re-established manually. Also it still took a great deal of skill to interpret the answers provided. Cosworth decided that only an APS system would provide the power and flexibility required.

Dowding recalls the surprising pace that Preactors benefits first became apparent. We were having a core team meeting in our ARP section. Before Preactor, the meetings would be full of what if' questions that were answered largely by gut feeling or intuition which would or wouldnt be borne out over the weeks. This time, the scheduler simply took the what if scenario to Preactor and returned to the meeting a few minutes later with a hard copy of what actually would be the consequences. In that meeting, we saw the transition from guestimates to definites.

Myth 3: I dont need itI am running a lean initiative
In todays globally competitive environment its imperative that companies cut out waste, become leaner and more agile to respond to customers demand. Demand driven businesses is more than just a catch phrase, its a formula for survival. Its also arguably where most we dont need IT myths currently circulate.

Lean initiatives which included pull systems seemed to be the way to go; but, for many, Kanban systems as a way to control production, only go part of the way to reach a completely make-to-order environment. Dedicating resources, which Kanban systems tend to force, rarely provides the agility companies need where variable demand and changing product mix can play havoc with even the most carefully planned production lines.

Harmon Manufacturing, which makes aerospace parts and assemblies had for some time been running a lean initiative. Rob Harmon, managing director explains: A typical aircraft undercarriage axle can take nine months to manufacture and some 200 to 300 separate manufacturing operations can be involved.

Harmon recognised that only an APS system could help the company develop its lean solution. This has proved to be the case, for since going live with the system, Harmon has benefited from being able to deliver more accurately within the specified lead time. And we now know exactly how our shop floor capacity is loaded, whereas previously it was more a case of putting our fingers in the air, said Harmon. Also, we are far more cost efficient in terms of utilising staff time on the shop floor. And with Preactor we can simply drag and drop Gantt chart information to slightly adjust the schedule as we go.

Face the facts
Fact: APS systems are helping manufacturers around the world at this very moment. Fact: APS systems could be helping you. Challenge the myths by looking at how manufacturers with the same issues that you face are using APS to overcome them, and to become better by doing so.

Mike Novels is chairman and managing director of Preactor International. The company provides advanced planning and scheduling software for manufacturing industries, worldwide.
INFORMATION: Free information is available from PREACTOR on the subject in this story. Click here to request a copy

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