SCM Software for Real World Manufacturing: A Case for Mission Critical Use

  • Written By: Ashfaque Ahmed
  • Published On: July 24 2004



Introduction

As any experienced production or operations manager will tell you, there is real challenge in manufacturing execution processes and that production planning and scheduling does not help. Everyday the manager comes across machines breaking down, bottlenecks in the production lines, human resource problems, wastage of time in machine changeovers, impossible product delivery deadlines, variable raw material quality, raw material unavailability etc. The list of problems for this the manager is endless. And for the most part the manager is right. No matter how much pain you take in making a plan or schedule to care for all kinds of problems , executing this plan will always be difficult. And so if you compare the planning data with the execution data, there is going to be a lot of variance. In this light, it will be very useful for this helpless man, if a software system can take some of the pain away.

In my previous articles (see Brain of Supply Chain System and Advanced Planning and Optimization Software: Myths, Facts, and User Perceptions), I had discussed the definition of APO software, usage, myths, truths, and current and future trends. In a nutshell, they were about planning and planning software. In this article, I will talk about the mission critical usage of SCM software (planning and execution software) in manufacturing, challenges, and solutions.

Challenges

Why is it that it is difficult to make realistic production planning? Why most of the planning software including many APO software from reputed vendors fail? The one profound reason is that the manufacturing environment is very complex and there are many factors which keep changing by the minute if not by the second. And even when factors are not changing fast, simulating the manufacturing environment is quite difficult. The other factor is that the genre of planning software for manufacturing is still evolving and software from many vendors is still not up to the mark. Only a few vendors understand the complex nature of manufacturing world and provide a satisfactory software.

Planning is very important for any activity. It is more so for manufacturing industry where the processes are very complex and without proper planning and scheduling nothing much will be coming out of the production line. Even in the case of flow manufacturing, planning, and scheduling play a crucial role for plant maintenance, making throughput changes due to changes in demand, over allocation of resources in periods of peak demands etc.

Solution

Given that a software cannot simulate 100 percent of your constraints and bottlenecks, what if the software can take care of 95 percent of these problems to start with? What if the software allows itself to be tweaked to make itself more representative of your business processes? If that happens then it can be your most useful tool and will make your life less stressful. There are some software available which actually do that.

If any planning is made in isolation to its execution, then there will be no improvements in the planning process and the same mistake will be repeated time and again in planning. The planner will never have the slightest idea as to how good the plan is. Only after executing this plan and observing the difficulties in execution, can the planner learn the mistakes and errors in his plan. The same is true with software. Only after execution, efficacy and usefulness of the plan made with a planning software will be found. This information in turn will lead to make better plans with the planning software by tweaking it.

Another good way of achieving such a goal is the mix of a good planning and execution software and business process reengineering. In the short run, the planning software will be tweaked continuously against your execution data so that it starts making realistic planning. In the long run, your business process will be reengineered to remove your bottlenecks slowly.

User recommendation

Some vendors claim that user should only concentrate on the execution part because planning and scheduling is not important. However, they give this excuse because their software does not have planning and scheduling capabilities. This is wrong. Some other vendors may claim that their software has good planning and scheduling capacity. But they do not offer good execution software so the user is left with the task of finding a good execution software and integrate it with the planning and execution software. In the end, this may not prove to be good solution because of integration problems; unharmonious functionality sets between the two software etc.

The best solution is that a vendor offering a software which has both planning and execution capabilities. But again, planning and scheduling capability of different software vendors vary too much. Additionally, different industries have an altogether different set of business processes and require very different set of capabilities in the planning and scheduling software. The user should be very careful about these issues when looking at options.

About the author

Ashfaque Ahmed is a consultant of advanced planning, scheduling and optimization techniques in the area of manufacturing and distribution. He works with small to medium organizations in the food and beverage, textiles, pharmaceuticals, packaging, paper, metals, CPG process manufacturing industries, and automotive in the discrete manufacturing industry to solve their supply chain-related problems. He holds an MBA in Information Systems and a bachelor degree in engineering.

Visit his web site at www.geocities.com/ahmedashfaque2002, or e-mail him at ahmedashfaque2002@yahoo.com.

 
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