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Optimising production planning

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ISSUES such as increasing demand for product variety, shorter delivery times and smaller lot sizes, are just some of the factors tightening pressures on manufacturers’ today. Finding ways of better supporting production processes to improve efficiencies and meet demand is one key consideration for many organisations.

A manufacturer with high levels of production complexities for instance, may find that Advanced Planning & Scheduling (APS) tools, as opposed to MRP systems, can make life a lot simpler for planners, and ultimately improve its production performance and outcomes.

Standard MRP functionality is often obsolete in today’s planning environment. It is not enough to have a system in place that uses locked horizons and infinite capacity - which can result in out-of-date supply plans on raw materials or inaccurate calculation of ATP (Available To Promise) for new customer orders.

Instead, many manufacturers can achieve more benefits from a system that better links purchase and production orders to customer orders on all levels, whilst finite capacity is respected.

APS engines have become powerful decision support tools for planning and scheduling of manufacturing orders. Once seen as complex and cumbersome themselves, APS has evolved to become much more sophisticated, yet simpler to implement.

Ultimately, APS enables more transparent and flexible planning processes, resulting in a reduction in inventory, higher resource utilisation, shorter lead times and increased delivery service.

By having an APS system, users can automatically reschedule all orders when customer demand changes, and ensure production plans are always optimised out from that current demand. Planners will still need a short locked time horizon to achieve stability, but the point is that an APS system is a perfect enabler for re-planning. It takes into consideration finite capacity constraints, need for flexible release horizons, and material flow from raw goods to finished products.

The benefits are several, but the most notable is that it allows a company to sign off on one common plan that can be used throughout the company for purchasing, production and sales – a plan which factors in elements such as temporary capacity adjustments; changes in due dates; firming of orders for automatic release and optimised schedule sequences for orders and resource availability.

What to consider when implementing APS

The benefits of advanced planning tools are numerous. But there are also important factors to consider when it comes to purchasing and implementing a solution.

• Manufacturers need to fully assess the core gaps and needs within an organisation - and look for an APS package which can solve specific challenges, avoiding complex functionality that adds no real value, and that can complicate the implementation.

• The diversity of manufacturing businesses poses very unique challenges, so selecting an APS package and vendor that comes with solid references in a relevant industry niche is vital.

• As with any application delivery, a consulting base with the right level of experience is important. Whereas a good consultant can make a basic system operate very effectively, the reverse is also true.

• Ensuring effective integration with backbone ERP systems is key to maximising potential benefits and avoiding redundancies in areas such as data maintenance.

• Defining the full scope of a project and setting realistic goals before implementation commences. 80-90% of desired benefits can be achieved with a relatively limited effort - but achieving the remaining 10-20% can come at a higher cost. A step-by-step approach is a more effective way of managing risk to the business. Once live, new functions and features can be introduced incrementally.

• Breaking down an APS implementation into clearly defined stages also provides people with a more visible picture of the project goals, aiding user motivation and buy-in.

• Identifying an APS system ‘champion’ who knows the product in detail and who can educate other users. Communication is vital to reducing resistance to a new project, and assists change management processes.

Continuously improving process efficiencies in areas such as production is an important part of manufacturers’ ability to remain competitive – and APS systems are fast becoming one of the most effective methods of achieving these objectives.

* Lars Gimbringer is a senior solutions designer at Intentia Australia & NZ.

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