Manufacturing Optimization

Frequently Asked Questions

Companies that are considering using an Advanced Planning & Scheduling solution often have questions before they get started:


What prerequisites should a company meet internally before attempting to use APS?

APS is a very "data-intensive" tool that must be fed with the right information. You'll need to have routings and bills-of-material for discrete manufacturers, or formulas and run-rates for process-manufacturers. If you're doing inventory-constrained scheduling, it will also be important to have a reliable inventory control process with accurate on-hand quantities. Also, if you're running a daily planning cycle, you'll need to track production completions at least daily; if you're on a weekly cycle, then you can track production updates weekly. Remember: Your schedule will only be as good as the data you put into it.


We're not sure if we need "finite" scheduling. When is finite better than infinite?

While rough-cut "infinite" capacity planning is useful for planning labor and capacity levels long-term, most manufacturing companies will find it much more valuable to use "finite," constraint-based planning. Unless you'll be scheduling a very low volume of production orders (maybe 25) and can make drag-and-drop adjustments manually, finite scheduling will afford you many benefits that infinite planning can't. Even if you typically have enough capacity, there likely will be "clumps" of workload that create temporary bottlenecks. Finite scheduling gives you insight into where and when these bottlenecks will occur, the impact that changes to one order's schedule will have on other orders, and detailed, actionable plans that can save immense time on the shop floor and in the planning department.


How do you measure APS success?

While there are some common measures, your concept of success will depend on your unique business — on factors such as what makes you more competitive, how your costs are distributed, and what kind of customer demand you have to meet. It's critical at the outset of an APS implementation to identify your critical areas and determine where APS can help. For example, if on-time shipments are a challenge, then you'll probably want to track due-date performance. If running out of materials in production is a frequent occurrence, then you'll need to track the frequency of these interruptions on the shop floor. If excessive WIP or long lead-times are problems, then you'll need to set up metrics for make-spans and queue times. Another common goal is to reduce the time planners spend updating schedules; in this case, tracking time spent before and after the implementation clearly will be helpful.


Who usually benefits most from an APS tool?

The benefits of APS primarily depend upon the size of the problems you have to solve. If you often miss delivery dates, have trouble quoting accurate and competitive lead times, have high inventory levels, spend a lot of time managing schedules, or incur frequent changeovers on key equipment, then the value of APS will be high. Other indicators of a need for APS would be:

  • A high number of SKUs or custom orders
  • Many production resources
  • Expensive production equipment
  • Frequent changes in customer orders and engineering change orders
  • >Complex manufacturing flows that are hard to schedule manually>
  • Long setup times
  • Job batching requirements
  • Quality-related problems that can arise from schedule mistakes

Why do we need an APS tool if we already have an ERP system?

ERP systems are great tools for managing transactions such as order entry and inventory control. Since most ERP systems evolved from accounting systems, their primary focus has always been on keeping track of what has happened rather than planning for what is going to happen. As a result, the architecture has been optimized for transaction processing rather than large-scale, high-volume data analytics. While a typical MRP re-gen can take hours or days on an ERP system, it might take only a few seconds on an APS tool. This is a critical usability issue because no planner can afford to wait hours, let alone days, after every schedule change.

In addition, the expertise for designing and creating an APS system is very different and specialized, and therefore very hard to come by. Most ERP development projects leave planning as an afterthought and only cover it at a superficial level. APS, on the other hand, is all about the details. That's why most "classic" scheduling functionality in ERP systems goes unused — simply because it is, for most companies, too simplistic to be usable. APS is an effective addition to ERP because it solves exactly the problems it was built to solve.


When I'm evaluating APS tools, how should I compare them?

An APS evaluation process should be focused on one thing: solving your critical business issues. So start by identifying what problems you want to solve, and then make sure the tool can "model" your constraints and ultimately solve your problems. Create a prioritized list of two things: your APS-related critical business issues, and the rules and constraints your planners have to take into consideration when creating schedules. Work with your APS vendor to go through both of these in detail.

Other considerations include technology, architecture and, of course, total cost of ownership. Technology and architecture should be as current as possible, and fit well with your other systems and the expertise of your IT staff. Data volume also can be a critical factor. Before choosing a system, verify it can handle your volume of orders. To be usable, a drag-and-drop reschedule in a fully loaded schedule should be able to shift other work out of the way and take just a few seconds, not minutes, to process. Where cost is concerned, implementation costs can be very high for systems that require extensive programming to build models, so be sure you consider these costs along with the cost of the software itself.

Finally, if you need multiple planners to be able to login and make changes concurrently, and if you need support for multi-plant coordination, verify your APS provides these features. Unlike ERP systems, most APS systems are single-planner, single-plant systems, so shop carefully.
How difficult is it for a typical production planner to learn to use an APS tool?
The learning curve probably depends more on the person than on the system. If you choose someone who is comfortable with computers, understands your production constraints, and is a quick learner, they can become proficient in a matter of weeks with very little training. Otherwise, it may be a much longer transition.


What industries is Demand Solutions Advanced Planning & Scheduling suited for?

We've installed scheduling software in hundreds of factories across many industries. We've designed Demand Solutions Advanced Planning & Scheduling to be extremely adaptable, making it capable of handling most production scheduling problems. Our industry experience spans the food and beverage, chemical, job shop, medical equipment manufacturing, industrial equipment manufacturing, coffee roasting, high-tech, printing, forges, injection molders, truck equipment manufacturing, and automotive industries. If you'd like to confirm our system will work for you, please give us a call — we have scheduling experts who will speak with you about your specific challenges.


Does Demand Solutions Advanced Planning & Scheduling allow for manual schedule adjustments?

Absolutely! This is one of the solution's greatest strengths: the ease with which you can make changes in a graphical drag-and-drop environment. Demand Solutions Advanced Planning & Scheduling takes it one step beyond typical scheduling systems' limited drag-and-drop capabilities, employing "capacity-constrained" drag-and-drop. This means when you make changes, the system will adjust the schedule to ensure capacity is not violated and material constraints are followed. This allows you to make changes quickly and easily, and also see the impact of your changes instantly. There are many other manual and automatic scheduling tools. Give us a call to learn more about what we can offer you.

Why should we choose Demand Solutions Advanced Planning & Scheduling over other systems?

Demand Solutions Advanced Planning & Scheduling will do a better job of creating accurate schedules that respect all your constraints (such as labor, machines, materials, tools and storage). It's easier to use due to its "capacity-constrained" drag-and-drop. Demand Solutions Advanced Planning & Scheduling is based on the flagship Microsoft platform, the .NET Framework, which means it is more familiar to your users (like Microsoft Office), is widely supported, is easier to integrate with, and has a long lifetime ahead of it. Demand Solutions is also the only true "collaborative" scheduling system that allows multiple planners to be logged on and rescheduling simultaneously, which means you can work the way you need to as your company grows.


We don't have any "pegging" information in our ERP system that connects different levels of the bill of material. Will Demand Solutions Advanced Planning & Scheduling still be able to coordinate production between work orders, or will we have to add these links manually?

Demand Solutions Advanced Planning & Scheduling can examine your bill of materials for each work order to determine material requirements, and then automatically peg material flows across work orders (at any number of levels). So even if you don't have explicit links, the system will still alert you or reschedule dependent work orders if a supplying work order will be delayed (by drag-and-drop or otherwise). Note that you also can create explicit links between work orders in the event the intermediate material must be allocated to one or more specific downstream work orders.


Is the system updatable in real time so our schedule is always accurate?

Yes. Demand Solutions Advanced Planning & Scheduling updates instantly whenever it receives information, such as the completion of an operation or the breakdown of a machine. The update can be pulled from your ERP system or even come from a direct feed from a labor reporting or shop floor tracking system. Demand Solutions Advanced Planning & Scheduling also has its own screens, called "Shop Views," which are designed to show schedules to shop floor personnel and allow for reporting of production.


Can Demand Solutions Advanced Planning & Scheduling schedule multiple plants?

Yes. The system is a "collaborative" scheduling system that can handle any number of plants and simultaneous master schedulers, viewers, and what-if users (sold separately). Plants can be scheduled independently or interdependently according to your needs.


Will we need a new administrative position to use your software?

No. Most companies find that using Demand Solutions Advanced Planning & Scheduling actually greatly reduces the amount of time spent managing production. Time that is now spent expediting orders, consolidating information, and updating spreadsheets can be spent on more proactive tasks since most of the planning process will be automated. A typical user spends anywhere from one to three hours per day reviewing and adjusting the schedule once Demand Solutions Advanced Planning & Scheduling is in use.


What skill set is needed to use Demand Solutions Advanced Planning & Scheduling?

It's essential that your Demand Solutions Advanced Planning & Scheduling schedulers be very familiar with your production operations and what would make a "good" schedule. They also should be comfortable using computers on a daily basis. Someone familiar with Microsoft Excel will find Advanced Planning & Scheduling easy to learn.


How much of our team's time will be required to setup Demand Solutions Advanced Planning & Scheduling?

The total amount of time planners or production managers usually spend varies from 40 to 120 hours. We realize your team is very busy running your business, so we work remotely over the internet and schedule our time with your personnel based on their priorities and work schedules. An implementation usually takes anywhere from four to twelve weeks in calendar time.


Will we need a new server for Demand Solutions Advanced Planning & Scheduling?

Usually not. Unless you're scheduling several thousand orders or your servers are aging, Demand Solutions Advanced Planning & Scheduling can typically run on your existing hardware.


What size company is Advanced Planning & Scheduling best suited for?

Companies that find Advanced Planning & Scheduling to be a good fit, in terms of functionality and return on investment, typically have substantial manufacturing operations with significant equipment investments or a large number of orders that need to be coordinated and delivered on time. As a general rule, companies that range from $10 million to $1 billion (USD) in annual revenue will find there is a system level of Advanced Planning & Scheduling that will provide a substantial return on investment.


What are the requirements and costs of integrating APS to our ERP system?

Most APS integrations are "bi-directional," importing data such as work orders (with attached routings/BOMS/recipes), sale orders, inventory, purchase orders, work centers, equipment and, sometimes, employees, and exporting schedule dates for work orders to facilitate ERP visibility and material planning. One thing we've learned is that it's important that integration tools be very flexible since every company uses their ERP and APS systems differently. The typical time to develop an integration from scratch will vary according to the amount of data that needs to be shared. We usually expect to spend anywhere from two to four days creating a new integration.

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