If Production Scheduling Is Your “Thorn,” APS Is Your Androcles

Remember the fable about Androcles and the lion? To make a short story even shorter, Androcles was a runaway Roman slave who came across a lion with a thorn in its paw. Androcles removed the thorn, and the lion was forever grateful, treating him like a friend rather than a potential meal.

During my years at Taylor Manufacturing Systems (which was recently acquired by Demand Solutions), I often felt as if we were Androcles and our clients were the lion.

The thorn, of course, was production scheduling.

lion production scheduling APS software

Oh, sure, people sometimes asked us to provide longer range capacity planning and help reduce excess inventory, and we were always up to the challenge. But most often, it was scheduling they wanted us to help them address. They weren’t doing as well as they wanted in customer service, and they were eager to try a new approach.

Why is scheduling so tricky for manufacturers to master? From what I’ve seen, much of the trouble stems from the fact that many companies do their scheduling in a complex spreadsheet that only one or two employees understand.

That’s not a recipe for good information sharing across the enterprise. And what if those one or two employees call in sick—or quit? There’s no good answer to this question.

That’s why more and more manufacturers are looking into advanced planning and scheduling (APS) solutions. Here are some of the most common questions they’re asking, along with my answers:

What does APS software do?

APS software takes the work orders generated by an order management system—often something like SAP or J.D. Edwards—and sequences them accurately across all your work centers, machines, and resources, in relative order to each other and also in time. The result is a detailed schedule that’s actually achievable.

Why do companies need APS?

Order management systems tend to lump a set of orders into a time bucket, such as “next week” or “November.” But that doesn’t help you prioritize how the work will be executed. An APS system produces an actual execution schedule.

How does APS help companies solve production conflicts?

Within most companies, there’s a constant struggle to reconcile conflicting goals while still meeting customer service targets. For example, you may want to raise the production priority of high-margin or high-dollar jobs. At the same time, you may have a difficult deadline to meet for a strategic client. To top it off, one of your customers may want to come to your facility and see their jobs run, but they can only do so within a very specific timeframe.

Sequencing your jobs in a different order may allow for more efficient use of your equipment so that you can meet all of these objectives. APS systems can help you find the right order by allowing you to build and test production scenarios before you commit to a schedule.

Couldn’t my ERP system handle this?

We get this question a lot from CEOs and CIOs. ERP vendors often boast that they have a solution for every need. But planners who have tried creating effective production schedules within ERP systems still come to us for more precise functionality. They want to be able to control the exact sequencing of their production jobs—and APS gives them that capability.

I’ll write more about production scheduling in my next post. In the meantime, take a few minutes to learn more about Demand Solutions Advanced Planning and Scheduling.