The benefits of a strong collaboration between design and manufacturing operations are well known. Lower material costs and better use of capacities, improved planning of plant upgrades, are just a few benefits of a stronger coordination between the engineering groups and manufacturing groups.
Factory scheduling is one of the areas where this collaboration can clearly be improved! In fact, using simulation tools, engineers are able to model the details of chemical and biological reactions but they are typically incapable to generate realistic schedules taking into account all manufacturing constraints. In the end, engineers often have to make design decisions based on simulations that are very far from the reality of how the plant is operationally run.
The ability to use the same planning and scheduling tool both for plant (and process) design and for manufacturing enables engineers to validate their models by generating realistic schedules using manufacturing data and supply and demand constraints and the same sophisticated optimization technology used by their colleagues in manufacturing.
All this is good theory, but what is the real dollar value of this? Let me share a short story:
A brilliant production planner, let’s call her Mary, moved to the engineering group. The first thing she did was to use the same planning and scheduling tool and methodology she used as a planner to test the manufacturing investment that management was taking. The plant was running at its capacity constraint in a fast growing market, therefore making investments to increase the capacity was extremely important.
Mary immediately realized that the wrong investment decisions were going to be taken. Management was planning to buy a new equipment to remove the obvious bottleneck. Instead, she proved that they needed to buy two new machines and to change the equipment connections since removing the obvious bottleneck was not enough to get the throughput increase necessary. Now Mary reports directly to the head of manufacturing and is responsible for optimizing the overall configuration of the plant. Mary once told me that she is convinced that in her industry optimization tools could help increasing production by up to 25%, without any heavy financial investment. This is of course particularly important for those factories working in fast growing markets.
Are any of you experiencing these types of problems? Is your engineering group working off the same manufacturing data as your planners? Please send me your thoughts on this.
- Filippo Focacci, ILOG Product Manager