Understanding Your Potential for Better Scheduling

Written by Mark Lilly

One of the main struggles manufacturing companies experience today is delivering to their customers on-time. In spite of the excellent scheduling tools available within ERP, or as standalone applications, on-time delivery percentages often have a hard time getting to 80 or above on a consistent basis.

The problem may not lie in the planning tool, but rather in the execution methodology of the company using it. By ‘execution methodology’, I mean how and when does material get released to production, and when it does, how is it prioritized once there?

What we often find is that jobs and workorders are released as soon as material is available. The thinking, which seems rather intuitive, is “the faster we get material out to the shop floor, the sooner it will come out the other side as finished product, right?” There is also a prevalent metric of “utilization” that drives the immediate release of available material to the shop floor so that all resources – people, machines, tools – stay as busy and ‘productive’ as possible.  Sometimes, if things aren’t busy enough, material is procured for the sake of keeping resources busy, thus driving a higher “utilization percentage”.

Another effect we have seen on occasion is that if a company is frequently late on a six to eight week leadtime job, then we better back it off and release material even sooner, maybe even nine or ten weeks in advance to ensure that it will finish for on-time delivery to the customer.

Unfortunately the effect of these actions is exactly the opposite of the desired result.

Here’s why:

John Little studied Mathematical Queue Theory at MIT. And he proved this seemingly simple, dare I say ‘intuitive’ theory, so now it’s a law:  Little’s Law.  And here it is:  N = cT.  Really all this says is that N, the number of things, items, people in a ‘system’ (think a bank or grocery store for example), is directly related (c, a constant), to T, the length of time that any one of those things, items, people remain in the ‘system’.

Seems kind of obvious, doesn’t it? The more people that enter a bank, the longer any one of those people is going to be in the bank.  A couple of neat things about this:

  1. Little’s Law is directly applicable to Manufacturing shop floor, and
  2. The inverse of the above example is also true, meaning, the fewer people in the bank, the shorter period of time any one of those people will be in the bank.

So Little’s Law tells us, the more stuff we put into production, the shop floor, into Work in process (WIP), the longer any one of those workorders/jobs is going to be in WIP. And the exciting part:  the less we release to WIP, the faster any one of the jobs/workorders is going to get through WIP.  Less is Faster.

Does your company have the potential to use Little’s Law to schedule better and improve on-time delivery? Try these two questions to find out:

  1. What is the average leadtime sales quotes to a customer or prospect for an ‘average’ job in your plant? A common leadtime in a custom manufacturing company is “six to eight weeks”.
  2. What is the actual touch time of that ‘average’ job/product? Meaning, if you have all the material you need, and nothing else is using any machines or tools needed, and all personnel are at the ready (very little if any ‘wait time’ between operations), how long would it actually take to manufacture that part?

For a six to eight week leadtime, we often hear “a week or two”, sometimes “a few days”, sometimes even “hours”.  Take the ratio between your responses to question one over question two.  What is your Little’s Law Potential Factor?

3 or more – you probably have some opportunity to speed flow and improve your on-time delivery with better manufacturing execution and scheduling.

10 or more – you have significant opportunity to speed flow and improve your on-time delivery with better manufacturing execution and scheduling.

20 or more – you should be able to dramatically improve your flow and achieve much better on-time delivery with better manufacturing execution and scheduling!


How to Select ERP – References

How to Select ERP – Salesperson

Collections Window: Stop Scribbling Notes Everywhere!

-Written by Bill Lannan

How much time and effort do you spend on AR Aging and collection reviews? Are you still using outdated printed reports? How are you capturing recent cash receipts, adjustments, and credits? Do you still write hand notes all over your printed copy of AR Aging and pass it around? What happens to those notes when you’re done? Can you easily retrieve them when needed? Are you able to share them with others easily? Is information being shared in a timely manner?

The Collections Window in VISUAL is an excellent way to organize your collection activities. You can run it for all customers or just one customer. It only shows what’s open and can be filtered for just past due or all items. It’s sortable allowing you to organize data by dollar amounts, age of receivable, etc.

You can attach customer notes which are viewable by Customer Order Entry. You can attach collection notes which are viewable by Accounts Receivable. You can attach invoice notes which are viewable by Customer Service. You can attach invoice collection notes which are viewable by Accounts Receivable.

Every time you open the Collections Window, it’s automatically updated with recent invoices, recent cash receipts, and recent new or updated notes.

So if you haven’t been using the Collections Window and notations, give it a try! I bet this will help to better organize and streamline your collection activities.

As always, if you need more information, training, or assistance, Synergy Resources is available to help. Just contact your Account Manager or Customer Care today!

Feel overwhelmed by everything you see in the Scheduling Window?

Written by Greg Miller

Get to know the Throughput Window and build efficiency into your production scheduling process.

Users who are new to VISUAL’s scheduling toolset are both intrigued and overwhelmed by VISUAL’s Scheduling Window presentation. Although the Scheduling Window does provide valuable at-a-glance information relative to lateness, scheduling gaps and overall resource backlog, successful VISUAL scheduling professionals have found VISUAL’s Throughput Window to be the hub for high-level and detailed schedule analysis.

The Throughput Window provides the following quantitative measurement tools:

  1. Customer Service Impact- A metric which quantifies the number of days late and associated dollar values for Past-due and Anticipated Customer Order Lateness.
  2. Contention- Provides a measurable indicator for current and upcoming shop resource bottlenecks by capturing the number of times and associated severity (number of delay days) that the scheduler encountered a scheduling conflict at a particular shop resource.
  3. Material Constraint- Do you ever wish that you had a Pareto chart showing the top “x” (count of) materials that are causing the greatest scheduling impact? The Material Constraints button provides that.  As with all charts in the Throughput Window, you can double-click the particular bar to open up a hyperlinked grid which gives you all of the details (Part ID, Work Order ID, Severity, etc..) to dig in deeper.
  4. Actual and Expected Throughput- This tool quantifies the business’ actual and expected throughput values. Throughput is defined as Selling Price – Raw Materials-Purchased Parts- Service costs. This is a great place to validate your overall schedule against weekly or monthly production targets.  “What-If” schedules can be created to simulate the throughput impact of adding capacity to a bottleneck resource. Does the increased capacity add more to the company’s bottom line or just create a downstream bottleneck?

The next time you are faced with answering difficult scheduling questions from upper management, open up the Throughput Window, analyze the information, create a simulated schedule and compare the results using the above tools. You will quickly get quantitative measurements that will help validate your assumptions and allow you to manage the routine scheduling challenges with confidence in an efficient manner.

Have questions or require assistance? Please contact us. We are at your service!






Additive Manufacturing – The Next Industrial Revolution

Written by Robert Anand

Additive Manufacturing (AM) is the name to describe the technologies that build 3D objects by the accumulation (layer-upon-layer) of material, whether the material is plastic, metal, concrete or even human tissue.

Common to AM technologies is the use of a computer, CAD software, machine equipment and layering material.  Once a CAD MODEL is produced, the AM equipment uses data from the CAD file to lay down or add successive layers of liquid, powder, sheet, or other material, in a layer-upon-layer fashion to fabricate a 3D object.

The term AM encompasses many technologies including 3D Printing, Rapid Prototyping (RP), Direct Digital Manufacturing (DDM), layered manufacturing and additive fabrication.

Examples of Additive Manufacturing include:

Process oriented involving use of thermoplastic (polymer that changes to a liquid upon the application of heat and solidifies to a solid when cooled) materials injected through indexing nozzles onto a platform. The nozzles trace the cross-section pattern for each particular layer with the thermoplastic material hardening prior to the application of the next layer. The process repeats until the build or model is completed and fascinating to watch. Specialized material may be need to add support to some model features. Similar to SLA, the models can be machined or used as patterns. Very easy-to-use and cool.

Multi-Jet Modeling is similar to an inkjet printer in that a head, capable of shuttling back and forth (3 dimensions-x, y, z)) incorporates hundreds of small jets to apply a layer of thermopolymer material, layer-by-layer.

Stereolithography is a technology utilizing lasers to cure layer-upon-layer of photopolymer resin (polymer that changes properties when exposed to light).  The build occurs in a pool of resin. A laser beam, directed into the pool of resin, traces the cross-section pattern of the model for that particular layer and cures it. During the build cycle, the platform on which the build is repositioned, lowering by a single layer thickness. The process repeats until the build or model is completed and fascinating to watch. Specialized material may be needed to add support to some model features. Models can be machined and used as patterns for injection molding, thermoforming or other casting processes.

Somewhat like SLA technology Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) utilizes a high powered laser to fuse small particles of plastic, metal, ceramic or glass. During the build cycle, the platform on which the build is repositioned, lowering by a single layer thickness. The process repeats until the build or model is completed. Unlike SLA technology, support material is not needed as the build is supported by unsintered material.

Laser deposition welding, also called laser metal deposition (LMD), is a generative laser procedure in which metal is applied on existing tools and components in layers. The laser generates a molten bath on the existing surface into which one or more metal powders is sprayed through a nozzle. The powder then melts and bonds with the base material. Bit by bit, a new material layer develops.  Using LMD, certain properties of parts can be targeted for improvement by systematically refining or combining materials. For example you can give a softer metal a hard, high-quality surface; combine a thermally insulating material with a conductive layer; or coat metal with materials that resist high temperatures, salt water, or chemicals. Laser deposition will not only lengthen the life components, it can also significantly reduce the overall manufacturing costs.

Once confined to manufacturing labs and research institutions, Additive Manufacturing has taken hold in industry.  GE expects to manufacture over 100,000 parts using this technology by 2020.

Have you introduced any additive manufacturing processes in your shop?  We’d love to hear about it! Contact us to tell us your story!