An automated planning and scheduling tool for a production facility swamped with just-in-time orders and supplies.
Established in the mid-1980s, Weedon PSC is now the UK’s leading manufacturer of Retail Ready Packaging (RRP) and Point of Sale (POS) displays. The company is a part of the Weedon Group which also includes Weedon Corrugated Products and i2i Europe. Their services include POS displays, retail ready packaging, corrugated packaging and RRP pre-filled Merchandising Units (MUs).
Weedon PSC’s production facility worked both on normal orders and just in time (JIT) priority orders from the large supermarkets. This made production planning and scheduling very difficult. Orders already in production often had to give way to their JIT orders. This was further complicated due to Weedon PSC’s requirement to order supplies on a JIT basis as well, because of a lack of storage space.
Each order they received required planning through several sections of the production facility. The exact order it would pass through the various sections depends on the orders specification. This could be any combination of printing, varnishing, cutting, folding and assembly. Despite an extensive search, they were unable to find any ready-made software capable of coping with this level of flexibility.
Using their existing software and paper-based system as a template, I developed an Excel based production planning and scheduling tool that allowed them to;
- Enter details of incoming jobs (normal and JIT).
- Enter a Bill of Materials (BOM) needed for the order.
- Plan which machines in the production facility to use for each order.
- Enter a variety of variables such as print speeds and multiple prints per pass.
A simple graphical planning sheet allowed the planners to try out a wide range of “what if” scenarios allowing them to find the most efficient use of the production facility. The graphical display would show the planner the impacts their planning would have on an hourly, daily, weekly and monthly basis.
The planning screen also allowed automatic planning to be carried out. The planner can select which rules and priorities to apply, and the programming will automatically plan out the work based on those rules and priorities. The planner would then make any final adjustments needed.
The tool sent updated production schedules to each machine on the factory floor. The machine operators then fed back their progress on each item in their schedule. This in turn further updated the planning screen if there were any unforeseen delays.
Other features included a fail-safe paper system that allowed paper-based schedules to be printed out for the machinists. This was needed as network failures were not uncommon.
Weedon PSC saw many benefits to this tool, including;
- Faster and more effective planning.
- The ability to easily make live updates to the planning.
- Improved the efficiency of the JIT ordering of materials and supplies.
- Reduced planning errors.
- Increased manufacturing efficiency leading to the ability to handle more work.