Production Scheduling

A plastics manufacturer company based in Suffolk in the UK needed to address a scheduling problem. At any one time they have over 5000 live orders waiting to be fulfilled, each for different designs, materials, colours, decoration, packaging… The list goes on. Enough to keep even the most agile team of planners busy. A common manufacturing conundrum is how to achieve an optimum balance between the flexibility.

That customers demand and the lower costs that manufacturing efficiencies can deliver. Customers require ever shorter lead times, smaller batch sizes to keep inventory costs down and customized products. In contrast manufacturers prefer long production runs to minimize setup costs, long lead times for better scheduling and standardized products.

Plastics Manufacturing Addressing scheduling

Plastics Manufacturing Addressing scheduling

Navigating this tight rope is a core function handled by the company’s planning department. For many years they had relied on a manual system with cards representing the production job for each order, placed on a scheduling board.

These cards would be cut to length representing the job duration and have the details of the job written on them. The length would be calculated based on factors such as batch size, machine tool used and wastage.

Considering that typically there are 3 to 4 customer amendments to each order before it reaches manufacture, the manual system was starting to creak at the seams. In search of a solution they turned to their long term partner, the IT consultancy DT Systems who had already developed the other components of their manufacturing system.

Initially the planners expressed some serious concern as to the feasibility of the project given the complexity of the tasks involved and the knowledge , required to perform those tasks efficiently, however, working in close collaboration, DT Systems prototyped a computerized scheduling system.

As the software developed, the planners’ attitude gradually changed from pessimism to one of optimism. “If it can do all of that, could it do this as well?” They’re now wondering how they got by before.

The interface mirrors the planning boards but is in real-time. Jobs are viewed within a time-line against their allocated machine. Jobs are sized automatically, according to various production calculations.

Jobs are placed so they are produced in time, Jut can be moved by the planner.

  • Jobs are colour coded to indicate plain, decoded, etc.
  • Jobs requiring planner action flash.
  • Jobs breach any non-working days or machine maintenance periods.
  • Jobs show and take into account latest production.
  • Mouse over job shows full job details
  • Zoom in and out and change scale
  • Mismatched machine/job combinations are highlighted.
  • Jobs that will be late are highlighted.
  • Popup links from the job to all other areas of the system.
  • Job highlight feature to indicate all jobs meeting specified criteria. .

The schedule acts as a “command centre” for the planner, where all of their multi-various tasks can be quickly and easily coordinated to all other areas of the information system. This tight integration allows information to flow freely between the different departments. When an order is amended in the Sales department, the associated job flashes on the planners’ schedule.

The combination of automatic calculation, rapid searching, a simple user interface and immediate access to information has had a substantial impact on planner productivity.

The overall number of labour hours required to plan production has reduced significantly, even though, due to business growth the company is actually now processing 40% more orders than it was two years ago. “This has made a very significant difference to the time it takes to manage orders through the business,” said the Commercial Director. They are now intending to roll the system out to the remaining production departments and continue to harness the benefits, created by this new integrated planning approach.


Industry Sector: Manufacturing

Business Situation:

Requirement for a computerized solution to replace an outmoded manual production scheduling system that involved many time consuming, labour intensive tasks.


An integrated computerized scheduling system that provides the planner with a “command centre” to orchestrate the planning process.


  • Labour saving due to increased planner productivity.
  • Increased production efficiency due to better planning and use of better information.
  • Increased analysis – labour intensive tasks automated, freeing planner to add value by performing more analysis.
  • Tight integration with other areas of the business has greatly reduced the paper trail associated with new and amended orders.
  • Command Centre – planners can rapidly access all aspects of a job, e.g. sales order, machine setup, materials, etc.
  • Increased Visibility – the schedules are viewable in read-only mode from other departments.
Source: Production Scheduling Case Study, DT Systems Ltd, available at 2008-09-16.

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