Volume 40, Issue 2 February 2005
Who's Your Scheduler
Scheduling is More Important than You Think
by Bill Rochon
I have always felt that production scheduling is just about the most important function in the operations area of every business, especially a glass fabrication plant. I consider scheduling to be a direct backend function, yet many companies think that it is a front end concern and tend to hire for and treat scheduling as such. For example, a company spends $200,000 on specialized software, more than $1 million on automated cutting and fabrication equipment and thousands and thousands more for support equipment and people. Then the same company will say something like, “We can hire the kid from the local community college to do our scheduling. The kid seems sharp and is taking computer classes and will probably come along for a low salary.” Sound silly? I have heard this said in at least ten companies with which I have worked while addressing this area and I am always astonished. As I see it, here is where the problem lies: the front ends of most businesses (owners, sales people, accountants, etc.) have specific roles in their companies and usually view scheduling as just another computer function. So logic would hold true that the kid who plays with computers will be sufficient. I strongly disagree. The front end has to deal with the big picture and sometimes will lose sight of the details. That is where the specialized labor force comes in. Owners have way too much on their mind with pricing, generating sales, employees, etc. Sales people have to generate as much as they possibly can to keep their jobs and accountants just plain ole’ like to see the money rollin’ on in. So when it comes to scheduling, it is usually viewed as a no-brainer … take every order, push a button and cut it all. What is so hard about that? And that is exactly what happens. These same companies usually experience excessive back orders and mistakes. Guess who gets blamed? That’s right, the people in the back. I have worked on both sides of that wall between the front and the back. My philosophy is simple: “If you can blame me, then I must be in control.” Now that I am in control, scheduling will be handled by the folks in the back.
What experience is needed for successful production scheduling? A lot! Remember when we talked about systems a few months ago? (For related article see the August 2004 USGlass, page 18.) Part of the system is having good people, both up front and in back. We all know that computerized scheduling is the only way to go in these days of short lead times, so we will work off of that premise. I can remember the old scheduling board we had 20 years ago. The orders would come in and we had a couple of people sort through a mountain of paperwork and add up 300 units, then place them in a bin that resembled an old hotel message/mailbox. Then the next 300 would go in the next day and so on to three or more weeks out. Now, if you can’t get insulating glass out in three days from the order placement, someone else will. So scheduling is much more than numbers. I have found that the best plant managers, production managers and production schedulers are ones with total comprehension of the industry, not simply a fancy degree. Knowing that 20,000 square feet of clear door lites are much easier to push through a factory than 10,000 square feet of 8-inch circles, each with polished edges and three holes is very important. I know that sounds obvious to us glass pros, but what about that college kid that you want to hire? How much trim should I add to a 60- by 60-piece of ½-inch clear with a 1-inch rake? How many times do inside sales people make mistakes as to sizes and make-ups of certain glass products, such as a 60- by 72-inch insulating glass unit made up with single-strength glass? Some of the better software packages will detect some mistakes with pre set tolerances; otherwise it is up to the people to detect. The best schedulers with whom I have worked were ex-glass cutters … auto cutting table operators in particular. They have the best feel for how many racks will be needed and, based on a mix of sizes and value-added fabrications, know how much time to allot for these departments. This is very important because work in process must be managed to flow through a plant smoothly. This always ensures maximum efficiency and minimum mistakes. I often suggest this, or maybe even the insulating glass department leader or tempering leader, and almost always get the same resistance:
“I’m not going to take my best cutter and put him in a position that I can fill with kid who I can get cheap from the school down the street. Then who will cut our glass?”
Ahhhhh, now there is a job for the kid. Who knows, he might learn something and become a great scheduler some day.
Bill Rochan serves as president of BRG Strategies, a consulting and implementation firm exclusively for the flat glass industry.
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