You know you’re in trouble when the boss reads your blog and asks you to cover an additional point or two. So out of a sense of self preservation (and I really do want my next paycheck), here’s some info building on my June 8 post “Working Together to Make Schedules Work.” Seriously though, I happen to agree with what he’s suggesting, which makes everyone happy all around.
One other major (and it truly is bigger than that word “major”) constraint that manufacturers face in meeting project schedules is the roller coaster of how much work is on our plate vs. the available resources required to execute any new incoming work. The buzzword we’re using in trying to fine-tune the machine into leaner and meaner is “capacity planning.” To us, it means how much work comes in, how many of our resources does it take to do that work, and how is one particular project moved through work centers in conjunction with all the others.
For example, say there’s X number of new orders placed today, Y number of jobs in engineering or on submittal, Z number of jobs in production, and a varying number (ran out of alphabet…) of jobs are shipped. And the great unknown is: how many will enter the pipeline at any one of these points today? See the previous blog about the predictability of THAT number…
The roller coaster analogy is fitting in that the work doesn’t flow in on a regular basis. Be it engineering or manufacturing, work is entered into the process and has to be produced. This is applicable to shop drawings and fabrication drawings in engineering and to sawing and machining metal on the production floor.
If on any given day, 0 jobs enter into either of these processes, followed by 10 jobs the next day, by 0-30 jobs the next day after that, you can well imagine that if all the jobs have to be in the same cell, say submittal engineering or machining on virtually the same day, there’s going to be some one-job-gets-put-ahead/behind-another job. You think it would be fair to say, “first come, first served,” but that’s an over simplification, too.
Consider if there’s a saw running 20 hours/day, but there’s a backlog of 40 hours of saw time, it’s going to take 2 days for all that material to be cut before moving to machining. Where this complicates things is that on day 2, while still cutting the material from day 1, the new orders that came in on day 2 can’t start being sawn until day 3. Granted, you catch up somewhat when a day comes that 0 new projects enter the pipeline.
And the requests do come, regardless of the project size, asking for expediting the schedule. The requests do get a lot of consideration. Please remember, there’s another factor here. Any one company may have multiple projects in a manufacturer’s pipeline. Or they may have just one. Every project, regardless of the size, is important to us; we want to get every one right and shipped on time. And it’s tough to maintain schedules on projects already in process if one project gets moved forward.
Now, we can work more overtime, and eventually, if this persists, we may have to add another shift. Decisions about equipment have to be dealt with, too. We can buy more equipment, and the economies of capital outlays, what the rate of return is, all that fun stuff they teach business majors and accountants, will the economy support these types of decisions long enough to justify the expense?
It also has to be based on what the talent pool looks like for new hires. And while there may be a lot of skilled people out on the street right now, there’s also been a lot of dead wood cut from a lot of companies. And when training on how a specific company does things, there’s always a learning curve.
This is a ball we juggle daily, if not hourly, or minute-by-minute. Maybe this is all a little therapeutic venting, but it underscores the point in the previous blog that the more manufacturers, architects, contractors and glaziers can coordinate upfront, the better we all can help meet a project’s deadlines.