Production scheduling: Five roads to cooperation

Overcoming the challenge of getting operations and maintenance to work together is no small feat. This article demonstrates five ways to begin the journey of getting two critical functions to not only work together, but improve performance overall.


How do you get two large and critical functions to work and play well together? It’s no small challenge, especially in work cultures where groups working together is not the norm. If operations and maintenance aren’t jointly scheduling work, it’s negatively affecting maintenance execution and production performance. Photo by Aleksandr Kozlovskii on Unsplash

Before tackling the challenge of building new and more cooperative behaviors, begin by documenting and assessing the current state of scheduling. This needs to include results in production such as overall equipment effectiveness (OEE).

This current-state assessment is important because it qualitatively (observable conditions) and quantitatively (result data) defines the current level of performance, assesses the gaps, and should identify the future expected results. The diagnosis identifies the actions required to close the gaps and achieve the desired business results. Once you’ve determined your current state, these five tips can help you build the new behaviors you need your teams to adopt.

Tip #1: Secure the commitment of your leaders

We have all heard the expression: “If it is important to the leader, it is important.” The leaders of your operation may think everything is going well when it comes to scheduling, or they may realize it could be better, and are looking for ways to improve. In either case, it is wise to gain understanding, buy-in, and commitment by providing your functional leaders with the current-state assessment. It also is important to follow the chain of command. Once your functional leaders understand how things could improve, move forward to the overall leader. Presenting a summary of current-state scheduling with a definitive improvement plan and results will appeal to a leader’s logical side. It’s equally important to appeal to a leader’s ‘heart’ or emotional side by providing a qualitative assessment based on observations. Leaders need both data and a catalyst to spark action within their organization.   

It is critical to have the operational leader creating the desire to change across functional organizations. Whether it is improving joint scheduling, or another significant initiative, change requires active and visible leadership by the top person. 

Tip #2: Define the time frames

Organizations need to determine how they define their production schedule and production forecast. It’s also important to measure compliance to a production schedule, assuming the schedule period is greater than one day. 

The production schedule should be a defined period of time that meets the business need. It should be for a period greater than 24 hours—for example five days (120 hours) for a 24-hour by five-day environment. The production schedule should take into account the many variables in meeting customer orders such as promise date and quantity, availability of raw materials, direct materials, production equipment/production line, backlog of production orders, and equipment maintenance schedules.  

Your production schedule should be reviewed, formally approved, and published. Once published, treat it as a contract. Any changes require higher level of approval, and count against compliance to the schedule. The production schedule is an internal definition and measure. You need to measure the production scheduling process, measure against the original published schedule, and measure the level of variability within the process. Otherwise, the real picture of process performance will not be clear. 

A production forecast starts after the schedule period, and should extend several weeks or months beyond the production schedule. The purpose of the forecast is to provide guidance on the most important and sizable orders coming up and significant changes within the manufacturing environment. These changes could be a major maintenance downtime window, capital project installation, or a utility outage.

It also is important to define delivery performance, which is a measure of meeting the original promise date and quantity. This can be a ‘managed’ metric; when a compliance problem with a customer is emerging, the operation may negotiate a revision to maintain good compliance. Thus, there may actually be two different delivery metrics: one shared with the customer that includes revised or negotiated delivery dates; and one that is internal to the operation based on first agreed delivery date. The internal delivery and production schedule compliance must be ‘clean’ measures to see the true picture of both processes’ performance. 

Tip #3: Work from the backlog

When discussing scheduling work, whether it is for operations or maintenance, it is important to know the size and age of the backlog. For production, the production planning function manages the backlog of customer orders by due date, product type, and quantity. The production backlog level is set to meet the business’ expectation for "order receipt to ship" cycle time. The business unit determines cycle time and associated backlog level, with operations’ input. 

The overall maintenance backlog is measured in crew weeks, not work order count. It requires two pieces of data: the size of the trade crew available for backlog relief in hours (number of trades x 40 hours = one crew-week); and the total estimated work order hours in the CMMS or the maintenance module of an enterprise business management software. Simply divide total estimated hours by the total crew size hours. A good rule of thumb is to have four to six crew-weeks of total backlog. 

An equally important backlog measure is ready-to-schedule (RTS) backlog. A subset of total backlog, it is simply the estimated work orders that have all resources (materials, tools, etc.) where the work can be scheduled and executed any time. It is the same basic calculation method as above, filtered for RTS. A good rule of thumb for RTS is two to four crew-weeks of backlog. If an RTS backlog gets below one week, then the risk increases for not having enough planned work to feed a weekly schedule.

In both backlogs, overall and RTS, repeat the same methods for individual trades to look for potential imbalances across the different trades such as mechanical, electrical, and welding. It is good to periodically trend trade-specific backlogs, or backlog by area of plant site to identify imbalances. 

For example, I observed one plant that had very good overall and RTS backlog results, however there were significant imbalances at the trade level. The mechanical and electrical shops were in range, and the instrumentation shop had exceedingly high backlog, while the scaffolding contractor had significantly low backlog for the existing crew. This indicated that the plant made the effort to capture the correct data in their CMMS; however, they did not utilize the data to measure and trend backlog. Unfortunately, this prevented leadership from making effective management decisions needed to balance workloads. 

The point of this tip is to measure and utilize backlogs of production orders and maintenance work orders to schedule work. Scheduling work from backlog allows for effective and timely scheduling and execution of work to meet operational goals.      

Tip #4: Define the time frames

The maintenance function should also have a defined period for a maintenance schedule and maintenance forecast. If daily worklists currently drive maintenance, start with a weekly schedule (up to seven days) and couple that with a four-week rolling forecast. For mature performing organizations, a two-week maintenance schedule is common, with a six-week rolling forecast.

Inputs to the maintenance schedule are unfinished work orders from the previous week’s schedule, and planned work from the maintenance backlog, including preventive maintenance work. What about emergent and urgent work that pops up at any time? Here is where it is important to know the number of available trade hours and the number of trade hours scheduled. This is called capacity utilization. Many plants schedule less than 100% to handle emergency work. A better approach is to schedule a small amount of low priority work, which easily can be deferred if emergency work arises.

Schedule compliance, therefore, is actual hours worked on planned and scheduled work compared to the trade hours scheduled. Keep in mind that a plant can have 100% maintenance schedule compliance while only scheduling 60% of the available trade hours. To see the full picture, you need to define and measure both capacity utilization and maintenance schedule compliance in order.

Maintenance forecasting provides the opportunity to establish ‘look-ahead’ work for major PMs, or repairs that will consume large amount of resources, or significant downtime periods. Forecasts are a three-week rolling look ahead that is updated each week. Given the purpose of forecasting, it is not important to measure compliance. 

Tip #5: Establish a weekly joint scheduling meeting

The operations leader sets the expectation for jointly scheduling of overall operational work with the functional leaders of maintenance, production, materials management, and others as required. The functional leaders need to create a set of business rules that define how the functions will jointly coordinate and schedule work. The business rules include how to measure, report, and review schedule-compliance measures:

  • Production schedule
  • Maintenance schedule
  • Delivery performance

Multiple functions have a direct impact on these compliance measures. Hence, for the operation to maximize these results, production, maintenance, and materials must work together to meet a common set of objectives. Demonstrating active and visible leadership, the operations leader provides the reinforcing mechanism by encouraging continued joint scheduling meetings and attending them periodically. The operations leader adds these measures to each functional leader’s individual goals and objectives to reinforce their importance through accountability. 

Remember to reinforce the new joint scheduling behaviors with recognition and rewards so that your improved results will be sustainable.  

John Cray, CMRP, is a principal consultant with Life Cycle Engineering.

Top Plant
The Top Plant program honors outstanding manufacturing facilities in North America.
Product of the Year
The Product of the Year program recognizes products newly released in the manufacturing industries.
System Integrator of the Year
Each year, a panel of Control Engineering and Plant Engineering editors and industry expert judges select the System Integrator of the Year Award winners in three categories.
September 2018
2018 Engineering Leaders under 40, Women in Engineering, Six ways to reduce waste in manufacturing, and Four robot implementation challenges.
GAMS preview, 2018 Mid-Year Report, EAM and Safety
June 2018
2018 Lubrication Guide, Motor and maintenance management, Control system migration
August 2018
SCADA standardization, capital expenditures, data-driven drilling and execution
June 2018
Machine learning, produced water benefits, programming cavity pumps
April 2018
ROVs, rigs, and the real time; wellsite valve manifolds; AI on a chip; analytics use for pipelines
Spring 2018
Burners for heat-treating furnaces, CHP, dryers, gas humidification, and more
August 2018
Choosing an automation controller, Lean manufacturing
September 2018
Effective process analytics; Four reasons why LTE networks are not IIoT ready

Annual Salary Survey

After two years of economic concerns, manufacturing leaders once again have homed in on the single biggest issue facing their operations:

It's the workers—or more specifically, the lack of workers.

The 2017 Plant Engineering Salary Survey looks at not just what plant managers make, but what they think. As they look across their plants today, plant managers say they don’t have the operational depth to take on the new technologies and new challenges of global manufacturing.

Read more: 2017 Salary Survey

The Maintenance and Reliability Coach's blog
Maintenance and reliability tips and best practices from the maintenance and reliability coaches at Allied Reliability Group.
One Voice for Manufacturing
The One Voice for Manufacturing blog reports on federal public policy issues impacting the manufacturing sector. One Voice is a joint effort by the National Tooling and Machining...
The Maintenance and Reliability Professionals Blog
The Society for Maintenance and Reliability Professionals an organization devoted...
Machine Safety
Join this ongoing discussion of machine guarding topics, including solutions assessments, regulatory compliance, gap analysis...
Research Analyst Blog
IMS Research, recently acquired by IHS Inc., is a leading independent supplier of market research and consultancy to the global electronics industry.
Marshall on Maintenance
Maintenance is not optional in manufacturing. It’s a profit center, driving productivity and uptime while reducing overall repair costs.
Lachance on CMMS
The Lachance on CMMS blog is about current maintenance topics. Blogger Paul Lachance is president and chief technology officer for Smartware Group.
Material Handling
This digital report explains how everything from conveyors and robots to automatic picking systems and digital orders have evolved to keep pace with the speed of change in the supply chain.
Electrical Safety Update
This digital report explains how plant engineers need to take greater care when it comes to electrical safety incidents on the plant floor.
IIoT: Machines, Equipment, & Asset Management
Articles in this digital report highlight technologies that enable Industrial Internet of Things, IIoT-related products and strategies.
Randy Steele
Maintenance Manager; California Oils Corp.
Matthew J. Woo, PE, RCDD, LEED AP BD+C
Associate, Electrical Engineering; Wood Harbinger
Randy Oliver
Control Systems Engineer; Robert Bosch Corp.
Data Centers: Impacts of Climate and Cooling Technology
This course focuses on climate analysis, appropriateness of cooling system selection, and combining cooling systems.
Safety First: Arc Flash 101
This course will help identify and reveal electrical hazards and identify the solutions to implementing and maintaining a safe work environment.
Critical Power: Hospital Electrical Systems
This course explains how maintaining power and communication systems through emergency power-generation systems is critical.
Design of Safe and Reliable Hydraulic Systems for Subsea Applications
This eGuide explains how the operation of hydraulic systems for subsea applications requires the user to consider additional aspects because of the unique conditions that apply to the setting
click me