Production Scheduling

How What-If Scenario Planning Saves the Day

Published June 14th, 2023

Keep wishful thinking in check with a capacity planning tool grounded in real-world data.

For many manufacturers, managing the day-to-day of their workflow feels like a giant guessing game. The production manager may have worked out one plan on paper, but very few operations run according to schedule, and it’s their job to balance ideal, best-case scenarios against the likelihood of any number of factors going wrong.

The challenges of managing a factory floor are only complicated by the need for leaders higher up the decision-making chain to be able to close business deals and sign contracts with the reasonable assurance that their factory has the capacity to take on new work. When those decision-makers are operating off of outdated or misleading information, it can cause unexpected blockages and delays in the production process that damage customer trust.

The good news is that there is a solution to these problems, and it lies in the scenario-planning capacity of your Manufacturing Execution System (MES) software. Below, we’ve outlined five ways in which what-if scenarios can keep you out of hot water.

1. Test different schedules to find the optimized production plan.

Sometimes, the optimal production schedule isn’t the most intuitive. With multiple machines, dozens of orders, and a variety of process steps, landing on the right order often takes a bit of experimentation. For instance, you may have two different orders that need to be run on the lathe. Order A is due on Thursday while order B is due on the following Wednesday. You may decide to run Order A first, because it’s due sooner, but order B requires a heat treatment from a 3rd party supplier that only accepts orders on Wednesdays. If you run Order A first, Order B will miss the delivery window for the heat treatment and that will put that project back a week.

It doesn’t take much thought to realize that if you run Order B first, you will be able to finish it in time to make the delivery window and still have enough time to run Order A. But if you apply these kinds of complications to your entire factory, you can see how quickly the situation can spiral out of control. A “what-if” planner allows you to play around with scheduling options until you find a more optimal solution.

2. Bring factory floor data to your decision process.

We can’t speak for all scenario-planning tools, but our software includes machine monitoring capabilities that gather data on factory operations so that you can see how your machines are performing in real time. This can inform decision-making processes for manufacturers, who can adjust their planning scenarios to reflect performance history. In other words, if you’ve been basing your capacity decisions off a standard lead time, machine monitoring combined with “what-if” planning can help you create more accurate scenarios.

3. Create contingency plans to reduce risk.

For many manufacturers, accepting extra work can be both exciting and nerve-wracking. On the one hand, landing a big contract is a huge opportunity. On the other hand, failing to deliver can damage a promising new relationship. And if longtime customers suffer because their projects are delayed in order to fit in the new contract, it can bruise trust even among your most loyal base.

“What-if” planning allows businesses to mitigate risk in these areas by ensuring they have a strategy to meet their workload before they take it on. Businesses who want to be extra thorough can even work through worst-case scenarios, such as unexpected downtime on a critical machine, or a supplier-side delay, and have a backup plan in place to manage it.

4. Demonstrate your capabilities to customers.

Most manufacturers, when looking for a production shop to fill an order, don’t want to know the inner workings of your factory. All they want is a simple yes or no: Can you deliver our order on time? But if you do have a customer come along who, as part of their due diligence supplier vetting process, starts asking hard questions about how you plan to fill their order… what then?

Well, you might offer to show them your current capacity and demonstrate how their order would slot in. You could even show them your contingency scenarios to offer additional reassurance that you’re able to meet their needs. In most cases, though, being able to tell your customers that you regularly conduct what-if scenario planning sessions to account for unexpected situations can be enough to win their confidence.

5. Anticipate resource demand.

Finally, as businesses become more aware of impending workloads and what a future production schedule might look like, they can apply that information to their resource management and inventory software. That way you can have resources on hand to support the workload, rather than finding yourself short on a critical supply.

This principle applies to human resources as well. If you can predict a large workload coming through, you can let your operators know to expect overtime in the coming weeks. Or, if someone is sick or on leave, you can make arrangements for a temporary replacement. “What-if” planning can and should mean that your workers are better prepared for their jobs, and aren’t frequently called upon to step in on an emergency rush order.

If your software doesn’t offer robust what-if scenario tools, it’s time for a new solution.

Any good MES software should have detailed what-if scenario planning tools to help you anticipate problems and head them off before they arrive. Unfortunately, many businesses rely on the built-in functions of their ERP or MRP software, which often lack some of the tools that a purpose-built MES solution can offer.

If this is the case for your company, we would like to point to JobPack® as the answer. Our software includes manufacturing scheduling, machine monitoring, and what-if scenario planning tools. The result is complete visibility into operations on your factory floor, and the ability to finally have confidence that the schedule you’ve developed is reliable. Contact one of our team members today to learn more about the software.

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