Production planning in a small manufacturing company is very different from the big factories’ advanced working plans (and varies from methods learned during university education). It’s often much more difficult, and it also requires a different approach!
Despite all the bluster about semi-automatic planning, hundreds of detailed tables and charts and other hokums, which you find on the websites of providers of advanced software for production management, they can give you more troubles than it’s worth. At the end of the day, you will be the one left with paper orders and chaos at the production hall.
Many companies are still using old fashioned production planning methods: they might have worked, but in the past, when there were mainly big factories, with lots of workers and machines. The production structure is much more varied: there are numerous small manufacturing companies, and the old style does not apply to them. It will do more harm than good.
There is good news: if you tackle production planning using suitable tools, making it clear and understandable for everybody, streamlining the manufacturing process is within reach. Especially at the time of accessible Internet tools! 🙂
IInstead of having tons of handwritten orders which need coping into Excel, you can have an online, neat dashboard and enjoy a paperless production planning process.
What is production planning?
Production planning is the planning of production and manufacturing modules in a company or industry. In other words, this is your strategy for the whole manufacturing process. The plan works as a guide: it shows step by step what should be done, in which order, and how quickly to achieve the desired result. Production planning can help in efficient manufacturing or setting up a production site by facilitating the required needs.
There are, of course, different production methods, such as single item manufacturing, batch production, mass production, continuous production etc. Each of them has its own type of production planning. From clever production planning and scheduling comes good production control. These processes are naturally combined. When you have great production control, you are sure that all the necessary raw materials, tools, knowledge and people are there, so you know how much you can produce at any given time.
What should be your main objective regarding production planning?
Objective 1: The employees should know what to do, and in which order. Even in your absence.
Imagine a situation: you can go home without worrying or take a short holiday because you know that production will continue, even though you aren’t present. How does it feel? Paradoxically it is straightforward to achieve.
You need a clear schedule, which shows what has to be done step by step — instead of a complicated vision when a worker doesn’t know what they should do. The idea is to create a simple solution. Even somebody, who isn’t really familiar with computers or technology, can intuitively use them.
Remember that even when you produce very sophisticated products (which consist of thousands of parts), each person at the production hall has to make a particular element, using that particular machine, accordingly to set parameters, and they have to do it well.
Considering the efficiency of work at the production hall, it turns out that the comment handwritten on the order form by a worker, for example, about changes in technical drawing, is much more important than giving a precise time of starting work.
Objective 2: You have to know how much you can produce at any given time, whether you will keep deadlines, and what is your machinery capacity?
In small manufacture it isn’t really possible (well, maybe it is, but it would involve the astronomic amount of work) to set precisely a production plan, and determine minute by minute when each product would leave shop floor — in a way that all these projections are accurate — there are too many variables, which would cause the original production plan to change very often.
Luckily you have a super processor — your brain, which has terabytes of experience in production, and it knows how to manage things optimally. All it needs to make a decision is a clear view of individual operations, to adjust things accordingly 🙂
The second element, which enables the supercomputer in your head work, is a simple overview, which forecasts ahead of your machinery’s capacity as well as its operational capacity in months, days, hours.
It gives you full control over your manufacturing process. You will feel confident in front of a client and will be able to quickly make accurate estimates, confirm the dates, negotiate with sales reps;
The system will prompt you that something is overdue and it requires you to follow up, or your quick reaction is an excellent advantage and undisputed facilitation.
Objective 3: You and your staff need to know whether the part has been already made during the previous operation.
That’s it — no more running and asking! The bigger the production hall, especially if it has a few floors, the more time is wasted. Countless questions are whether it is possible to start work on the said element or still wait for completion at the previous working station.
A good production plan should show an employee what they can do and what actually can be done from the list of operations.
Let’s say that the paint shop has run out of a particular colour. It doesn’t mean that the whole company stopped working — simply the further elements are being made instead. If one part of the metal-cutting machine has worn down, nobody will wait for it to be fixed; a different one replaces it. The employee can see it on the production plan, and it is clear that some things have to be skipped for the time being, and the job available at the moment can be done. These are the principles of production planning. We know- you have virtually no time to spare, chaos at the production is your constant worry, but don’t put your decision off- it’s a vicious circle. Start today, not tomorrow and make your work take less work. We promise, together we can get your production to the next level!
1. Tables in lean methodology or your own methodology
This is a typical old school, which doesn’t mean it’s a useless solution, because even today it is used by big factories to visualize a factual situation. All you need is a whiteboard, a roll of duct tape to separate lines, and a bit of imagination to divide things reasonably.
It works in this way: each order is a note self-adhesive or magnetic, on which the guidelines on how to produce something are given. A production manager sets the queue for particular machines, and next employees move the notes — if it is a job still in progress, they move the note to the first row, and when the job is completed, it is the last position at the machine.
There are alternatives: you can place boxes by the machines and put inside orders as they arrive; consequently, employees move the orders between each work station. It is possible to freely modify the above solutions or buy a dedicated one.
There is an example of whiteboard production planning below; instead of using notes employees write down pieces made with the marker, orders are horizontal (own materials).
Trello is in fact an easy and free table, which can be shared with production. Although it is a free program it has some disadvantages such as lack of work streamlining or analyses of pieces made (only progress), etc.
2. Production planning in Excel (or even better in Google Docs)
Why plan production in Google Docs spreadsheets, not in Microsoft Excel?
- it is straight away online, and it can be projected at the production hall,
- it is more comfortable and easier to use: although many years I was working in Excel, after switching to the Google version, I have no intention to go back, mainly because I value comfort the most,
- the online version is better at handling a lot of production data (where MS Excel online showed mistakes, Google had no problems whatsoever),
- easier and more intuitive file sharing,
- better surveys offer a possibility to collect production data.
Different types of production planning in MS Excel and examples:
Production planning as Gant’s graph – Excel’s example (here Google Spreadsheet)
Production plan Excel (Google Docs) with each employee included
Above – simple production planning, example production plan in Excel (here Google Docs)
3. An easy to use production planning and work registration online software for small manufactures
It is 2021, and displaying a work plan at the production hall is very easy, fast, and most important, practically free. The principles are easy — you decide to leave your tested invoice and inventory management system, to implement a new external tool – Prodio and continue production comfortably without any complications.
No more burning the midnight oil and working the second shift to make sure things are running smoothly. Spend the evening with your family or on your preferred pastime. No more cutting holidays, because the production won’t be functioning without you, no more such dilemmas!
Controlled and better-organized production at the shop floor; your workers must know what order should be produced (they always have an updated production schedule at the shop floor). You know the real-time of when the product is ready, can estimate progress and efficiency.
It is recommended for:
- industries with simple products: metalworking, CNC, injection moulding machine industry, elastomers, carpentry, cardboard boxes, printing houses, tool shops and other similar production-support services (ex. galvanizing industry),
- producers of equipment/ machinery/ steel structures, where it is necessary to manage separately individual elements of the construction (or group of products),
- the number of employees starting from 2-3 people at the production hall up to about 40.
Typical cost (based on Prodio software):
- Monthly subscription: from 97 USD net per company
- Implementation/setting up costs: 0 USD, the clients start by themselves.
- Update costs: 0 USD (always up-to-date)
- Necessary equipment at the production hall: simple laptop/computer with Internet access, RFID readers + key-fobs
What should the production plan contain to be effective in the management of work on the shop floor?
Necessary data regarding production planning, so an employee would know what to do and how:
1. The list of machines/ manufacturing operations depending on how you plan to work;
2. The queue of orders for individual machines/ manufacturing operations;
3. Important comments, usually given as spoken remarks, not connected directly with product’s technology, ex. that at 2 p.m. the courier comes to collect a particular product;
4. Parameters regarding how something should be made — with a reference number to documentation or external order;
5. Deadline – when is the particular operation due.
Data necessary for simple production and machinery capacity planning:
- Working time of particular manufacturing operations and how they are ordered,
- Total working times for individual machines,
- Indication, what is overdue or at risk of being overdue,
- The connection between orders — the order of manufacturing operations.
What you DON’T need for production planning in a small manufacturing company:
- Giving a PRECISE calendar with an estimated time of starting each manufacturing operation is based on scheduling in big facilities. Flexibility is a priority for you, so one phone call from your client would prove it wrong.
- System of production planning with Gannt’s charts, etc. Charts are great but to set them up in a way that facilitates production planning would require a great amount of time and precise technologies for each product — otherwise, they would be unnecessary.
Online production planning — why is it so important to have Internet access?
Experience shows that a production hall is where the most common production mistakes happen due to which the company makes losses. Incorrect interpretation of guidelines given over the phone, obsolete drawing, incorrect communication between shifts, mistakes caused by confusion, and resulting from changes of the plan — these are the grounds for the majority of complaints.
The lack of an online working plan and monitoring of progress results in:
- Much higher risk of using bad parameters/ unsuitable products;
- The wrong sequence of works, unnecessary changeovers;
- Hold-ups, during which employees don’t know what to do;
- Long hours which you spend on controlling the production hall instead of developing your business;
- Incorrect exchange of information between shifts.
The fact that you don’t have a computer in the production hall is a single reason why you lose a lot of money:
The arguments I CAN’T AFFORD IT/ I DON’T HAVE TIME/ EMPLOYEES WON’T BE ABLE TO HANDLE IT lost their validity. All you need to have an online production plan is:
- one of the 3 programs mentioned at the beginning of this article,
- second-hand laptop or cheap tablet,
- Internet access (Wi-Fi / 3G).