Production planning for small manufacturers

Practical guide, thanks to which you will learn how to organize production planning simply and effectively. Additionally you will get ready to use tools and simple software to manage your production better.


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Production planning in small manufacture is a very different process from advanced working plans used by the big factories (and varies from methods learned during time of university education). It’s very 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 hokum, 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.

There is a good news: if you tackle production planning using suitable tools, making it clear and understandable for everybody, streamlining manufacturing process is within reach. Especially at the time of accessible Internet tools! 🙂

Instead 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.

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In this article the following topics are discussed: 

Other articles that might be useful if you are interested in production planning:

What should be your main objective regarding production planning?


Objective 1: The employees should know what to do, in which order even in your absence

Imagine a situation, when 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 very easy to achieve.

What you need is a clear schedule, which shows what has to be done step by step — instead of a complicated processor, when an employee doesn’t know what should they do. The idea is to create a solution so simple, that even somebody who isn’t really familiar with computers or technology can intuitively use it.

Illustration: the view of production plan from system – try it for free HERE) 

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 an employee ex. 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 be able to 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 schedule and determine minute by minute when each product would leave a production hall — in a way that all these projections are accurate — there are too many variables, which would cause the original production schedule 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 🙂


(Illustration: the view of production plan from system – try it for free HERE)

The second element, which enables the supercomputer in your head work, is a simple overview, which forecasts ahead of the capacity of your machinery 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 fact that 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 are questions whether it is possible to start work on the said element or maybe it is still waiting for completion at the previous working station.

The good production schedule should show an employee not only what they can do, but what actually can be done from the list of operations.

(Illustration: the view of production plan from system – try it for free HERE)

Let’s say that the paint shop has run out of a particular color. 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 is going to wait for it to be fixed; it is simply replaced by a different one. 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 which is available at the moment can be done.


Start now!

Try Prodio without any commitments - you have 14 days to check all of its functions in practice. After your trial period ends you can simply leave your account or continue work as our Client.


Start a test - no credit card neededLet's talk - call us now
3 ways of simple production planning in a small manufacture — tools and software

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):


There is a question of why use such a solution instead of using free Trello software or a low-cost monthly subscription at, which both give much more possibilities.

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  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 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 schedule 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 2020 and displaying a work plan at the production hall is very easy, fast and what’s most important practically free. The principles are easy — you decide to leave your tested invoice and warehouse 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 production hall; your employees must know what and in which order should be produced (they always have updated production schedule at the production hall), and 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 molding 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 
 Free trial:

What should the production plan contain to be effective in the management of work at the production hall? 


1. 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.

2.Data necessary for simple production and machinery capacity planning:

  1. Working time of particular manufacturing operations and how they are ordered,
  2. Total working times for individual machines,
  3. Indication, what is overdue or at risk of being overdue,
  4. The connection between orders — the order of manufacturing operations.

What you DON’T need for production planning in small manufacture:

  1. Giving a PRECISE calendar with an estimated time of starting each manufacturing operation is the base of scheduling in big facilities. Flexibility is a priority for you, so one phone call from your client would prove it wrong.
  2. 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 sit 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).

What are you waiting for ?

Go on, it’s just 5 minutes from starting to adding the first order to your production plan!