Why doesn’t automated scheduling work in a small manufacturing company?

Table of contents

    With how much they hear about automated scheduling and its benefits, many small manufacturing companies want to implement it in their facility as well. There’s nothing to lose but plenty to gain, right? Unfortunately, not always. The biggest trap the small companies might fall into is buying one of the super-powerful (and expensive) ERP systems that simply don’t work as expected – at least, not in their small facility.

    Why? We’ve looked at some main reasons behind this – and also for potential solutions to this issue.   

    cloud based manufacturing software

    Why is automated scheduling a trap?

    When you are interested in buying an advanced software system, you have some idea of how it would help you. Most importantly, you reason; automated planning will save you a lot of time. Instead of spending a few hours every day creating lists of tasks in Excel or paper notebooks, handing them to your foreman and workers on the shop floor, you will enjoy an evening dinner with your family.

    If you are in charge of a slightly bigger company, you think that you can get rid of your planners because you won’t need them any longer once new automated scheduling is installed. What companies sometimes fail to notice though (and the sales reps might not mention) is that you will need a massive amount of data for the automated scheduling system to work.

    Without feeding the information into a system, it is impossible to use automated scheduling.  

    Ready to Streamline Your Shop Floor?

    Online manufacturing software that puts you in control.

    Get started today

    14-day free trial - No credit card needed - Unlimited free support

    What information do you need so the software can plan things automatically?

    The calendar

    The first thing you need is a calendar with the availability of your machines, operations, etc. You might consider that a straightforward task, but in fact, it’s much more complex than it looks. We are not talking here about some simple spreadsheet with time blocks, Monday to Friday, but a detailed plan that precisely says:

    • Which machines are busy
    • For how many hours they are busy
    • When which workers have their shifts and how long they work, etc.   

    And without this information, you won’t be able to create a plan in advance. Let’s say that you work in a print house and want to schedule some tasks for the weekend to deliver all ordered products on time. It surely won’t be a problem for an automated planning system? Yes, but under one condition: your scheduling software needs to know everything in advance. Without complete data, it won’t be able to prepare a reliable plan. 

    You can’t forget the time needed for the maintenance – the break times needed for the maintenance also have to be added to the scheduling system. Otherwise, your perfect plan might no longer be valid when the machine is out of service for three hours due to maintenance – and you can’t adjust the plan on the spot.

    The workers

    Did adding all that machine data into the planning system already sound overwhelming? Unfortunately, it is just the beginning.

    Once you have completed the calendar for your machines, it’s time to do the same thing for your staff. Advanced planning forces you to prepare a schedule with shifts and availability of each worker for the next few weeks or even months, including their holidays, possibility of sick leave, etc.

    When your plan is updated, it’s time to compare machines and workers using the abilities matrix. You fill the rows and columns with the names of workers, matching them with machines/operations and marking their fluency level. An automated scheduling system cannot make correct decisions or delegate the job to the right person without this information. 

    he last thing you have to do is connect your software to a time and attendance system and see who is present at work and can physically do the job. Imagine a situation when 2 out of 10 workers fail to turn up for their shift. The perfect plan must be adjusted quickly; otherwise, it will generate more mistakes and chaos.

    Advanced norms of work and the technology of products

    Most products you make in 99% of cases need a minimum of 2-3 operations in the production process. For each operation, you should assign norms (time, number of pieces, efficiency), so it’s clear how long it takes to produce something or how many pieces per hour your workers should make. For the benefit of automated scheduling, the norms must be precise.

    For example, if you have to make 100 pieces and the time-lapse is 10-15 seconds per piece, the total discrepancy is huge (10-sec x 100 pieces). It is no longer a tiny delay but a miscalculated holdup. The efficiency should be calculated to an accuracy of one second, including setting up and changeover times.

    It is also vital to note operation dependencies between the operations (start-start, start-stop, stop-stop, and others). The scheduling system simply must have this information. On top of that, you have to consider the labor intensity (how many people have to work simultaneously on different machines). Sometimes one person can operate a few machines. At other times you need as many as four people for one machine to function correctly. Your advanced software needs this information. 

    Last but not least, you need to know the BOM (Bill of Materials) or the recipe of your product; that is the complete list of raw materials required to make it.

    Raw materials and the warehouse are organized to a perfection 

    Precise management of your stock is also a crucial part of automated planning. Without the availability of raw materials, the software cannot create an automatic plan, only a line of operations and orders. And when there aren’t enough resources for the process to carry on, the whole production might be delayed.

    The software needs complete information on stock levels with raw materials delivery dates (and delivery confirmation), the exact number of orders, and the BOM for each product. The connection between the warehouse and the shop floor is essential: the information flow must be smooth and precise; without it, automatic planning won’t work. 

    How automatic production treats leftover material

    There is also an issue of managing leftovers and collecting information on reusable stock. Not only small manufacturing companies have that problem. For example, let’s say that you have produced a 2.5-meter pipe, and there are still 50 centimeters of raw material left in stock. Can you use it for other projects? Well, it depends.

    Technically speaking, it’s still in stock, but will your advanced automated system allow you to access it? Each order must be entered into the system first, with all the products and technology (the exact amount of raw materials needed). Only if you include this data in the software can you use leftovers. So although you have raw materials in stock, the system won’t allow you to use them without precise information.

    Are automated scheduling systems the evil of this world or are we here in the wrong? 

    What we wrote earlier doesn’t probably sound too optimistic – are automatic planning systems even worth the effort then? 

    It all depends on the situation. There are many things you need to feed the automated planning system to function correctly. It works like a set of dominos or intricate jigsaw – one mistake somewhere in the process generates another. Sometimes the mistakes are irreversible, and some operations are planned in the wrong way.

    Thousands of large companies in the automotive industry and other manufacturing industries have been using it with great success for many years, that’s true. For small ones though, such a system is often not a good choice.

    Why you shouldn’t get an automated scheduling system as a small business owner

    They are not flexible enough

    First of all, an automated planning system, such as ERP, can cost you flexibility, which is an excellent advantage in a small manufacturing company. However, the number of variables is enormous, so you would have to change it every 2 seconds to have the last updated version for the plan to work correctly. What’s more, adding a new product /order can take longer than actually producing it, and that’s not what you are looking for.

    They are far too costly

    With the small scale of production, even if automated scheduling increases efficiency by 5-10%, it still won’t cover the costs of implementation, not to mention other expenses and the time needed to enter the data into the system.

    We covered the topic of why ERP tools are most often not a good fit for small companies in more detail in our other article – so you might want to read it if you were considering getting such a system yourself.

    Solution for the small manufacturing companies

    When you are interested in automated planning, it is probably because you are after production management and tracking key metrics to improve productivity in your workshop. But the advanced system might not be what you have in mind. 

    What do you need in a small manufacturing company:

    • tools to organize your shop floor with interactive, graphical planning (so you or the planner could easily set things up without the need of remembering each tiny detail);
    • simple norms and information for estimating lead times and tracking efficiency;
    • the list of orders and stock levels to balance production (supply/demand);
    • your products database which you can grow by adding more data systematically.

    You can start transforming your company and let us take you through Prodio software tools to show you how you can optimize your production. It is a cloud-based solution designed for rapid deployment with no up-front costs. Customizable, web-based dashboards provide the visibility and transparency to understand production performance and status at a glance. In addition, you can manage the shop floor operations, inventory, equipment, and workers to ensure your products are flawless and up to the customer’s satisfaction.

    Do you want to see Prodio in action? Then, how about scheduling a demo meeting or trying out the 14-day free trial? If you have any questions or doubts answered, you can always reach out to our support team – they will be happy to help.


    Automated scheduling could solve many of the issues plaguing your facility, absolutely – but only if you do it the right way. You shouldn’t count on that the tool will be a plug-and-play kind and that it will handle everything itself. Instead, you need to first think about why exactly you need automated scheduling – and what you should prepare before implementing it. 

    Once you have everything ready though, then automated scheduling really can be one of the most valuable assets in your company. 

    Automated Scheduling FAQ

    What is automated scheduling?

    Automated scheduling refers to using dedicated manufacturing software through which manufacturers can streamline and optimize the process of assigning tasks, allocating resources, and setting production schedules. 

    How does automated scheduling benefit small manufacturing companies?

    The biggest benefit is that automated scheduling can save plenty of facility owners’ time, as they don’t have to manage multiple spreadsheets or paper schedules anymore. The real-time data coming from those tools also help in optimizing production schedules, minimizing bottlenecks, and ensuring efficient use of resources. That way, manufacturers can improve their on-time delivery rates, increases productivity, reduces labor costs, and enables better customer satisfaction.

    What factors should be considered when implementing automated scheduling in a small manufacturing company?

    Most importantly, facility owners should think about what are the biggest problems they want to solve with automation, as it will help them pick the right features. They should also thoroughly analyze their production processes to see which parts of it could be automated.   

    How can automated scheduling software help in improving production efficiency and reducing costs? 

    In a few ways. For example, the platform can help manufacturers to optimize the use of resources, reduce idle time, minimize setup and changeover times, and eliminate manual errors in scheduling. That way, it enables better utilization of equipment, reduces overtime, and allows for efficient workforce planning, resulting in improved overall productivity and cost savings.

    Ready to Streamline Your Shop Floor?

    Online manufacturing software that puts you in control.

    Get started today

    14-day free trial - No credit card needed - Unlimited free support