The Future Production Planner – like a Swiss Army Knife?

by Stefan Auerbach

In manufacturing companies, the position of a production planner is a relevant part of an integrated supply chain. Theoretically. However, in real life, production managers as well as the procurement department, sales and purchasers often still have an axe to grind - but we will get to that later.

What skills must production planners have?

Firstly, the job description of the classic production planner claims that it carries out capacity planning and controls production resources, conducts detailed production planning, prioritizes orders, and always keeps an eye on stocks and production orders. To an expert, this sounds like the realization of the long acquired theoretical knowledge. However, in reality, some situations make these tasks more difficult than they may seem nowadays; data management also plays a decisive role in production planning. Therefore, the production planner also has to control key figures and monitor data maintenance. This includes, for example, the decision as to which key figure is highly relevant for planning, because it has to be controlled and managed manually, and also the decision as to which information perhaps can be set automatically, such as minimum order quantities. In every decision that production planners take, they also have to save costs and avoid decreasing efficiency or performance simultaneously in order to meet management’s profit goals. The difficulty of this situation becomes clear when it comes to setting up the machine processes: If set ups are done rarely, this saves time and reduces machine downtime. At the same time, occasional set ups mean large batch sizes and these require a lot of material and storage space. Moreover, small batch sized and individual products are a rising market requirement. The production planner is continuously walking a tightrope.

Software is necessary

Without technical support, production managers must in fact be like a Swiss Army Knife, to manage all the requirements. This means there is a need for intelligent IT, which is developed to meet the goals of cost-effectiveness or new challenges, such as individualization and Industry 4.0. As a result, production planners also need to have "Digital Skills". The acknowledgement of software is necessary, in order to benefit from the digital support in production planning tasks. Often, several software systems in each department (procurement, sales, and production) form the IT landscape in a company, and “Island-planning” is widespread. Merging knowledge with efficient planning often fails because of the insufficient data transfer from one department to another.

Collaboration along the internal chain

The goal must be to have integrated, information-based planning. The production department must know about goals in the sales department. Besides this, procurement need to know how much of each item will be produced next. This creates numerous dependencies along the internal supply chain. Media disruptions are a restraint for holistic planning. All goals in every part of the internal supply chain (sales, procurement, production and management) must be put into a common planning software. This is the only way to identify interdependencies, and to avoid manual restructuring, delayed deliveries and unnecessary costs.

The highest discipline: simultaneous planning

If all planning departments involved share a common level of knowledge, the production plan still can be incorrect, because the numerous restrictions and objectives of each department cannot be optimally coordinated in a normal step-by-step approach. A planning result that takes into account every single condition of the internal supply chain needs a simultaneous planning approach. In simultaneous planning, all constraints along the entire supply and production chain are already considered at the beginning of the planning process. The availability of goods and capacitive feasibility are already taken into account for the simultaneous determination of batch sizes. The result is a cost-optimized and resilient production program.

Conclusion

With the right support in the form of intelligent software for simultaneous production planning, production planners do not have to perform miracles. By taking a holistic view of all the difficulties along the supply chain that modern optimization algorithms can provide, and through a management-by-exception approach, the really important and critical situations can be completely focused on.



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About the author

  • Stefan Auerbach

    Stefan Auerbach has worked for INFORM since 2015 and specializes in the field of Simultaneous Production Planning.

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