Is Frankenstein’s monster disrupting your Production Planning?

In the second of our ‘Lean manufacturing in the digital age’ series, we explore how increased flexibility, market agility and responsiveness can only be achieved through robust, accurate production planning.

Given the hype surrounding the ‘digitalisation’ of manufacturing, it’s all too easy to forget that manufacturers have been implementing and using IT systems for decades.

This has provided the sector with a wealth of knowledge and familiarity; it’s also provided the opportunity to build up years of technical debt.


CROP - cloud adoption Smart factory and industry 4.0 and connected production robots exchanging data with internet of things (IoT) with cloud computing technology - image courtesy of Depositphotos.


Many industrial businesses would describe their digital architecture as a complex jumble of disparate systems – ERP, MES, MRP, S&OP, the list goes on. The information continued in these systems is frequently manually-generated, siloed and inconsistent, making it a challenge to work with and swiftly obsolete.

Many of these systems are bespoke creations cobbled together long ago with modifications and extra modules bolted on as and when needed. Though custom-built may have been the right choice at the time, the decision can quickly lead to something resembling the digital equivalent of Frankenstein’s monster. That may sound glib, but the risks are all too real.

The risks inherent with custom solutions

Bespoke solutions can quickly become outdated, unsupported, unsecure and, ultimately, not fit for purpose. They can negatively affect productivity, employee engagement and customer service.

The time, money and effort required to keep them operating can dramatically snowball, sucking up valuable resources which could be better invested in other parts of the organisation.

This is one of the primary reasons why you find so many IT departments focused on non-value-added tasks such as maintaining and patching existing systems, rather than driving business improvements that offer impactful and long-term competitive advantage.

The risks inherent with custom-builds only increase as time passes, especially if their architects should move on or retire and customers start to demand more from a business.

If this sounds very familiar to you, then fear not. There are numerous examples of manufacturers who have successfully made the transition to a better way of working, and it all starts with production planning and scheduling.


Production Planning Business Strategy Objective Puzzle Piece - image courtesy of Depositphotos.


Achieving a consistent work flow

Production planning is a must for any manufacturing operation. The goal of production planning is to ensure an efficient work flow that ensures orders are fulfilled without interruption, delay or stress.

It sounds simple, but successfully balancing customer needs with the resources and capacity available while operating in an efficient, cost-effective manner is far from easy – in fact, it’s one of the hardest (but most important) aspects of manufacturing to get right.

A robust production plan encompasses labour, raw materials, equipment, processes and workstations. They also require frequent input and collaboration between several business functions such as planning, production, sales, logistics, inventory and customer service.

Most businesses already have some form of production planning and scheduling process in place, to varying degrees of success. Those that struggle typically have plans built on disparate, static spreadsheets, a disconnected production area, siloed departments, outdated software or a combination of all four.

One such business is a contract pharmaceutical manufacturer based in the Midlands.

Success story

The company offers in-house pharmaceutical manufacturing and assembly services for hundreds of solid dose medicinal and healthcare products at any one time.

IoT technologies in the pharmaceutical sector will be worth $2.4bn (£1.7bn) by 2020 - image courtesy of Depositphotos.

The business has grown steadily since its founding in 1990 thanks to its technical expertise, quality and reliability. With growth, however, came the need for greater efficiency and fewer bottlenecks.

“We were giving delivery dates out but weren’t sure if we were going to meet them,” explains the company’s production planning manager. “We wanted to make sure we weren’t under or overstocked or missing materials; we were flexible, but we couldn’t plan – we were always fighting chasing orders.”

The company was using a bespoke MRP (material requirements planning) system that was custom-built more than a decade ago. The system worked, but it didn’t offer the granularity of detail the business now required, nor did it provide any workflow visualisation or detail of planning and scheduling.

The business understood that to increase efficiency it needed an advanced planning and scheduling solution, one that was capable of handling 200-300 unique products going through at any given moment.

Improved planning and scheduling capacity by 75%-80%

“The systems we were looking at focused on one function, our constraints moved around from area to area, weekly and seasonally; we needed a dynamic solution,” the planning manager explains.

Such a solution was found in the advanced planning and scheduling system, Access Orchestrate from award-winning software provider, Access Group.

For the customer, the key differentiator between other systems was Access Orchestrate’s visualisation and forecasting capabilities, providing insight into where the bottlenecks were.

The business can now plan its production schedule around Access Orchestrate, feeding back into it and adjusting accordingly; “We can add standards and changes to production based on real-time updates in the solution,” the production planning manager says.

Following one consolidated plan has benefited everyone throughout the organisation, he continues; “We are now on top of our stock control, delivery on time and in full – we’ve improved our planning and scheduling capacity by 75-80%.

“We’re optimising all our resources, efficiently and effectively. We’ve got the foresight to react quicker. Access Orchestrate allows the business to see problems before they arrive, now our team can make informed decisions.”

Packing efficiencies has allowed the business to make better use of its labour and has increased throughput as a result. Accurate data also means the business can now reliably report and measure key performance indicators (KPIs) to improve management’s role.

The strongest results that the customer has experienced have been in customer service, the manager concludes; “We no longer have customers asking us for order updates as they now have visibility over production.”

Software implementation fears shouldn’t be what holds you back from moving forward with Lean. For further reading, The Access Group and The Manufacturer have created a resource hub on Lean to assist manufacturers looking to take proactive technological steps.

Every Monday, we will be publishing a new article in the Lean manufacturing in the digital age series:

  1. The key to Lean Manufacturing in the digital age
  2. Is Frankenstein’s monster disrupting your Production Planning?
  3. Don’t let Legacy Software be the albatross around your neck
  4. Does your supply chain contain more holes than Swiss cheese?
  5. Greater productivity isn’t delivered by hand
  6. Could the loss of one person sink your business?
  7. Supply chain transparency – helping manufacturers to deliver the goods
  8. Digitally empowered workers are key to unlocking greater productivity


*Header image courtesy of Etienne Marais from Pixabay; all other images courtesy of Depositphotos