It is always interesting to hear about those companies who have actually taken radical action to succeed, rather than just talking about it. Seeing changes in market demand and hearing how new tools can help, they jump in and address the challenges head-on. Making the changes creates for these companies something that in a real business sense, sets them apart from their peers.
Such a success story I found recently in Germany, where generally business is booming as compared to the rest of the world. Industry leaders in this leading country have embraced agility. Agility, or more precisely, the lack of it, is one of the key ways in which we can measure the abilities of a production company. For almost every manufacturing operation, the high mix of products and decreasing dependability of the sales forecast means that more and more frequent changes have to be made in the production operation. The old guard of manufacturing people will always tend to assume that higher mix and higher volatility are the enemy, as they expect it will always result in poor performance, such has been their experience.
This simply is not true anymore however. My colleague, Mark Laing, put together a webinar recently where we talked about “Extreme Planning”. It talked about the optimisation of materials loading on machines at changeover between products running on SMT lines, and also about the optimisation of work-orders to meet customer demand. Both of these things are not new, they are done pretty much in every manufacturing environment by some system or other, even if they have to be done manually. One question that came up at the end of the webinar was, “What makes Mentor’s Production Planning Extreme?” I had chosen the word “extreme” for the title of the webinar with the intent of setting the expectation of taking SMT planning to the next level, where perhaps it had been thought in the past unattainable in reality.
Planning for SMT processes has been a long term issue in the market, where there are many standard tools to choose from, and yet none of them can provide a satisfactory solution. It is a situation of chicken and egg, which represents the two things that make up true SMT planning. One is to group feeders of different products so as to reduce the time it takes to changeover from one product to the next. This is usually called grouping, with tools available with most SMT programming systems today including those from machine vendors. The issue though is selecting the right products to group, which not only is dictated by the commonality of the products, but also by the sequence of the work-orders to meet customer demand as effectively as possible. Unfortunately, this is the other element of SMT planning. The sequence of work-orders can easily be decided by many tools on the market, but, the decisions are based on machine throughput and changeover times. The situation then will go in one of two ways, whichever chicken or egg comes first. Either the operation will create the work-order sequence and then create the materials grouping according to the sequence, or, the material grouping is made first which in turn drives the work-order sequence. Either way, only a small fraction of possible optimization solutions are considered, many assumptions to whichever the second stage is, are inherited. This will almost never result in an effective operation. The “extreme” element then is to have a tool such as the Valor Production Planning which can do both of these optimisations simultaneously. Only in this way can every possible solution be explored without any artificial assumptions.
This is surely then a real high-value functionality for SMT production operations who have started to see sudden changes in demands and face the needs to continuously re-plan in order to meet demand and avoid making excess stock, especially when you can throw literally thousands of products in to the mix and it takes just a few minutes to crunch the numbers. Extreme? I would say so, extreme value!