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A Novel Approach to Planning and Scheduling

  • APICS partners

Challenge: Coordinate production with made-to-orders requirements
Solution: LillyWorks Protected Flow Manufacturing
Company: Graphicast
Headquarters: Jaffrey, New Hampshire
Operation: Specialized foundry

 Graphicast employee at work.

The challenge

Graphicast is a specialized foundry with two functional operations areas and two kinds of demand. Most of its products go through a molding operation and then proceed to the machining department for finishing. Both departments have multiple resources and different production rates and capacities, making the scheduling process challenging. The company makes some products in relatively large quantities to maintain stock levels for high-demand items while other products are made on-demand in response to real customer orders. One of their biggest challenges has been coordinating the mix of stock-order production with made-to-orders requirements.

Graphicast implemented and used a traditional enterprise resources planning (ERP) system, yet continually struggled with uneven resource loading, overtime and late orders. This challenge intensified when Graphicast experienced an unexpected increase in orders — at one point, triple the normal rate. “We got a disruptive amount of orders, which is great, except they weren’t blanket orders for delivery over the course of the year; they were, ‘I am ordering in January and want it shipped the end of February,’ and we did not have the capacity to do that,” says Val Zanchuck, president of Graphicast.

It became impossible to determine when they could complete the orders. Additionally, the systems could not provide useful schedules, priorities or visibility to help employees sort it all out.

The solution

Graphicast implemented LillyWorks’ Protected Flow Manufacturing (PFM), a scheduling software that integrates with existing ERP systems. Rather than try to force the operation-to-operation experience toward an average, PFM pools queue and touch times for the entire work order and develops an end-to-end schedule. The scheduling process itself looks at the pooled touch time as a requirement and the pooled inactive time as buffer. By monitoring buffer usage, the scheduler develops and maintains priorities that instruct what to work on next at each operation. The system is focused on protecting the workflow by monitoring and managing usage of the buffer. After implementing the change as an add-on to its existing ERP system, the company saw immediate improvements in visibility.

The results

With the new scheduling software and system in place, Graphicast could accurately quote shipment dates to customers and gained a clear set of priorities to direct production. Their backlog was more than cut in half, orders were shipped much earlier, the company could quote realistic lead times to customers and overall plant efficiency was improved considerably.

“Now that we are back to normal production levels, we can go and look at any point in the future, by any department … providing information several months in advance about where we may want to accelerate production on a particular job, especially if we start opening up capacity,” Zanchuck says. 

PFM has given Graphicast the visibility needed to make accurate shipment promises, and make-for-stock and make-to-order jobs are no longer causing problems for each other. The company is meeting its commitments and quickly clearing the backlog from the unexpected rush of orders. Executives feel confident that they will be able to respond to future fluctuations in demand smoothly and effectively. This simplified scheduling approach has enhanced Graphicast’s ERP system's utility without adding complexity.


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