Share Your Hard Lessons Learned With Others Do Not Embellish Them

Share Your Hard Lessons Learned With Others Do Not Embellish Them

The production scheduler of a large Paper Mill was forced to retire and was downsized. He had been there for over thirty years. Much to my surprise and chagrin, I was forced to take his place. It was a large integrated paper mill with over 2000 employees and over 3000 different SKUs or brands. There were over 200 constraints and, in a scheduling, meeting the biggest bully usually got their way. I had industrial engineering experience but no experience in process industry scheduling. Worst, the retiring scheduler refused to help or train me. He did the entire scheduling by hand using long green sheets on his desk. All his knowledge was locked in his head and he refused to release it.

The job was a great responsibility, and downtime in a Paper Mill was tabulated by accounting, as being worth over $100,000 an hour negative impact to the budget. My boss got me a personal computer, the first in the plant, and I proceeded to put the production schedule on Lotus 123 file spreadsheets. I would print out the files and they sort of imitated the long green sheets.  I would glue them together on the wall of the office. I was so nervous that I actually scheduled an entire year’s worth of production, and hung up all the spreadsheets on the office wall. This project took me over a hundred hours. I did not stop until it was done.

After all this work, I was in my office late one evening staring at the hung-up production spreadsheets and had an “ah ha” moment. There was a pattern to the schedule for each quarter. The pattern roughly repeated itself for every quarter in the year. In other words, the schedule remained very similar for each quarter.

I decided to look up information on process industry scheduling. In one journal article I stumbled upon a concept called cycle scheduling. Basically, the concept establishes an optimal production cycle for the plant or mill. If the scheduler is forced to break the cycle for an extraordinary reason, the scheduler tries to get back to the cycle or pattern as soon as possible. The pattern or cycle remains approximately the same when in place.

I was ecstatic, now I was using a best practice for process industry production scheduling. I soon expanded my production schedule and built an in house MRP (Material Requirements Planning) system which really improved material flow.

At a corporate meeting of production schedulers, I shared my findings with all the other schedulers and explained the concept of cycle scheduling. I made sure that they also knew that it was an industry best practice and not something that I had invented on my own.  I made it clear that it was optional for them to use cycle scheduling and not a requirement. They understood the large amount of work that I had done and were very appreciative of my sharing it with them. I then helped many of them set it up for their plants. Share your hard lessons learned with others do not embellish them.

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