Help me find software to improve my production scheduling.
March 18, 2010 6:55 PM   Subscribe

I'm looking for software to help streamline production scheduling in a small business.

I run a small business which manufactures a range of products from bulk stock. Basically an order comes in, is entered into the system, put on a production board then made and sent out.

The problem comes with scheduling, as we don't have a good way to keep track of what's in the system, what is being made currently and estimated times of completion.

I imagine that there must be software which would help track such things, it doesn't need to be complex or track inventory. Ideally it would be accessible via network so that anyone could see the status of any given order, and would have some sort of basic reporting function.

Looking around online I have found a large number of packages which do this sort of thing, and I'm a bit confused by the choices available. In short, I'm looking for recommendations for suitable products. Thanks all!
posted by tomble to Work & Money (3 answers total)
Have you tried something like a Google Docs spreadsheet? Or one step up from that, Dabble DB? The key is to start small and think about doing the 'process stuff' in a moderately manual way first, and then think hard about what you need automated. Premature application-building or purchasing is.. expensive.
posted by tmcw at 7:06 PM on March 18, 2010

There are literally thousands of shop floor control packages on the market, the better of which also integrate with purchasing, inventory control systems and general ledger accounting packages, to produce additional integrated functions like product costing, work in process inventory control, and requirements planning. If you're getting ready to set up a simple shop floor control system independent of related functions, you should at least do so based upon the common planning documents that most such systems use, so that if you do want to later integrate it, and get value add multipliers on your setup effort, that it is organized to do so.

Most shop floor control systems are built around 3 documents: bill of materials, routing, and the inventory & labor control ticket (job ticket). The bill of materials identifies the components, sub-assemblies or materials required to produce the item, including any technical drawings or customer specification documents that inform the production process. The routing provides the operations information, including order of operations, tool requirements, and standard shop process information needed to produce the product. The job ticket provides a means to accumulate and report back the issue of raw materials, sub-assemblies, and shop floor stock, as well as labor hours, all by operation, that accumulate in the product as it goes through the production process.

An example of a Shop Floor Control product that integrates with the widely used small business accounting package Quickbooks, but that can also be set up independent of an accounting system, in simple modules just for shop control, is REALTRAC (this is not an endorsement or suggestion that REALTRAC is the solution for your business. I have no business or personal interest or connection with REALTRAC, and have never used that particular product. I link to the REALTRAC Web site, simply because it offers a clear explanation of the various shop floor control modules it contains, along with typical screen shots of the software that may help you imagine using it in your environment). For very simple batch manufacturing operations, where a finished product is produced simply by mixing and packaging raw ingredients, a simpler batch control process, which folds in a bill of materials, routing and job ticket into a single batch control ticket, may suffice. In an analogous way, for products which can have variable feasible routes through a manufacturing process, a simple kanban control system might be appropriate, where the actual routing is just a few production steps generally completed in a single day, and best left to the discretion of the manufacturing floor personnel.

It might help if you find a manufacturing consultant to take a look at your operation, and help you characterize it in more detail. From that, you could better describe it to various software vendors, and get their recommendations. You might get in touch with SCORE, for volunteer help in finding a manufacturing consultant. You might then put together a basic RFP to send out to 10 or 15 software companies that seem to have likely products for your operation. You'd learn a lot by investing the time to talk over your needs with a number of vendors, and listening to their product pitches and recommendations. With some concrete proposals in hand, a SCORE business counselor might then be able to help you choose a particular package that is right for you.
posted by paulsc at 11:45 PM on March 18, 2010

Is your business growing? If it is, and it's not prohibitively expensive, you might consider investing in an enterprise resource planning system. This not only does scheduling but also accounting, inventory, purchasing, customer relationship management, supplier relationship management, human resources, etc. It used to be that ERPs required a big up-front cost for hardware and software but now they're available as software-as-a-service. One SaaS ERP I've read good things about is Plex.
posted by Jacqueline at 2:30 PM on March 19, 2010

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