The manufacturing environment in South Africa is continually facing a number of external challenges, including a weak economic environment, punishing escalations in electricity tariffs which puts greater pressure on earnings and in certain cases, prolonged strikes by a labour force, which also leads to loss of production.

With the dawning of the automation era, fueled by the Fourth Industrial Revolution, manufacturers can overcome some of the challenges by introducing scheduling software to increase the efficiency of production, as well as reducing the manufacturing of excess product, explains software company Scheduling Solution’s CEO Chris Mollison.

Scheduling Solutions which focuses on the marketing, sale, implementation and support of the Preactor Advanced Planning and Advanced Scheduling solutions, believes that by installing an advanced scheduler software programme a company can significantly improve its supply chain.

“This will not only allow the factory to manage the scheduling and use of moulds – which can either be a single entity, or a composite structure, including a body, inserts and spacers – simultaneously with that of managing production resources. This allows the factory to avoid the loss of production time caused by the non-availability of the mould, due to conflicts in use or poor mould preparation sequencing,” Mollison highlights.

A produced schedule provides the company with a timeline of the products that will be manufactured, their quantities, the machines that will be in use and which moulds will be required.

However, when developing a production schedule for the use of injection moulds in the plastics industry, among others, there are several conditions that advanced scheduling software should take into account to ensure that the factory ultimately benefits from the process to create a streamlined, sustainable and efficient workflow. These include the number of moulds, the quantity available, cavity count, resources that can be used and refurbishment cycles.

Scheduling Solutions was recently contracted to install its scheduling system for a specialist packaging company, which manufactured products on a make-to-order, or bespoke, basis.

Here, multiple moulds existed for a particular shape, the core moulds had different cavities available and the mould selection determined the resources that could be used. “The company wished to reduce their setup by running works orders of the same shape but different colours sequentially,” Mollison notes.

By building these requirements into the Preactor Advanced Scheduler, Scheduling Solutions enabled the manufacturer to obtain several benefits, including reducing the scheduling time from several hours each day, to around two to three minutes per schedule run.

This allowed the company to increase its schedule horizon from one to two days to weeks. The accuracy of the schedule resulted in the increase of the factory’s productivity by 43%. “This was as a result of removing problems associated with mould availability and which allowed the manufacturer to significantly increase its customer service,” Mollison says.

Further, Mollison notes that using a scheduler, the company’s sales department was able to advise their customers of an expected delivery date.

“Once a schedule has been created, a manufacturer can print reports of anticipated mould usage by mould number, by time required, and so forth. This information can then be used by the staff responsible for moulds to prepare moulds for production, advise the scheduler of availability problems and overcome any unforeseen challenges,” Mollison says.

If moulds only need to be refurbished after a certain number of cycles, the system can also project when in the future a mould would need to be refurbished. “This facilitates improved co-ordination between the production and refurbishment areas, as well,” concludes Mollison.

Environments without post-usage cleaning

In environments where post-usage cleaning or refurbishment is not required, mould components are generally linked to the item master identification or part number and copied to every works or production order opened.

Where multiple mould and resource options occur, this detail is made available to the advanced scheduler. The advanced scheduler determines the best schedule after considering all alternatives when scheduling a works order.

Advanced schedulers manage timing constraints when mould conflicts occur and ensure that works orders cannot run at the same time when mould availability conflicts exist. It will also warn the scheduler when drag-and-drop activities cause conflicts.

Environments with post-usage cleaning

In these environments, it is possible to configure the factory’s advanced scheduler to see the mould as a BOM component, so that the mould gets issued to the works order. “This approach requires that moulds are kept in inventory, to determine their availability during the scheduling process,” explains Mollison.

The BOM is also configured to produce a by-product consisting of a used mould, while a works order is created to consume the used mould and produce a clean mould.

If the moulding refurbishment area is also scheduled, the advanced scheduler will be able to determine when a clean mould will become available for future production.

“This delivers immediate benefits to the manufacturer, including the development of a feasible schedule; the scheduling of the refurbishment process to meet production priorities; the improved coordination between operational units to better use key production resources and the ability to project capacity use of the refurbishment area,” adds Mollison.