Industry 4.0 and Production Scheduling

The German government has been promoting Industry 4.0 for several years now, with the goal of comprehensive digitalization and networking of industrial production (Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy: Industrie 4.0).

However, although there is hardly any job these days that is not either supported by modern software or fully automated, things look quite different in the area of production planning and scheduling. Indeed, 99% of European manufacturers, including many well-known companies, are still planning as they did 30 years ago – with Excel or “pen and paper”.

Are ERP, MES, IoT and automation enough?

The future scenario envisioned by Industry 4.0 is the so-called Smart Factory – in which production facilities and logistics systems communicate with each other autonomously – without human intervention – and largely self-organizing. An excellent example of such an autonomous system is the human body. (The brain of a company)

In our analogy, the ERP performs the functions of the human cerebrum, which is responsible for cognitive skills, memory, “data processing”, reasoning, judgement, and decision-making.

The MES acts in the role of the somatic nervous system and is important for inter-relationships and relating to the external environment via sensory organs, muscles and skin. The nervous system’s cognitive function conveys messages received from the brain to the muscles and gets the body moving.

And finally, the IoT is like the peripheral nervous system which transmits information to and from the central nervous system via a communication network, sending commands to all parts of the body.

APS Software for Industry 4.0

In my opinion, an Advanced Planning and Scheduling System (APS) is the missing link between ERP and MES. As in our analogy of the human body, an APS software fulfills one of the functions of the diencephalon (or interbrain); among other things, it regulates the sympathetic and parasympathetic nerves and communicates with the cerebral cortex and spinal cord. This is why a healthy human body is able to make precise and harmonious movements.

In a manufacturing company, the APS would be fulfilling the important function of a “brain“ and producing all orders harmoniously, i.e., synchronizing processes and production to achieve the shortest possible lead time. As part of this process, all main and sub-resources, as well as material availability, would be precisely planned and controlled and inventory management fully optimized.

Before production companies start to envision the ideals of Industry 4.0, a more important first step is for top management to begin analyzing and questioning their current production planning methods and systems. In the here and now it is still poor production scheduling that causes non-synchronous processes, long lead times and high inventories.

A well-functioning detailed scheduling tool, just like a healthy brain, issues production orders to the individual resources with the object of achieving optimal sequencing and orchestrated end-to-end schduling. Consistent coordinated sequence scheduling is a prerequisite for harmonious process synchronization. And achieving accuracy and precise timing in a production’s sequence scheduling is crucial if you want to reach the highest level of just-in-time. Only then can you start dreaming the dream of Industry 4.0.