Furniture industry manufactures many different types of products such case goods, upholstered furniture and bedding, each with different processes which naturally leads to different planning approach requirements. The two main problems with respect to furniture manufacturing are master production scheduling for matching supply and demand; and factory operations scheduling to manage each workstation on a minute-by- minute basis.

Problem-1: Master Production Scheduling

In the fast-paced fashion based environment of the furniture market, the manufacturers need to make sure right products are manufactured on the right time in the right quantities. Furthermore, for the upholstered furniture, customers can even change the configuration of the product during sales. Therefore, utilizing the available capacity for the best possible mix is of utmost importance.

One of the important factors that must be considered during master production scheduling is the seasonality of demands and hence seasonality of the objectives of the manufacturer. For example, during a high season, the most important priority while allocating capacity may be customer satisfaction and profitability whereas during a low season it may be workforce utilization.

Existing inventory (for factories and distribution centers etc.) and customer orders, forecasts, as well as bills of materials, routes and restricted resources such as machines are important during master production scheduling to correctly model the production requirements and available capacity.

During master production scheduling, NovaLab’s planning software, xS Planner, allows the planners to dynamically observe raw material requirements, warnings with respect to the decisions that have been made (for example, an unsatisfied customer order) and the quality of the plan by displaying critical KPI values.

Essentially, master production scheduling determines how much capacity to allocate to each product from each factory, which naturally is of utmost importance to the success of the manufacturer. The answer to the capacity allocation problem also answers how the shifts of each workstation must be structured, hence, is essential for having high utilization rates. Therefore, from a tactical point of view, master production scheduling constitutes a very important piece of the planning puzzle for furniture industry.

Problem-2: Factory Operations Scheduling

There are many different processes in furniture manufacturing; that is, for manufacturing a single product, many different parts must pass through many different processes.

For goods, whose production process is dominated by machinery and other tooling such as case goods manufacturing, the factory operations scheduling system must be able to handle complex predecessor and successor relationships between workstations. For example, even for a single part, a succeeding operation may start before the finish of the preceding operation and the relationship depends on the speed of each operation in addition to other factors such as stacking and transportation quantities on the shop floor. Common approaches such as “the succeeding workstation starts 30 minutes after the start of the preceding workstation” is certainly not going to be enough for the complex and flexible structure of furniture plants. xS Planner’s approach is to automatically determine the overlap durations by considering real life factors to generate real life applicable schedules.

Another important factor for factory operations scheduling process is the workstation capacities. xS Planner can handle different operation speeds for different parts on the same workstation and can deal with the fact that each workstation may have a different shift structure – some may be working on a two-shift basis, some may be working on a single-shift basis and others may be working on a single-shift plus overtime basis.

For some operations of a single part, there may be alternative workstations, each with a different operation speed for the same operation of that part. xS Planner can also handle such cases and automatically determine the best alternative workstation for each operation of each part. Furthermore, depending on defined constraints, xS Planner can automatically split a specific operation between alternative workstations to minimize job completion times. In addition to these, xS Planner considers other tooling constraints for restricted resources such as molds to determine the correct start and end times for each operation.

One of the most important considerations for multi-process manufacturing operations is to determine the correct sequence of parts and operations for each process which provides changeover efficiency without increasing work-in- process inventory. However, the best sequence for each process, if considered in isolation, is different due to different process characteristics. xS Planner lets planners to define efficiency criteria for each process when considered in isolation, and depending on these criteria, identifies a sequence which solves the conflicting requirements of each process by identifying an efficient compromise.

On the other hand, for goods, whose production process is dominated by the availability and the skill levels of operators such as upholstered furniture manufacturing, the most pressing issue in factory operations scheduling is the production leveling and load balancing of processes with operator and skill level availability constraints. However, simple approaches such as dividing the requested quantity of each product equally to each day in the planning horizon cannot be employed due to possibly very small quantities of each product allocated to each day that may result from such approaches; and for machine and/or tooling dependent processes, such a schedule implies either excessive changeover times or high work-in-process inventory which render them unacceptable. Therefore, any factory operations scheduling system must be able to provide a levelled sequence which also considers the quantity related constraints for changeover sensitive processes. Further complicating the matter is that the schedule must be able to balance the loads of many different processes and each product may have different load requirements from each process. xS Planner lets planners define the characteristics of loads and processes that must be balanced; the minimum quantity per day constraints and various types of other constraints. After production levelling phase, i.e. determining the quantity and sequence of each product on each day, operations can be scheduled on each workstation if desired.

Due to the complex nature of the factory operations scheduling, sometimes it may be difficult to understand the implications of a given plan. xS Planner provides interactive raw material requirements plan view with the help of an embedded MRP module in addition to warnings related to various aspects of the plan such as late orders and a dashboard for KPIs.


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