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Dec 1, 2006 12:00 AM


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Management Ops

The scheduling board is the nerve center of most printing plants. It’s part of a larger effort that looks at an entire plant and sequences the work for maximum plant optimization. But many so-called scheduling boards are actually “shuffle boards.” Two or three times a day, a crowd gathers in front of the board to shuffle schedule cards around. These board meetings typically are restricted to two details: When is the job due and when can the pressroom handle it? This system essentially just lets everyone know what work is out there.

Done properly, scheduling:

  • Organizes work for maximum efficiency.
  • Provides a visual representation of the plant workload.
  • Lets management determine if, when, and how jobs will be delivered.
  • Helps management predict the future and plan sales strategies accordingly.
Why do we see so much shuffling and very little true scheduling? We can’t blame the software vendors. Most MIS programs offer decent scheduling modules, and with the advent of JDF-enabled equipment, information gathering can begin during the job quoting process.

The real problem is a management issue—if scheduling practices are lax, you can bet that most jobs merely are printed. It might not be the best use of equipment and it might not necessarily be on time, but by hook or by crook, the job got done.

Effective scheduling requires:

  • Good internal communications (including planning, key dates and electronic job tickets).
  • Ongoing feedback on job status and systematic job ticket updates.
  • Realistic standards.
Good communication starts with planning. Every job needs a production estimate. This information, in turn, will help determine production resources/functions, time, materials and so on. Remember that a scheduler is only as good as the information he or she is given. Review your standards—is everyone working with the same data? One printer found that its CSRs and scheduler were working from two different charts and therefore had different waste percentages. Under the auspices of the production supervisor and plant manager, the company established one standard. Note that once a single standard has been established, management must hold everyone responsible for adhering to it.

Key dates include earliest start, requested due date and other essential information such as the date proofs need to be delivered.

Electronic job tickets can be viewed on computer monitors or printed out. The job ticket should be the sole source of job information. If you have an MIS, retire your manual job tickets. You can still use hard-copy schedule cards—but use your MIS to generate them. Doing so will ensure that all specs are accurate and up to date while enabling you to take full advantage of your electronic system. Every change, whether to the job specs or due dates, must be entered in the MIS. No manual notations allowed!

Feedback includes automatic, real-time data collection on job status, either from JDF-enabled direct machine interfaces or data collection stations equipped with sensors. Again, manual notations on job tickets are impermissible—all changes must be made through the electronic system.

Mismatched estimating and scheduling standards are the Achilles’ heel of many printing plants. Too many printers use their estimating standards to influence selling price. When the quote is converted into a job and entered into the scheduling system/MIS, the hours are unrealistic. You can only have one set of standards. Change the price, not the estimated time or materials.

Does this sound familiar?
In theory, this sounds great. In practice, things are a little bit more challenging. One Midwest printer put it this way: “Here is what’s wrong with our scheduling system. Salespeople make ridiculous promises, using a schedule that would work only if there was nothing else in the shop. Although we’re still waiting for a customer to return color-accurate proofs, jobs are scheduled to run on press. And finally, how can you schedule more press time than 24 hours per day?”

First things first
And you thought it was only your plant! The first question is one of authority: Who’s in charge of the schedule? Typically a scheduler reports to a production manager. A bigger operation, $20 million or larger, requires a master scheduler, someone who is responsible for the entire plant. Department supervisors may sequence work and assign various tasks, but in terms of overall jobs, there’s only one scheduler.

In my own career, which has included stints as a scheduler, I’ve learned the hard way that a scheduler can’t arbitrate conflicts. If a problem arises, call your designated decision maker. This person, generally the sales manager or company president, determines if you should split runs, do partials or bump another job.

The second question underscores why it’s essential to manage proofs in and out. The CSR should send the proofs out with a due date. You can’t send proofs out and wait for the customer to send them back. If you want to maintain your original schedule, CSRs must tell customers the deadline for returning proofs and follow up to ensure a timely response. If proofs are missing, you might have to take the job off the schedule. That’s more of a policy decision than a scheduling issue.

Most scheduling systems allow users to enter tentative jobs. The job won’t actually become part of your official schedule until you have approved proofs. In a perfect world, every single job detail would be settled prior to the scheduling process. But few operations have this luxury. One of my clients prints directories and must project out 18 months into the future. The company doesn’t have all the job details, but it can block out a tentative schedule and adjust as necessary.

Finding time
What about time? Obviously, there are only 24 hours in a day. But some operations use inflated production standards, and if that’s the case, you can overschedule. You also might save an hour or two on makereadies just by grouping your work a little differently. (See “The shocking truth about scheduling,” October 2003.) If you are totally sold out, your system should let you split orders to do partials.

Effective scheduling requires company-wide cooperation. This can be difficult—if someone needs to get a job out, he or she doesn’t want to hear about following procedures. But it all comes down to discipline and workflow.



Ask Dr. Schedule
Dear Dr. Schedule,
We are a one-shift operation. My schedule is in my head. Is this wrong?
—Mind Over Matter


Dear Mind,
It’s always advisable to write things down. Some high-transaction digital printing operations rely on a production list rather than a board. The scheduler knows how long work should take and organizes the list accordingly.

Dear Dr. Schedule,
I am the prepress manager at a web plant. After I complained about all the problems with our scheduling process, the boss gave me the job.

I opted for a democratic approach. My “scheduling by committee” plan involves a daily production meeting at the big board that shows our press and bindery lines. All department managers review jobs slated for the next two weeks. This was my foolproof strategy to avoid the problems that had previously plagued us: We would discuss each job a total of 10 times before it ran on press. Because all departments participate, I thought this would eliminate mistakes such as scheduling jobs on press prior to the dates customer files were due.

But I didn’t make any allowance for the surprise jobs that pop up every week. We aren’t in the position to turn down jobs—we can’t ask our salespeople to give us more than two weeks notice about new accounts. I’m afraid we’ll lose old customers by changing their deliveries to make room for new ones. Help!
—Pressed for Time


Dear Pressed,
You have the right idea about involving the department heads to support your schedule. But this isn’t scheduling by committee—it’s a production meeting. Scheduling is the sequencing of work by department or cost center to meet the due date. It requires establishing key dates for completing each task in the production flow.

The scheduler’s job is to manage the plan established in estimating or job planning that defines the workflow. A scheduler is responsible for having all the facts and working with the decision makers (typically the sales manager or president) to clear the way for unscheduled jobs by determining what jobs can be bumped or if partial shipments are permitted.

The scheduler also must keep tabs on the basics: Proofs must be back from the customer on schedule; plates must be made; and stock must be available at the right time.

The meetings you’ve described will help the scheduler to identify any potential problems and ensure department heads are aware of job details and idiosyncrasies. But the problem with scheduling by committee is that each department manager only concerns him or herself with the efficiencies within their department. While group input is essential, ultimately you need a single master scheduler.



Go with the flow
As we learned in October 2003’s “The shocking truth about scheduling,” few people are as passionate about scheduling as Udi Arieli, director of product management for EFI’s (Foster City, CA) CIM products.

“A scheduling board is a huge negative, because everything is constantly changing,” Arieli told us. “You need a real-time tool. A scheduling board is a snapshot of time—once in the morning and once in the afternoon, if you’re lucky. You need a movie, not a slide show.”

For 20 years Arieli has argued that scheduling is not merely an activity that ensures on-time delivery, but a scientific tool that ultimately impacts a company’s profitability, customer satisfaction and competitiveness. Indeed, he predicts that printing companies won’t survive without dynamic scheduling systems that optimize the entire manufacturing process.

In the mid-1980s, Arieli developed the Theory of Global Optimization (TGO), which defines printing as a manufacturing operation comprising interdependent links. “Only a few constraints control the throughput, on-time delivery and cost of the entire printing operation,” explains Arieli. “If you manage the constraints, you can optimize your company’s performance.”

Based on TGO, EFI’s PrintFlow is an add-on module for Logic SQL, EFI PSI and Hagen that combines weak-link analysis with dynamic scheduling. Users can instantly see how a single change will affect the whole plant. Cost centers can be rearranged, resized, filtered and colored individually. Multiple layouts can be saved and filters can be applied to focus on a single job or form.

Users can schedule in multiple steps, allowing job scheduling in different phases. Multistep scheduling lets users schedule known bottleneck cost centers first and less critical cost centers later, or to use combination cost centers.

See www.efi.com.



Computer-assisted scheduling
In the 1980s, printers had only two options to ascertain job status: They could walk through their plants or call a production meeting. Shop-floor data collection, popularized by Covalent, changed the information gathering dynamics. Initially, few operations could justify the expense, but over time the ROI was there.

Today, JDF/JMF interconnectivity is improving job flow practices. Electronic job tickets are edging out their manual counterparts and improving job information dissemination. We can capture information as soon as a job is quoted—the first link in the JDF automation chain and the first step toward the day when all elements for effective scheduling automatically will be in place. Computers will force us to be more organized!

What’s new?
There were several interesting schedule developments at Graph Expo. New Zealand-based Prestige Scheduler (www.pivotalz.com) made its U.S. debut. This standalone scheduling program can be linked into an MIS to gather information from estimates as well as collect data from the shop floor. It’s user friendly, flexible and offers a lot of functionality. It is likely to draw the most interest from midsize companies ($5 to $20 million) looking to beef up their scheduling capabilities.

Although the company is new to the United States (it has an Aurora, CO, office), it has been around a long time and has installations around the world. It’s a solid product that’s fairly easy to implement.

U.K.-based Technique’s (www.technique-group.com) program lets users create a schedule and change it on the fly. It can be integrated into an existing MIS or as a standalone product.

The program has a card-like look; you can see all of the information on the electronic “board.” Unlike some systems, this one lets users manipulate the schedule without having to re-plan jobs. Technique has a Rockville, MD, office.

DiMS! (Lisle, IL) ERP-print management system targets midsize and large printing companies. New schedule functionality in release 700 automatically optimizes form or sheet layout when moving to a different size press. Revised production estimates create accurate and relevant estimated vs. actual time and cost comparisons. See www.dims.net.

Press-sense (Or Akiva, Israel), known for its Web-to-print product, also offers Omnium Business Flow Automation. On the customer side, printers’ clients get high-level responsiveness to requests for quotations, scheduling information, delivery and special requirements. Printers’ benefits include enhanced visibility and process control, effective management, and real-time business assessment and monitoring. See www.press-sense.com.


Donald H. Goldman is the principal of ConsultWare (Salem, MA). Goldman recently retired from Prism-USA as senior project manager. Prior to that, he was the director of consulting services with the On Demand Printing & Publishing/Document Outsourcing and Corporate Consulting Group Service at CAP Ventures. Goldman also was the CIO/COO for Master Graphics, a multiplant printing industry conglomerate. He has pioneered developments and educated the industry in many areas, including computer-aided estimating, digital prepress and workflow management. Contact him at consultw@aol.com.