Challenges faced by Manufacturers and Printers – Scheduling Types


Today’s chapter is about types of scheduling that can be used in manufacturing settings. I think a good place to start would be a definition of a schedule. We define it as an assignment of tasks to resources for a specific date and time. A schedule should be a realistic prediction of future work. A task can be a job, a maintenance task, or a customer visit, etc. A resource can be machine, people, teams of people, et cetera. What you’re usually doing is you’re assigning a job to a machine or to people, to start at a specific time.

There are three types that we’re going to get into. One is kind of a regular run-of-the-mill basic scheduling. Another is schedule of routed tasks. A third one is an idea that we’ve come up with, or we’ve seen in the workplace called queue scheduling.

By Basic Scheduling, we’re referring to the assignment of individual tasks to a resource. The individual tasks are not related to others. A simple example of this could be scheduling of a car repair business. Fixing of a car can be a task and the assignment is the task to a car repair bay for a duration of time. Another example could be appointment scheduling for a doctors office.

The next type of scheduling is Route scheduling. Route scheduling relates to building more complex things that require multiple steps and multiple resources to achieve the end goal. An example could be the assembly of a car. First you need to get the basic frame, next put on tires, next put on sheet metal body, put in passenger chairs, etc. Each step can be scheduled out and a task can only be started when the previous step has been successfully done. Also each step may need to be assigned to a different resource. For example painting of the car, needs to be done in a paint booth. Typical for scheduling of routes, you get this kind of staircase effect for scheduling out of each overall job.

Scheduling of routing gets quite complex because of the potential variations. An example that makes scheduling of routes difficult is say you move, the first step in the route, how is that going to affect the cascaded steps underneath it? How are they going to find open spots and also respect that staircase in terms of, one task needs to be completed before the next one starts.

In MaxScheduler, we actually do not support routing … What happens is that you can support routing if you’re open to scheduling each task individually, you’re not able to make macro changes based on routes. The reason we stay along these lines is that we want to keep MaxScheduler as a simple easy to use scheduling product, to help people who are using spreadsheets or wallboards and want to step up to a computerized tool, but something they can get going quickly.

As soon as you start getting the idea of routes, then people start saying, well, actually I’d like your scheduling software to store all our product information. We want to store the routes in the software and then just be able to schedule each route quickly. That kind of starts slowly turning our software into a much more complex tool, and slowly I think gets us down the path of turning into an MRP product.

The third type scheduling that I want to get into today is queue scheduling. Queue scheduling is the management of line ups of work to resources without regard to date, start times or job durations. A good way to explain this is an analogy to lineups at McDonald’s. If you go to McDonald’s, there maybe be three lineups, you join a line. It is a schedule to a certain degree, you don’t know when you will be served, all you know is that you are the fourth in line.

Queue scheduling makes sense for manufacturers that go through a lot of jobs per day. We have a customer that goes through 150 jobs per day through a small facility. All they really care about is that all the jobs meet their due date. They have a good idea that they have the capacity to do the work. They just want to be organized in their management of line ups of work to resources. Queue scheduling is probably one of the most basic operations management methods that can be used. It allows you to be organized, while minimizing the administrative overhead. With this method, a facility doesn’t need to track setup times, product specific processing rates, estimating job durations, setting job start times, etc.

That’s our overview of the three types of scheduling, and that’s the end of this chapter. Thank you for your time. If you have any comments, questions or interest in MaxScheduler our scheduling software, please reach out to us at Have a good day.

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Challenges faced by Manufacturers and Printers – Scheduling basics


Today’s chapter is an introduction to scheduling. I think a good place to start is to define the word Schedule. My definition is, an assignment of tasks to resources for a specific date and time. A schedule should be a realistic prediction of the future. Let’s split this definition a little bit and dive in to some of the details. By task I mean, it could be a job, a maintenance task, a customer visit et cetera. You’ll assign those tasks to things called resources. Resources can be machines, people, production lines, etc.

My point about scheduling being a realistic prediction of future work is that, there is no point in making an overly optimistic schedule because you’re not going to achieve it. You want to make something that is achievable for everyone so you can succeed at it. There is another aspect to scheduling in manufacturing which is Work in Progress or WIP. WIP is the tracking what is currently being done on the factory. A Schedule and WIP are distinct things, but are related. The delta between a Schedule and WIP is a reflection of how realistic the Schedule is.

Many companies start off scheduling with inexpensive and easy to adopt tools, such as wallboards, tcard systems, or spreadsheets. I wanted to highlight the kind of the differences you get from some of these free or easy to use tools, and what a real schedule gives you. The differences can be somewhat subtle, but are important. When you have a schedule, can you tell how long are some of these jobs? If you’re using the spreadsheet, there may be a column that’s says eight hours, but it’s tough to get a visual representation that’s easy to understand. That you can quickly look at and say, okay, I know that, job A is going to take us a long time, job B is really short and sweet. A big contrast like that. Whereas a spreadsheet you’re always digging into the numbers and the high level details are not very clear.

With the Wallboard, the tough thing with the wallboard is often the tags are all the same size. If you look into each tag and compare to each one, you can’t really tell what’s a big or or small job. Which are the important ones? Same type of issue. With a product like MaxScheduler, you can color-code the jobs, making it visually really easy, you can make something red or yellow or something that really stands out.

With a product like MaxScheduler you can designate a color to show when jobs have been completed. Then you can easily look at a whole board of jobs and say, okay, we’re 50% done for the day, hey, we’re doing great. Where are you with the capacity for the day. Let’s go back to the spreadsheet. Unless you start doing some formulas, it’s tough to get a sense of whether you are at 50% capacity, 80%. Same with the tcard system, or wallboard.

One of the important questions you find, and one of the motivations for scheduling or having a schedule in the system is, what happens when your big important customer, Mr. X, calls and says, “Hey, I have a rush job I want to squeeze it in.” Can you actually do it? With these spreadsheets or wallboards it’s difficult to make that judgement, if you have a more evolved scheduling system like MaxScheduler, it’s easy to make that judgement.

In terms of scheduling, there is two main things that we’ve discovered that people get out of having a scheduling software. The first is they need to be able to create a Schedule. Next thing is communication of the schedule. We often have customers who actually don’t have a problem creating the schedule, but have trouble keeping everyone up to date. Say for example, sales calls in and wants to know machine availability, customer service following up for the customer trying to figure out when their job is going to get done, or management just chasing operations trying to figure out what’s the status of things.

If you have an up-to-date published schedule that anybody can access say through the internet through a web page, everyone can just go check themselves. Because it’s accessible through the web, there’s a good chance you can access it using a tablet or a smartphone. If your sales guy is out on the road, he can just look at their smartphone and say, hey, I know what’s going on in the factory, I can get back to the customer now. A tool like MaxScheduler provides that kind of a real time synchronization of a schedule, can be really be helpful. It can cut down wasteful communication.

When people start trying to create a schedule sometimes … they know they need a schedule for their business, but they’re not sure how to make some of the first steps. Sometimes what happens especially if they have an enterprise system, the enterprise system may have a scheduler in there, but to get this scheduler to actually work, you need to enter in lots of details. For example, set up time machines, run rates for machines, keep all those run rates realistic. Sometimes what you can do is you can perhaps take a look at a key resources within your business. What is that bottleneck, or what’s the resource in your business that has a limited capacity? For example, you may have only a certain people who are trained on a specific task, that can be a limited resource. Or, you have a few really big machines and they’re really expensive and you can’t buy anymore, that becomes a limited resource.

In terms of scheduling, a nice first step sometimes is to just schedule those limited resources. A good example is in the printing industry. The presses are usually the most expensive capital cost they have. In terms of creating a schedule, the first good place to start is with those print presses.

Another related subject is automated scheduling. In our business we often stay away from this for two reasons. The first is the ‘perfect schedule’ for one company does not work for others. If you can down the path of automation, the business itself needs to define what the perfect schedule is, often with the expensive time of consultants. Second if you do create the perfect scheduling algorithm, it may not be suitable all the time because of the myriad of things that happen in a business on a day to day basis. These two factors are why we’ve built MaxScheduler as a scheduling tool. It allows your scheduler or floor manager to create/modify a schedule according to the ever changing environment of your business.

That’s the end of this chapter, thank you for your time. Please check out our software it’s at you have any comments, questions or an interest in MaxScheduler our schedulers software, please reach out to us at

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Challenges faced by Manufacturers and Printers – Introduction

Transcript of video:

Hi, my name is Peter Gadzinski and I work for a company called MaxScheduler. We’re starting a web series for manufacturers and printers about software challenges they face in their businesses. MaxScheduler is a scheduling software business focused on manufacturing and printing. We have 15 years of experience and we’ve helped companies schedule around 300 million tasks. We want to share our experiences. Myself, I’m a scheduling expert and a product manager.

This is the first chapter in our series and I wanted to lay some groundwork for the upcoming chapters. I wanted to start off with an evolution of manufacturing and printing companies and how they step through software systems as they start off their companies and get bigger. Say you’re starting from nothing, you start up a manufacturing facility or a print shop, you don’t have much money, you don’t have much business, you’re just getting the ball rolling. Probably the first system or software your going to purchase is an accounting package. Because the financial details about a business become hairy, pretty quickly. You want something to keep you in line. For example keep on top of your accounts payables, your accounts receivables, etc. You want to track all of this so when you hand stuff over to the accountant, everything is fine. Also more importantly an accounting system can help you keep on top of cash flow which is a business killer.

There are a couple other benefits of starting off with an accounting system is quite often they’re pretty affordable to get into. For a couple of hundred dollars you can buy a version of QuickBooks or a Sage product. Sage is another kind of umbrella of accounting systems. These systems quite often don’t just do financial details, they also have extra features. In some of the QuickBooks products, for example, there is inventory management, there is CRM, which is customer relationship management. You could put in work orders and the software supports, to a minimal extent, some of these functions.

As your company grows and you get more business, you may start looking at that accounting system and say, “Well, I need to get more out of it. I want to track more details within that accounting system.” This is where a lot of businesses get to a fork in the road. They start thinking, “Well perhaps I need to take my software systems to the next level.” I call the next level enterprise software. Here are some terms you’ve probably heard before, MRP, ERP, MIS, WMS, or Homegrown System. MRP stands for manufacturing resource planning. ERP is enterprise resource planning. MIS that is an umbrella for a lot of systems. WMS stands for warehouse managing systems. Homegrown is a system you build yourself.

In this series, I wanted to delve into some of these points. We actually spend a lot of time in the area of enterprise software with these chapters and I want to give you some insight or share our thoughts of what we’ve seen. I hope you enjoy our series. That’s the end of this chapter. Thank you for your time. If you have any comments, questions, or are interested in MaxScheduler, our scheduling software, please reach out to us through Have a good day.

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For manufacturing in North America, there is not enough free information

In the world of small business in North America, I’m constantly amazed at how little real information is available on the internet. If I was a small manufacturing company trying to sort out my scheduling process I don’t know where I would turn to. During my marketing research phase of MaxScheduler I spent hours in Google looking for scheduling resources. I constantly came up with nothing of value. Even when I searched for general resources for manufacturing, I would again come up with nothing.

My background is in software development. As a software developer there are infinite resources to help me with development. The resources are growing, getting better and are free. I contrast this with the world of software for manufacturing. If I’m wrong, please contact me at peter (at) max

My guess is that manufacturing in North America is a traditional industry where in some cases people hold their cards close to themselves. There isn’t a lot of willingness to openly share findings.

The consequence of this is that if you want help, your probably going to need to hire a consultant for it.

One goal of this blog, to educate the market myself with the hope of battling the above problem.

Following this post will be the first installment of posts that will outline what tools small business’ use to solve operation scheduling issues. There will be a short description and the plus/minus list for each tool. The idea is the power of the tools will grow as the list progress’. Some of the scheduling options will be broad business applications that sometimes have schedulers within them. There will be a notes section description interesting aspects of each scheduling tool.

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Video: Scheduling software for manufacturing and warehousing

We recently posted our introductory video to MaxScheduler.

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Pitfalls of using spreadsheets to schedule business operations

Many businesses today use wallboards, spreadsheets or piles of paper to schedule operations. It makes a lot of since to start off using such tools, because they are affordable and easy to start using. Most business computers already have a spreadsheet program installed such as excel. There are even completely free spreadsheet programs included in free application suites like Open Office.

I’m going to be writing a set of articles outlining the positive and negatives of using manual tools to schedule business operation. I will be upfront in saying that I do have an agenda when writing these articles because I make and sell scheduling software for business operations, I hope my articles can help people avoid some of the potential pitfalls.

Today I will be writing about using spreadsheet programs to schedule. Remember that spreadsheet programs were the sole reason that some people bought personal computers early in the 80′s, Wikipedia Spreadsheet article. My highschool physics teacher worked on the Avro Arrow. He spent a summer in a large room with many other highly trained engineers doing calculations by hand that could be done by one person today in a few moments.

Getting back on topic, below potential pitfalls to using spreadsheets for business operations scheduling.

i) Managing imported data from another program

Many businesses perhaps get job data from their enterprise software that they use to create a schedule from. There is a challenge though when merging imported data with a current schedule. What happens if there is overlap? You need to make sure that when you import data that you don’t leave out some jobs that need to be scheduled or have duplicate jobs scheduled. One way to avoid this is using a unique identifier in the import file such as a Job number to avoid this situation.

ii) When sorting data always include all columns

I have a sad personal story related to spreadsheets. My dad ran his own business and decided to send out a mailing to potential customers who might be interested in his services. He had compiled a list of names and addresses. The information needed to be cleaned up because it was incomplete. He hired a friend of mine to do the clean-up. This is where the story takes a bad turn. My friend spent a few nights in front of his TV, using excel to remove duplicate entries, complete address, etc. Unfortunately sometimes he used the sort feature in Excel and forgot to incorporate all the columns of data. The consequence was that the right name got aligned with the wrong address. When the mailing went out, most them were returned. Potential customers received letters that were addressed to people they knew, but who worked for completely different companies. Not surprising my dad never hired my friend again.

iii) Relying on one spreadsheet expert!

I have seen some pretty elaborate spreadsheets in my career. Quite often these spreadsheets are more complicated then many of the computer programs you can buy for your computer. Some businesses are blessed with having an spreadsheet expert who is pretty good at putting something together that management needs to achieve a task. There is a downside to this though. Sometimes there is one and only one person who knows how the thing works. This is not a good situation to be in, in the case that expert is away for some time or even worse, leaves the company. Perhaps make sure you have a couple of people who are familiar with hold an important spreadsheet is built.

iv) Spreadsheet vulnerability

One the of the powerful features of spreadsheets are the cell formulas. You can create a dizzying amount of calculated data from just for few data points. If you make a reference mistake though, you can break the entire spreadsheet. If this happens to you, immediately don’t save your changes and close the program. You can then open it up again and start off from the last working version.

v) Sharing spreadsheet schedules

Quite often people don’t think twice about the filenames they use when saving a computer file. If your business needs to share a spreadsheet schedule it would be a disaster to use file names like machineScheduleLatest.xls. I would recommend using current date and time in the filename so others can see how current the schedule information is.

vi) Spreadsheet data as walls of text and numbers

Let me iterate again that spreadsheets can be useful for business scheduling. There is a challenge though when viewing a long schedule that shows lots of rows of text and numbers. Its difficult to get a ‘feel’ for schedule impacts on the business. A minor job and a major job have the same visual significance until you look at the job specific details. My point is that spreadsheets aren’t great for relaying capacity information. It would nice if you could easily create a graphical version of the data so you can see impact.

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Distribution business needs a Receiving door scheduler

Customer Profile: The client business involved making consumer storage systems. They have a 600,000 sq. foot factory located in the US. The facility supports the manufacturing, distribution and redistribution aspects of the business. Half the plant is for manufacturing and the other half is warehousing of raw material and finished goods.

Challenge: Al Saltemachea was recently brought in as warehouse manager. He soon recognized that the receiving operation needed improvements. There were 12 receiving doors to schedule. The scheduling was done manually with pen and paper. This meant that receiving operations was having some challenges such as:

* it was taking up more time than needed
* the every changing schedule was on a piece of paper so it required a trip to the shipping office to view it
* it was difficult to communicate changes to the schedule

Solution: Mr. Saltemachea was aware of computerized scheduling solutions from past experience. He decided to look for stand alone software that would computerize the receiving operations. He searched on the Internet and found MaxScheduler software that could be used for Receiving operations. After a couple of hours the software was configured as needed. For example specifying the number and order of receiving doors.

Al Saltemachea concluding remarks:

“MaxScheduler was the right size, elegant solution, to help solve our immediate problem”

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Delivery Planner for Sod Farms

In May of 2008 we received a call from FairGreen sod, located north of Toronto. They were in their spring rush and overwhelmed with the task of planning their daily delivery trips. The owner of the business was spending 2-3 hours manually sorting invoices into delivery routes. This was after an already long day of taking care of the rest of his business. They contacted us looking for something that would help reduce the work of daily delivery planning.

Orders were all entered into their accounting system and invoices printed out. At the end of the day the invoices were manually sorted into piles that would make up a truck load. There were two considerations when planning. First the traveling distances of the trucks should be minimized. Second delivery sizes should be combined to make use of the full trailer capacity.

MaxScheduler created a tool for FairGreen sod to ease the process of daily delivery planning. Each day the invoice data is exported from the accounting system. MaxScheduler then creates an optimized truck load plan. The plan minimizes the travel distances while making sure the trailers are used to their capacity. The route plan is displayed on the Board section of MaxScheduler. The delivery slips are then printed in the order of truck routes. This is done so that manual adjustment of the routes can be done without requiring extensive knowledge of route planning software. A delivery map and truck routes is also created.

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IBM Centennial video, Sabre and the business of enterprise software

Recently I was watching the IBM Centennial Film celebrating the their 100 birthday. It is a great video, I recommend checking it out. As I was watching the video they were talking about the Sabre reservation system. The speaker said “60 years later we can’t do any better”. This remark made me cringe.

Now before you think I’m going to start IBM bashing, I’m not going there. IBM has a long successful history of bringing technology to the masses. They deserve to be applauded for this accomplishment.

The remark made me cringe because it reminded me of a major fault in most enterprise software that has existed and will continue to exist for a long time. The fact is that enterprise software is often bought by upper management and used by staff that have little feedback in the matter. Enterprise software is often purchased to solve ‘big problems’. If the software can solve the major problems, upper management doesn’t really care about much else. What often gets sacrificed in this relationship is the usability of the enterprise system. The Sabre traveling booking system is a fantastic example of this.

Have you seen the main UI for this system? Here is a screen showing available flights between Cleveland and Orlando.

Sabre Flight listing

Here is a breakdown description of what the lines mean.


There are some incredibly basic UI improvements that could be done here. I’m not going to suggest the use web technologies, Iphone inspired UI or anything like that. This UI would be significantly improved through use of a TABLE and color coding. How hard would that be?

Look at the code the agent needs to type in to get the listing: 112NOVCLEMCO7A. The Sabre system relies on the travel agent memorizing and operating with numerous short command phrases to search and book flights. They don’t use the nice web interfaces that consumers have book through travel sites like,

Perhaps you might be thinking that my complaining is needless and amounts to just another obvious usability rant. These types of UIs lead to errors and eventually cost the company money.

Recently I actually felt a little of the pain they go through. Recently while booking a flight to LA. I found a deal online and
decided to go down to the local travel agent to buy the ticket. The travel agent couldn’t find the flight within Sabre that I had found online. Eventually a more senior agent needed to be called in to salvage the situation.

Another reason that I wrote this post is that this is definitely not the first time I’ve seen such horrific UIs present in
enterprise systems. As recent as 2008, I was part of a new warehouse project, for one of Canada’s largest retailers. They installed a ‘new’ version of the Warehouse Management System (WMS). It was a 30 year old C/C++ app, with the UI similar to Sabre.

There is one positive take away for entrepreneurial software developers. In the enterprise space there are treasure troves of simple problems that companies are willing to pay good money to solve. A friend of mine offers Analytics Canvas, a desktop BI tool that works with Google Analytics data. He had a good sales lead from a large company that spends alot on Google Adwords and was having problems processing the data. One the main benefits of his tool was that it could convert currency. Yes, you read that right, they are willing to spend a good chunk of change so they can convert currency.

I hope in the near future that this situation changes and that UI advancements found on the consumer side make their way to enterprise software.

Thanks for your time.

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