Human Performance in Planning and Scheduling

By Bart MacCarthy; John Wilson | Go to book overview

CHAPTER FOUR

A Case Study of Scheduling Practice at a Machine Tool Manufacturer

Scott Webster


4.1

INTRODUCTION

As a research area, the topic of scheduling is something of an enigma. It has attracted researchers from a range of disciplines (e.g., see Coffmann, 1976) and has been the subject of over 20,000 journal articles (Dessouky et al., 1995) and more than 20 books. Studies have found that different scheduling methods can result in large differences in system performance, yet the results of scheduling research have had relatively little impact on scheduling practice (Graves, 1981; Buxey, 1989; White, 1990; MacCarthy and Liu, 1993). One means towards reducing this gap is through descriptive studies of scheduling practice. Such work is especially relevant today. With advances in information technology and increasing industry interest in computer-based scheduling tools, the opportunity to reduce the gap between theory and practice has perhaps never been greater. Descriptive studies play a useful role in laying the groundwork for taking advantage of this opportunity.

Early descriptive scheduling research can be traced back to the 1960s with the work of Dutton (1962, 1964), Dutton and Starbuck (1971), Fox and Kriebel (1967), and Hurst and McNamara (1967). Few studies of scheduling practice appeared in the literature from the early 1970s to the early 1990s. Recent years have witnessed increased activity in this area (e.g., Halsall etal., 1994, McKay et al., 1995; Wiers, 1997; see MacCarthy et al., 1997 or Wiers, 1997 for a review). This paper builds on this activity by describing the scheduling function at a machine tool manufacturer and assessing implications for research.

In summary, scheduling orders for cutting tools at the plant is largely a manual process with most of the decision-making performed by two individuals. The logic is complex, systematic, and being continually refined. Some data-gathering and decision-making activities are conducted on a cyclic basis while other activities are ongoing. Over 30 different statistics regarding system status are monitored, and depending on the values of these statistics, over 100 separate rules for guiding scheduling decisions are employed. A major emphasis is on early identification of problems. The application of this logic has been successful, with fill rates and lead times improving over recent years.

The next section contains essential background information on plant operations. Section 4.3 presents a description of the scheduling function. Section 4.4 discusses the main strategies used by the schedulers and considers implications for scheduling research. Section 4.5 concludes the paper.

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