Human Performance in Planning and Scheduling

By Bart MacCarthy; John Wilson | Go to book overview

CHAPTER TWELVE

A Field Test of a Prototype Scheduling System

Scott Webster


12.1

INTRODUCTION

This chapter documents the scheduling function at a machine tool plant and reports the development and testing of a prototype scheduling system at this facility. The objective is to add to the descriptive literature on how scheduling is done in practice with particular attention to the challenges and opportunities of computerintensive approaches to production scheduling.

Descriptive work helps clarify the complexities and critical issues arising in practice. While individual studies suffer from questionable generalizability, when taken as a whole this body of literature plays a useful role in directing research to areas of high potential impact. There is a need for additional descriptive studies of scheduling practice for three reasons. First, there remains a significant gap between the scheduling literature and scheduling practice. It is generally acknowledged that the impact on scheduling practice of over 40 years of research, manifested in over 20,000 journal articles (Dessouky et al., 1995) and 20 books, has been minimal. Second, the descriptive scheduling literature is sparse. Early work appearing in the 1960s and early 1970s was followed by a lull that has only begun to turn around in recent years (see MacCarthy et al., 1997 or Wiers, 1997 for a review of the literature). Third, the rapid advancement in information infrastructure (e.g. through SAP and other ERP systems) and the increasing practitioner interest in computer-based scheduling systems suggest that the opportunity to reduce the gap between theory and practice has never been greater.

The field test project began with a proposal to the company in July 1995. Intensive analysis, design, and development efforts took place over the ensuing 11 months. The prototype scheduling system was implemented in June 1996. The field test lasted for approximately one year, during which time the scheduler experimented with the system and offered suggestions. We continued to develop the prototype in response to feedback from the scheduler and, during the latter part of the test, we focused on assessing the strengths and weaknesses of computerbased scheduling at the company.

The chapter makes two main contributions. First, as noted above, it adds to the case study literature of scheduling practice. Second, it documents our experience with one possible field-based approach for enriching a research program. We describe the design, development, implementation, and project management of a prototype scheduling system in a plant. Researchers considering similar field-based activities may benefit from our experience.

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