The ERP systems we use today have many powerful features we can use to optimize the way we manage our process in manufacturing businesses. In fact, the most top reason for implementing an ERP system in the first place is to increase efficiency. After all, that’s ERP’s job.

An ERP will schedule work, usually based on ingredient availability, and ask questions before determining if a schedule is possible. Do we have everything on hand? No? When is the last material going to be on hand based on our purchase order? Often, however, we want a more sophisticated schedule.

Today’s constraints

Our number one customer wants two lots next Friday but only one person can always mix their recipe every time and she is on vacation. A potential new customer asked if we could deliver 500 kg. And we need to fit this order into an already loaded schedule. Maybe we should add an APS to our ERP?

What is APS?

Advanced planning and scheduling (APS) tools simultaneously plan and schedule production based on the available materials, labor, and plant capacity. APS software adds many valuable options to ERP scheduling systems. Scheduling can be set to look at resources of all kinds that can range from an entire production line to a single person or unit of equipment. Any resource can be scheduled at a finite or infinite level. A machine available only 24 hours a day would have a 24-hour finite level. A group of people who can work overtime or be supplemented by additional people might be an infinite resource.

An APS allows us to set a variety of rules around scheduling too. A mixing machine might require a person to operate it. But that person might manage several machines if they can run in an automated mode. Two process machines might be very similar but only one is qualified by a customer to produce their products. Advanced scheduling will follow our rules and is more likely to produce a satisfactory schedule. We can still override the APS schedule after the system has produced its best result. We can see the entire schedule in the form of Gantt charts that we can use to drag jobs across time and resources and even split jobs across time using the human brain to improve scheduling our processes. When we can develop new rules based on that human intervention, we can add those rules to the APS heuristics.

Benefits of APS

An APS for a process manufacturer will work in real-time and develop potential schedules as quotes and orders are entered. For example, a new order is entered with a requested delivery date that a standard scheduling system will reject as unfeasible. The advanced rules in the APS might recognize that this new order can fit into the process schedule immediately after another batch because only a partial clean-out is needed as the ingredients are similar.

Another potential order again is rejected on the first pass. We find that the APS will suggest that a partial delivery can be done at the requested date with the remaining quantity only a few days later. The customer can evaluate this possibility and might find the split delivery satisfies their requirements.

Will APS help your business?

Ask your production planner to show the plan for the next days or weeks. If he/she uses the ERP system to show you the plan, you don’t need APS. If he/she pulls up a spreadsheet with complex calculations maintained on the side, then it’s a sign your ERP needs more advanced capabilities.

An APS module working with your existing ERP system gives you the ability to quickly analyze implications of alternative schedules. Your production schedule will be optimized and your customers will enjoy greater satisfaction. Better information will lead to better decisions that will show results quickly. Is this something that will benefit your business?

Tom Miller

Tom Miller

Tom is a columnist for ERP Focus, and has completed implementations of Epicor, SAP, QAD, and Micro MRP. He works as a logistics and supply chain manager and he always looks for processes to improve.