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How to Optimize Complex Manufacturing Schedules

October 10, 2019 |   | 
3 minutes read
Richard Wood

Richard Wood

It’s no exaggeration to say that manufacturing schedules are the foundation upon which successful projects are built. Correctly allocating resources, managing costs, and understanding the variables that may cause delays is vital if production is to be completed on time and within budget.

Of course, that’s easier said than done — especially when you're managing a complex schedule.

Consolidating Scheduling Processes

The more intricate the manufacturing process, the trickier it is for project managers to create a robust schedule that’s flexible enough to cope with sudden change. With so many variables to consider — inventory levels, resource consumption, potential risks, and everything in between — initial forecasts are liable to change dramatically over time, compromising the overall accuracy of your production schedule.

Modern software solutions have simplified the process. Automation, for example, makes the job of updating inventory levels or time estimates in response to unforseen changes far more straightforward. It also makes it easier to communicate those changes and other important information. However, the most significant development of recent years is the ability to consolidate these disparate processes into a single, manageable system that gives project managers a top-down view of the entire project.

One, moreover, that can be optimized as and when required to take into account fluctuations in three key areas: activity duration, resourcing, and risk.



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Forecasting the time required to complete individual activities within the manufacturing process, or activity duration, is crucial. How can you provide customers with accurate estimates or compensate for disruption if you don’t know how long each stage is likely to take?

The most effective way of doing this involves analysing external risks – also known as risk events – and gauging the impact they might have on established time frames for individual activities. Typically, the most accurate are those that combine three-point estimates with traditional Monte Carlo simulations.

Three-point estimates produce best-case, deterministic, and worst-case scenarios. These are then fed into the Monte Carlo simulation to help decision makers determine the effect specific risks will have on production in each of the three scenarios.

Together, they offer valuable insights into the manufacturing process, helping project managers design more reliable activity duration assessments and, ultimately, production schedules.


According to one study conducted in 2018, cost management is the biggest challenge manufacturing project managers have to overcome — more so than meeting deadlines.

It’s easy to see why. Due to the inherently mutable nature of the manufacturing process, initial budget estimates are heavily dependent on activity duration and resource availability. Consequently, it’s notoriously difficult to make accurate financial forecasts and keep on top of costs over the entire project lifecycle. If the two are kept separate, that is.

To overcome this challenge, cost and resources must be consolidated and optimized concurrently with activity duration. There are a number of ways to go about this; one of which is resource leveling.

In layman’s terms, resource leveling refers to the method by which project managers adjust start and finish dates for activities — taking into account things like volume, consumption, and the availability of production equipment — in order to ‘level out’ resource consumption. This ensures capacity is always able to meet demand and costs remain within established boundaries.

However, there are other methods of visualization that enable project managers to assess the various costs and resources attached to a manufacturing process at a glance. Five of the most popular include:

  • Bull’s-eye charts – Handy both as a way of obtaining a general overview of the project or specific areas within it
  • Performance charts – Helps PMs follow schedule, cost, and to complete performance indexes, as well as how they develop as the project evolves
  • Reporting period summaries – Provides information on current trends within the manufacturing process across a broad range of parameters
  • S-Curve – Presents a clear picture of progress made on the project over time
  • Status histogram – Offers a succinct overview of the entire manufacturing schedule

The viability of each approach depends on the needs of the organization. What’s important is that the project team is able to combine cost and resource data alongside activity duration and anticipated risks, and incorporate it into the wider manufacturing schedule.


Even with an in-depth understanding of activity duration, cost, and resources, manufacturing schedules stand or fall by the integrity of their risk analysis.

A prime example would be a sudden spike in demand. You need to understand how a spike will impact the assembly line, activity duration, resources, and estimates. This is a difficult process, but without it, you can't create a schedule that's flexible enough to respond to changes.

Keeping track of the disparate risks that threaten to derail the manufacturing process is best done via a qualitative risk register or by performing a failure mode and effects analysis (FMEA). This enables project managers to organize risks into a hierarchical list which, in turn, helps them measure the probabilistic impact of risk on the wider schedule and design appropriate contingency levels to deal with any issues that might arise at any stage of the manufacturing process.

Optimize Complex Manufacturing Schedules with Safran

By analyzing activity duration, cost, resource, and risk concurrently, project managers have all the information and insight they need to optimize complex manufacturing schedules. Not only does this help organizations meet the demands of their clientele, it allows them to cut costs, save time, and eliminate waste.

Read our whitepaper to learn more about our project management software and how, with its built-in SAP Integrator, it can help you improve the accuracy of your manufacturing schedules. Alternatively, sign up for a free trial of Safran Project and discover the various benefits first-hand.