Production Planning, Scheduling and Sequencing: What’s the difference?

By Rob Jolliffe | July 25, 2022
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Production planning is something we get asked about quite often at Sabre Limited, as well as scheduling, and sequencing. It's sometimes difficult to understand the difference between these three terms. In this blog post, we will explore the differences between them and how they are used in business operations.  

The terms scheduling, planning and sequencing cannot be used interchangeably because they have different meanings to different people.  

Planning can be thought of as the high-level process of figuring out what needs to be done and when. It includes what resources are needed and how to best use them. Scheduling is more granular. For example, you may schedule a truck to arrive at a certain dock at a specific time.  

Then, sequencing is the process of creating a timeline for tasks to be completed. It is very specific, and it gets into the order that things need to be done in. 

Be sure to also check out our other blog post on Inventory Management in Nav with Planning Worksheet. 

Now let’s look at each in more detail.  

If you enjoy this article and would like to talk to Sabre Limited’s president Rob Jolliffe to chat about these concepts, you can book a one-on-one 30-minute call with him at https://calendly.com/robert-jolliffe  

Production Planning contains Scheduling, Scheduling contains Sequencing 

Planning is not just scheduling work on the shop floor. It’s the process of making sure materials and capacity are lined up. Making sure you have enough materials and enough capacity to get jobs done at the right time and meet the deadlines you gave the customers. 

Production planning is a big thing. It requires looking at time in buckets and making decisions about the future. It might be looking at a week at a time, or a month. A month at a time is common in capacity planning, while a week at a time is common in material planning.  

You need to create a schedule for each bucket of time you are planning. Then, when you have the schedule, you will look at each hour and ask yourself, “what's going to happen?” That’s sequencing. You plug those times, activities and deadlines into the schedule and make sure they happen in the right order.   

Sequencing is not just saying you want a truck to arrive at a certain dock in the morning, but saying you want truck number one to arrive at 5 a.m. and truck number two at 5:45 a.m. 

The above example is for logistics scheduling, but it would be the same thing on a piece of production equipment. You arrange for certain jobs to go before certain other jobs in a very specific sequence. 

Planning, scheduling and sequencing are a bit like nesting dolls that way: planning contains the schedule, and the schedule contains the sequencing.  

production planning

More about Buckets 

Buckets are an important part of scheduling and planning. The planning or scheduling bucket has to do with the precision of the schedule. Often things are measured to the nearest standard unit of measurement, like the nearest foot or yard.  

In production planning, your bucket size is the standard unit of measurement.  

You are measuring to the nearest hour, day, week, or month. If you have a six-week sales lead time, you are taking orders today and delivering the product in the next six weeks. That's your delivery promise that you've given your customer.

It also means that your bucket size is likely a week each. You are planning your production orders, your material requirements, and your capacity all at a week-by-week level of precision.  

You are not necessarily getting into the hour you're going to do the work, or even the day you're going to do the work, because you have six weeks to get it done. The goal would simply be to get it done a week before it must be shipped.

The shipping department will have a schedule that dictates the day you must ship things on. Perhaps even which hour, but the production would have been done well enough in advance of that date. The buffer between when the production must be done and when the shipping must be done protects you from running into any missed deadlines or production delays.

On the other hand, if your sales lead time was twelve weeks, then your bucket might be two weeks because you have even more time to do it. Generally, the larger the planning bucket, the easier it is to run planning. 

Your scheduling bucket in either of the above cases might also be one to three days. You may be creating a schedule and sending it out to the shop floor workers. You tell them, for example which jobs they need to do over the next three days. But you wouldn’t micromanage the work being done over those three days.  

You do not necessarily have to get in there and tell the operators that it needs to be done at 3 o'clock on a Tuesday. It just needs to be done by the end of day on Tuesday. Within that bucket, the specific date-time isn't all that important to you because you're giving yourself some extra slack.  

The Planning is the Most Important Part 

Most manufacturers who come to us at Sabre are getting their first real ERP system. They are on the first rung of the ERP system ladder. They need planning to get them started.  

Remember our nested dolls analogy from earlier? Planning comes first, then scheduling and sequencing. If a manufacturing company doesn’t have the planning yet, it's going to be hard to do any scheduling.  

So, when a manufacturing business gets its first ERP system, usually the first thing they use it for is planning.  

The planning is the most important part. It's going to coordinate your materials and capacities within those buckets. You're going to be able to look at a week and see you have 200 hours of work scheduled in your factory that week. That’s called your capacity draw. 

If you only have 160 hours of available capacity, then ERP software will allow you to take a step back and see, for example, the week before has lots more extra capacity. Everything has been loaded in that latter week, and you'll plan it by bringing some of the work forward into the former week.  

Material planning is getting the parts in on time. Capacity planning is making sure you have enough staff and resources and machine time available to do whatever it is you're trying to do.  

Most manufacturers are taking a “close enough” approach. The scheduling or production planning process is just precise enough, and you're making it big enough that just have enough slack that you're not going to miss any delivery dates. You're not going to have a problem with capacity, presuming that you have some flexibility, and your shop floor supervisors know what they're doing. 

Scheduling 

Scheduling is all about making sure that you're able to plan for your manufacturing work in advance. Tightening up times and deciding what you are going to run on each day are big factors when it comes to scheduling. 

The goal is to get the lead hands on the floor to do some of that production scheduling. You want to have some flexibility within the bucket.  

Your lead hands and supervisors will know that Joe is good at doing a certain type of part on the lathe. Joe is going home at 2 o'clock, so I am going to put these parts on Joe's lathe for him to work on. They will make these adjustments to try and increase efficiency. 

It can be a hinderance to over schedule your lead hands and supervisors, who know how those efficiencies work and can rearrange the schedule on the fly. 

For example, they knew that they already have the tooling for job one on the CNC machine, while job two still needs some additional tooling. Job three has the same tooling job one, so they will rearrange the order to make it the most efficient you can and put job one and three together, and job two last. This is what scheduling is designed for.  

This is also sometimes called dispatch list for the machine. Get it done by the end of the day. I don't care what order you do it in. I want you to do it in the most efficient order or sequence. 

Sequencing 

Once you can do scheduling successfully, you can start looking at sequencing. Sequencing is starting to really get into the weeds. It is getting into more detail about the order in which things should happen, compared to scheduling where things just need to get done by the end of the day. 

There are typically two reasons why a manufacturing company wants to do sequencing.  

The first one is for the “set up” efficiency improvement opportunities if you do your sequence correctly. For example, in a paint shop there is an order you can do your jobs that will be more efficient than if you did them randomly. 

The second reason is if there is a constraint that requires you to sequence the work in a specific order so that you can do the production. Again, if you are painting, this is a common constraint.  

At the beginning of the day, you'll run the white parts and then you run the black parts and then you wash the machine down and the next morning you start over again. 

Another example would be if you have a thickness of material that's going through a machine, and you must do adjustments and setups each time you change the thickness. In this case, you want to do all the material that is same thickness at the same time. This reduces your setup time. 

Another example that Sabre Limited has heard of but never seen ourselves is where a plant only had a certain amount of electrical amperage that they could push through at any given time.  

This meant that workers had to start the machines in a specific order and start the jobs running in a sequence, with timing in between, that allowed the plant to stay below the average and not blow all the fuses.  

The most important thing that sets sequencing apart from production planning and scheduling is you get down to a very minute level. You are looking at things in 15-minute intervals at least.  

Manufacturing often has very tight schedules, and you want your team to follow those schedules exactly. If they vary from them, you end up painting a black part in the middle of a bunch of white parts. That's going to cause all kinds of chaos.  

Conclusion

To summarize, production planning aligns your capacity and your material requirements, so you have the things you need when you need them. Production planning is a broad overview of what needs to be done, scheduling is more specific and detailed, and sequencing is the most specific and details oriented. All three of these concepts are important in running a successful business operation. 

For many companies that's a huge step forward, and it fulfils the goals they were describing as “scheduling”. The next level down you get into actual scheduling of production orders on equipment, trying to lay them out, and handing them off to your team on the shop floor. 

Then, you let your team make some decisions about sequencing in real-time based on their experience and knowledge. 

Sequencing is a very detailed process involving analysing set-up times and looking for set-up reduction opportunities. Or, you have a constraint that's forcing you to do a job in a particular sequence.  

Scheduling, production planning and sequencing are all important parts of running a successful business. Without a schedule, it would be difficult to keep track of production goals and meet customer orders. Production planning ensures that the right resources are being used in order to meet those goals. And sequencing puts the plan into action so that tasks are completed in a timely manner. 

If you need help with a Dynamics 365 Manufacturing systems choice Inventory Management in Business Central or any other questions, give us a call at: (519) 585-7524 x.45 or contact our team, we're excited to talk with you soon! 

Business conversation photo created by Drazen Zigic - www.freepik.com

Rob Jolliffe

Robert has been a Dynamics 365 Business Central consultant since 2008 and a general manufacturing consultant for over 25 years. He is a graduate of the University of Toronto mechanical engineering program where he focused on production engineering. In addition to a deep knowledge of Manufacturing Robert holds a Microsoft Systems Engineer designation and is much less of an expert in Networking and IT infrastructure than he thinks, but is still pretty good. He also has applied his engineering skills to learning programming, and is warned frequently by the professional developers who work for him that he is pretty good, but don't write any code for customers without letting them check it.

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