Software developers have been quick to recognise the value of computers in planning and scheduling. Many programs now include diaries for personal planning, and some business applications have a planning module. But programs specifically designed for planning give new meaning to the concept.
With manufacturing software, such as that from JBA for example, entire factories can become more organised. Companies can use a program to plan demand, such as customer orders or future schedules, intra-company orders and forecasts of what products need to be made.
The program can calculate the production capacity required, including staff and materials. Then users work back from the demand figure to allocate resources. Alternatively, users can key in actual capacity available to work out which orders can be made within what time frame.
Other packages have been developed for particular applications, such as ABT?s Project Workbench for IT projects, or Smart Systems? software for staff rosters. There are also similar products for construction companies, such as Welcome?s Open Plan Professional.
Activities: moves containers by road and rail to and from ports and rail heads
Uses: to work out the most efficient and cost-effective way to move containers
One of the problems facing both road hauliers and container shipping lines is organising vehicle and container movements so that they never travel empty.
For Roadways, which specialises in moving containers by road and rail to and from ports and rail heads, the problem proved impossible without a tailor-written planning and scheduling system.
John Hooper, sales and marketing manager, says: ?We move 500,000 boxes a year for ports and shipping lines. But with nine depots all over the country working on a manual system, we could not visualise our national requirements. The Manchester depot could be sending a container to Felixstowe, and Felixstowe to Liverpool for example, on separate vehicles.?
All the details of the transport jobs were written on a traffic sheet ? the customer?s name, size and type of container, details of collection and delivery and other information. Another sheet listed the vehicle fleet (the cabs) and the trailers.
It took several people all day to work out the best vehicle and route for each job. There was rarely any communication with other depots to match jobs and obtain return loads. Also, because staff relied on accumulated knowledge of what worked ? taking into account driving time, loading and unloading time at collection and drop-off points, driver?s hours regulations, and so on ? their routing was never precise.
In mid-1993, Roadways sought help from Transport Systems Global, once part of its parent company, the P&O Group. Implementation of a TSG system began in July last year, when all P&O Containers? export traffic went onto the system.
Hooper explains: ?We now take order details direct from P&O?s system; our AS/400 polls P&O?s computer every 15 minutes to pick up new information, such as a collection address, time and date.
The system works out the most efficient, cost-effective route for the job, based on the specifications previously used for manual calculation.?
But the system goes a step further: because Roadways runs its own contract trains, which must be full to be financially viable, the system fills the trains before planning road journeys.
Trains run daily from Southampton and Tilbury to and from each depot. If, for example, the Southampton to Manchester train can take 50 containers but there are only 40 for which rail is the best choice, the system will pick 10 which would be slightly cheaper to move by road, or which are taking advantage of seven days? free port storage because the customer doesn?t want them immediately. These would then be moved to Roadways? depot earlier than planned.
Roadways? AS/400 is connected to the global SITA network, which connects airlines worldwide. Depots link up to the system via PCs and dumb terminals. The whole system cost nearly #2m but, says Hooper, ?it does things a human can?t do?.
Subject: Building Design Partnership
Activities: manages entire building projects
Uses: to improve how it manages, plans and schedules projects
The Building Design Partnership was set up in 1963 to manage entire building projects, from initial drawings and planning application to final fitting.
It employs architects, mechanical, electrical, civil and structural engineers, landscape designers, quantity surveyors and project managers. However, builders are sub-contracted on behalf of customers.
Offices in London, Manchester, Sheffield, Glasgow, Belfast and Dublin offer all these disciplines. However, this dispersal of offices around the country only complicates the process of managing, planning and scheduling company projects.
Norman Hewetson, planning manager at the Manchester office, says: ?We used to have a small computer program which designed the construction and procurement schedule, but in a very limited way. For example, we couldn?t allocate any resources or costs, it was only a time planner.?
Welcome Software Open Plan was installed in its DOS version in 1987. This has since been upgraded to the Windows-based Open Plan Professional.
With this software, BDP can establish a series of levels for planning each job. A single overall plan is broken down into first design stage, comprising outline proposal and scheme design. It is then blown up to provide detailed design and production information. Tender details follow, along with elements such as choice of contractor, and fitting out the finished building.
Because project times often change, the practice can say ?we want to start on X instead of Y day? and Open Plan will readjust the schedule. It will also alert users if changes mean that certain people won?t be available because of holidays or other project commitments.
?We can put in ?what-if? scenarios,? says Hewetson, ?to work out the best use of resources?. Everything is also costed, based on individual worker?s hourly rates.
Each office can now see, at a glance, where and when each person is required, the progress of each job and when the next one is due to start. A number of management reports are also run off the system.
Subject: Britannia Airways
Activities: charters aircraft for travel companies
Uses: to help monitor the movements of flight staff and aircraft
Imagine trying to keep track of 28 aircraft and 1,600 flight crew using white boards with wipe-off markers. Until 1992, that?s exactly how Britannia Airways, one of the world?s leading charter aircraft companies, checked the location of its planes and staff.
According to Keith Baker, controller of operations, it was a nightmare. ?Ground staff spent an enormous amount of time trying to keep up with constant changes. If crew were off sick or aircraft delayed, it could cause havoc with the schedules. Twenty-five per cent of our staff resources went on just maintaining data,? he says.
In 1990, Britannia decided to resolve the scheduling dilemma; in 1992 flight scheduling and advanced crew planning modules supplied by Sabre Systems went live, followed by a tailor-written, day-to-day aircraft control system in March 1993.
Britannia plans its flight and crew schedules 18 months in advance, with detailed plans produced for two seasons ? or one year ? at a time. Customers provide data about desired flight routes, dates, aircraft capacity and so on.
The airline inputs other parameters, such as scheduled aircraft maintenance, availability of airport slots at destinations, and the time it takes to fly between two points, to determine whether or not it is possible to meet customer requirements.
Operations staff pick up data from the system to monitor situations which may change the plan, such as emergency repairs to aircraft, air-traffic-control congestion, industrial action or crew illness.
The system alerts users to any problems such events may cause. If, for instance, an aircraft takes off late and risks arriving at its destination 20 minutes before the arrival airport is due to close, Britannia would have to ask the airport to stay open longer, or divert the plane.
Britannia runs its planning system on a Hewlett Packard graphical workstation and Sequent Unix file server, with 65 workstations and 500 dumb terminals and networked PCs. But the human touch is still important. ?The computer is there,? says Baker, ?to provide information so staff can come up with the best solutions.?
Planning and scheduling lessons:
1 Make sure you know what you want the software to do.
2 Think laterally: a package written for manufacturing or construction, for instance, could be tweaked for other planning applications.
3 Identify who will use the system; if it is too complex or does not have enough features, users won?t be interested.
4 Make sure the software is flexible enough to allow data to be organised in several ways, such as by human resource, cost and so on.
5 Make sure your software can cope with the year 2000 date problem.
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