What to do when you outgrow production planning with Excel?

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Many manufacturing companies use Microsoft Dynamics 365 Business Central as their ERP and “complement” it with Microsoft Excel.

The ladder, being in the market for so many years most of our customers use it on the side for some planning purposes. But what are the downsides of using software that wasn’t designed with production scheduling in mind? Well... several.

This blog focuses on describing our customer's experiences and the thinking behind the search for a visual scheduling extension.

Why Microsoft Dynamics 365 Business Central gets you places.

An EPR System like Microsoft Dynamics 365 Business Central assists you in producing and handling a great amount of information. Business Central covers everything regarding manufacturing from the production orders, the raw materials, the resources, and the machines, up to the sales order and customers.

Luckily for all, everything I mentioned (and much more) is gathered in that one system. And all departments can work with the same data. A change anyone does can be verified or reviewed by everyone else. At the same time, adjustments in calculations have an impact on the information, for example, the calculation of delivery dates and the allocation of resources for the operations.

But… there is always a but, right? Everything is presented within tables, cards, and reports. When considering time and timing, we all need of course a calendar. Plus: an ERP system is designed to handle transactions (and it does this very well). However, it is not necessarily designed to handle actions (which is what you need when you sequence production orders on machines).

A missing overview often is when Excel comes into action.

Excel is a great starting point.

  • Excel provides an overall picture.
    • You can easily pull data into Excel by exporting it from Business Central. This information is arranged looking like a planning board. You’d get a graph, time orientation, lists of production orders and their operations, the resources required, and the delivery dates.
  • Excel is technically free.
    • As part of the Office package, and the package is a basis for most companies, you’d have it install without even asking for it.
  • Excel has many learning opportunities.
    • From school lessons to YouTube videos, everyone can learn how to use Excel on its own or from the many available resources.
  • Excel is easy to edit.
    • Click and type all required info in no time. You can adjust the planning board by changing all data.

However, Excel could be better for production planning. Here’s why:

  • The spreadsheet will always have “an owner.”
    • Excel is nowadays a must in the skill list. But naturally, the person who created the planning board with the spreadsheet knows how to update it better than the rest. This takes us to the second weak point.
  • Excel is likely to be inaccurate.
    • One typing error or one unselected character when copying can lead to a wrong schedule and hard to spot at first sight.
  • Excel gets outdated in a blink of an eye.
    • Since you’re working with data exported from Business Central but outside of it, your Excel calculations will always be a snapshot. This means if there’s any changes or new information in Business Central you won’t see it. For example, a new production order, cancellation, or a machine breaking down.
  • Your ERP gets outdated too.
    • Once you make adjust plans in Excel, you would need to write back that information into Business Central but most of the time there’s no place or time for it. Therefore BC will no longer work with real data.
  • Excel does not scale by increasing the number of orders.
    • As the number of orders grows, the planning parameters you’ll work with will be more. But Excel will remain the same.
  • Excel is not enough for manufacturing planning.
    • And it should not, it was developed for it. It just happens to fit well. “We encountered a lot of issues over time as we saw our orders grow: These issues were e.g. conflicts in planning, missed delivery times, resources not being optimized. There were a lot of inconsistencies in our planning and operations, which needed to be addressed”, says Vadim Rassolenko of Kutterer RUS who went the Excel route first (read full story).

What to use when you outgrow Excel? A visual scheduler extension.

After identifying and dealing with the above list, our customers search for alternatives: finding us!

Why would a visual scheduler work for you? Because:

  • It always has current information.
    • As it is completely integrated with your ERP, there is no extra development only extra benefits. There is no detour nor import-export of your data. Our visual schedulers mirror the existing data 1 to 1, all the time.
  • Accessible to everyone in your company
    • The Visual Scheduler would be part of your ERP system, meaning everyone can access it when needed. Information goes across departments in no time. A visual scheduler offers great transparency for all production planning tasks.

What do our customers say about our visual production scheduling?

Communication improves.

Backing up the last statement, our customers have mentioned there was a noticeable improvement in communication across departments. “Today multiple planners use the tool across various engineering departments." Joab Mak'Ongul, Davis & Shirtliff (read full story)

Information is seen in a better light.

At the same time, presenting all information into a Gantt chart made one of our customers realized the information was missing that would eventually help a lot. Here is what they said:

“The production was much more complex than believed. When making routings for all products, we discovered that this knowledge was on a few employees, which is a risk factor for our company." Henrik Størling, pK Chemicals A/S (read full story)

A Visual Scheduler takes information directly from Business Central. That means, if, for example, a routing is entered falsely the extension represents it visually making it easy to identify and fix.

Ready to graduate from Excel? Try visual scheduling for free!

As I mentioned before, Excel is the perfect starting tool for production planning. Nonetheless, it is still a temporary solution. Whether it is a matter of months or several years depends on the size of the company, and the number of orders.

If you would like to make the most out of your new Microsoft Dynamics 365 Business Central environment and bring your production scheduling to the next level you should definitely take a look at a visual scheduler. Taking a peek is free, so why not?

Click below and download a free trial version in AppSource.netronic on appsource

Want to learn if the Visual Production Scheduler or the Visual Advanced Production Scheduler is the better fit for you, take a look at this comparison blog.

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