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Virginia Tech News / Articles / 2005 / 08 

New scheduling tool aids in manufacturing productivity

August 17, 2005

In manufacturing, scheduling decisions can make the difference between a company’s success and failure. Oftentimes, due to the dynamic environment of a production line at a business, changes must be made instantaneously.

A new software tool, FlexSched, is now available to managers who make tactical scheduling related decisions at the shop-floor or operational level. FlexSched, developed by Subhash Sarin, the Paul T. Norton Professor in the Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering in the College of Engineering and Center for High Performance Manufacturing at Virginia Tech, provides managers with procedures to reduce the total time that the jobs spend in the system.

“Whether you run a small or a large business, regardless of what shop configuration you have or what products you produce, FlexSched can help you schedule more efficiently and increase your profitability,” said Sarin.

“FlexSched is designed to address production scheduling needs in the face of disruptions such as machine breakdowns and repairs, and new job arrivals,” said Sarin. “You no longer need to worry about shop floor disruptions upsetting your production schedule because FlexSched is designed to help a manager in making effective decisions efficiently in the face of these disruptions. “However, it can also be used to determine production schedules in static environments.”

Easy to understand user interfaces and menus combined with user friendly input/output capabilities, make this tool appealing to users. Provisions are made to incorporate custom made dispatching rules so as to provide added flexibility to the user in generating schedules. FlexSched reads all the necessary job and machine input data directly from a database or from a simple spreadsheet.

“FlexSched automatically generates a graphical display of the schedule using Gantt charts to permit easy verification as well as to facilitate comparison between alternative schedules,” Sarin said. “The Gantt chart is interactive and the user can directly make changes on it to rapidly determine new schedules. Alternatively, the user can choose to view the schedule in text format.”

Sarin described another attractive feature of FlexSched. “In the face of uncertainty, when the processing time of a job can only be expressed in terms of its mean and variance, FlexSched automatically determines expected value and variance of the completion time of a schedule. It also displays several schedules (the number of which is user-specified) for the user to select.”

Virginia launched the Center for High Performance Manufacturing in July 2001 using the Commonwealth Technology Research Fund. Virginia Tech leads the center and James Madison University and the College of William and Mary participate. The center works to help manufacturing firms research, develop, and implement new processes, methods, and technologies in order to stay competitive in today's dynamic manufacturing environment. Work is performed in a wide variety of areas, ranging from supply chain design and flexible automation to rapid prototyping and low-cost composite manufacturing.

Questions on FlexSched can be directed to Sarin at sarins@vt.edu or the Center for High Performance Manufacturing at chpm@vt.edu.

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