Fraunhofer IPK

Institute for Production Systems and Design Technology

Planning and directing job schedules as the situation demands

The iWePro project is striving to do the same for production flows as the Industry Cockpit is doing for process networks. In other words, the project aims to ensure reliable throughputs while information transparency and a partial decentralization of process responsibility support flexibility. Stations 2 and 3 of the exhibit demonstrate how this will work. Once customer orders reach production, they need to be assigned and scheduled according to the shop floor's capacities. Production management plans production flows using machine allocation schedules so that orders can be carried out cost-effectively and in accordance with requirements. These schedules specify which production step of an order has to be carried out on which machine and when. 

Such scheduling so far is largely rigid and the leeway for later rescheduling is limited. If adjustments become necessary during production, for instance if a machine fails or a more urgent job demands prioritization, usually production management has to take action: It is required to act as a »fire fighter« and reschedule or approve changes. In addition, traditional scheduling makes sharing the plans with production staff time-consuming and inflexible: It requires the information to be communicated in briefings that are usually held at the beginning of shifts. Any later changes that result from revised planning make further meetings necessary. 

Such procedures are too rigid to allow production processes to be flexibly structured on the basis of the job shop production principle. That is why iWePro combines a modern tool for scheduling with an agent-based assistance system. This produces a system that allows production management to initially plan machine allocation centrally, but then enables dynamic adjustments to be made with its help. So, if changes become necessary during production, it is possible to modify the plan with little effort and the assistance of the agent system. Such adjustments may be initiated both by production management itself and by employees on the shop floor. And because both are working on the same database, it is guaranteed that production management always has a complete overview of the current planning and work status to hand. 

Another benefit the system delivers is that it allows the plan to be communicated more directly with employees. Networked technologies allow each member of staff to access those components of the plan that are relevant to them directly at their workplaces on the shop floor. This reduces the time spent on briefings and makes it possible to easily and directly communicate changes in the plan to the production staff.