Creating a well-designed production schedule that optimizes workflow, reduces waste and contains costs is key to a successful manufacturing process. Companies can take any number of approaches to scheduling their manufacturing runs, from the mass production method that was pioneered by Henry Ford during the industrial era to the small-scale, on-demand production of goods only when they’re needed and in the precise quantities required.

One of the oldest approaches to production is batch scheduling. This still-popular, tried-and-true method involves planning the production of like items in groups, rather than scheduling them individually or as part of a continuous production cycle. A batch scheduling approach provides many business benefits, including improved efficiency, lower costs and better tracking of products.

What Is Batch Scheduling?

Batch scheduling is an approach to manufacturing operations in which the same products are assembled in groups — the “batches” in batch scheduling. Each of the steps in the production process is applied at the same time to a group of items, and that batch does not move to the next stage until the entire batch is done. A critical aspect of production planning for any manufacturer is determining when and how to schedule production runs. Considerations include lead times, costs, raw materials and machinery required, speed and throughput, which measures the number of items passing through the system. One common manufacturing method is batch scheduling.

Manufacturers will often opt for batch scheduling because it enables them to produce a certain quantity of one type of product without making changes to the manufacturing setup and processes, thereby reducing costs and creating economies of scale. For example, a denim manufacturer might set up its cutting and sewing machines to make 500 dark blue boot-cut jeans before switching the fabric and thread to produce a batch of 300 black jeggings.

Key Takeaways

  • Batch scheduling is a method used for manufacturing a group of identical products at one time with the same equipment.
  • Scheduling production in batches is a more efficient, cost-effective and traceable approach to manufacturing than continuous or on-demand approaches.
  • Production planning software with batch scheduling capabilities can help reduce the complexity of planning the resources needed for a batch and executing the manufacturing process.

Batch Scheduling Explained

Batch scheduling in manufacturing involves grouping identical, or like, items together to be produced in a run, rather than, say, one at a time or in a continuous process. Some companies find this approach to be an economical method of production that allows for greater quality control.

Batch scheduling is common among companies that manufacture paper, chemicals, steel, plastic, consumer packaged goods, food and beverages, pharmaceutical and biotech products, and apparel — or who manufacture multiple products using common raw materials or the same machinery and settings. In each of these cases, companies may need to manufacture multiple types of products using the same machines and processes. However, switching up the raw materials, components or machine settings for each customer order would be inefficient and expensive. So instead, the manufacturer will produce a batch of one type of item for a certain period of time and then change the setup for the next type of product.

How Batch Scheduling Works

With batch scheduling, a cluster of a particular item goes through one stage of the production process (say, mixing raw materials) at the same time before the batch moves on to the next stage (bottling the mixed chemicals). In contrast to the demand-driven production of the earliest manufacturing days — producing one item at a time from start to finish — batch scheduling enables manufacturers to streamline production. Companies look at what should be included in the “recipe” for a particular item, the order that the “ingredients” need to be added and the processes those ingredients need to go through to create a product.

Each batch may be different, depending on the preferences in a particular sales order, so manufacturers can alter the specifications, adjusting the controls to accommodate different colors, sizes or other changes, from one batch of products to the next.

Consider a haircare brand that manufactures eight different types of hairsprays. While the company may use the same equipment and some of the same packaging components for the full line of products, each hairspray will have different ingredients and variations in packaging. Rather than constantly change machine settings, raw materials and other inputs to produce the different hairsprays as needed, the company turns to batch scheduling and production. Employees set up the manufacturing line to mix the ingredients needed to produce a specified volume of the first type of hairspray, then they produce that hairspray in a batch. When that batch is done, they will change the settings, raw materials and other inputs to produce a batch of the second hairspray, and so on.

Benefits of Batch Scheduling

Batch scheduling is an efficient manufacturing technique that provides post-production benefits for manufacturers as well. Key benefits include:

  • Increased productivity. Switching among the various equipment controls required to produce different types of products on the same manufacturing line is an inefficient way to produce large numbers of products. Batch manufacturing limits the rework required to make products by organizing production around manufacturing a group of like products at once and then changing inputs and setup between that batch and the next group of items.
  • Reduced costs. Focusing on one batch at a time can be more cost efficient for many companies. Scaling production to the batch level reduces the cost of manufacturing each of the products individually. It also helps streamline delays and minimize bottlenecks between batches. Manufacturers that embrace batch scheduling can see economies of scale, since they typically invest in production equipment, processes and labor that can perform the production of large groups of items at once.
  • Better tracking. Companies that perform batch scheduling are in a better position to enable batch tracking, an inventory management practice that groups items with similar production characteristics, such as those with the same manufacturing date and location, parts and raw materials, and expiration dates, for example. Batch tracking offers many benefits of its own, including better inventory control, improved delivery sequencing and post-sales service. Companies can more easily track these products through their life cycles, which can streamline communication about and resolution of product defects or other possible issues down the road.
  • Greater agility. Companies that adopt batch scheduling can be more agile in response to changes in market trends and seasonal demands for certain products, rather than committing to continuous production. Companies that take advantage of batch scheduling can produce various goods in the right-sized amounts.
  • Improved quality control. By focusing on one type of item at a time, companies can better manage quality at various stages of production than in a mass production environment. For example, the manufacturer can check the quality of each batch, and if one group is found to contain defective items, the company can get rid of that batch without scrapping a larger quantity of products.
  • Less waste. Similarly, manufacturers that focus on producing identical products, one type at a time, can minimize waste in their production facilities. Plus, if a product doesn’t sell well, a manufacturer can make changes, keeping inventory at sensible levels.

Batch scheduling also has some drawbacks companies may want to consider. Compared to mass production, which involves the continuous production of items through a series of steps that are performed simultaneously, batch production may take longer, since it performs one step at a time on multiple items.

In addition, businesses may experience more equipment and employee downtime with batch scheduling, since the machinery may be stopped between batches while one group is tested for quality control before another group is produced. Plus, while an on-demand approach might catch a defect after just one item is created, if a defect is found during a step in the batch production process, the whole batch might need to be tossed out.

What Can Be Batch Scheduled?

Certain products and industries lend themselves more readily to batch scheduling and production. Producing a high volume of items with low variability, for example, is a natural fit for this approach, whereas low volume and highly customized products may not make sense to schedule in batches.

That said, batch production is used across a wide variety of businesses, from pharmaceutical and chemical companies to apparel and food and beverage manufacturers. The common bond these businesses share is that they produce multiple types of goods using the same facilities or machinery.

For example, an apparel manufacturer may use the same equipment to produce a large quantity of tank tops ahead of the summer sales season and then make a batch of sweaters before the weather turns cool. A pharmaceutical company may shift from producing batches of cold and flu treatments before the winter to allergy medications before the spring. A manufacturer of baked goods can use the same equipment to make cookies, breads, pastries and more in discrete batches.

What Is Batch Scheduling Software?

Scheduling is one of the most complex functions within a production process. While batch scheduling offers a number of benefits, planning and execution can become complicated as companies consider supply and demand trends and seek to minimize inefficiencies between batches. Supply and demand software, MRP and manufacturing software working together enables companies to maximize use of their production facilities and assets, improve throughput and control costs.

Common Batch Scheduling Features and Capabilities

Modern enterprise resource planning (ERP) software typically includes production scheduling modules that manufacturers can use to plan and execute batch production schedules. Some of the most helpful batch scheduling features and capabilities to look for include:

  • Modeling capabilities. Advanced modeling of facilities, machines, capabilities and constraints can enable business to create effective, accurate and executable batch schedules.
  • Real-time visualization and management. Graphical representations give managers and leaders the ability to see the progress of a production run in real time in a user-friendly format, plus they can be aware of disruptions or deviations immediately. This makes it easier for companies to manage and make changes to batch schedules.
  • Scheduling optimization. Companies can use advanced production planning tools, often enabled by machine learning, to maximize the efficiency of batch scheduling, increasing throughput while minimizing costs.
  • Demand management. Incorporating demand insight from internal and external customers helps companies closely align their batch production scheduling with current conditions in a dynamic environment.

How to Choose Batch Scheduling Software

The right batch scheduling software is the one that meets a company’s production needs. Before choosing a particular technology, buyers would be wise to involve key stakeholders, such as operations and supply chain managers, to help define business requirements and prioritize features and trade-offs. From there they can investigate available solutions, request proposals and demos, and factor for implementation, integration and support options. Because production planning is intrinsic to effective manufacturing operations and overall success, it is important that any batch scheduling software can connect to other business systems or be integrated in an enterprise resource planning (ERP) platform.

Manage and Optimize Batch Scheduling With NetSuite

Manufacturers that produce multiple products and multiple product variations understand the importance of timing production runs that are free of delays, waste and other unnecessary costs. NetSuite Production Management removes the scheduling complexities when products are manufactured in batches, which improves operational efficiency and product quality. The software includes work order management capabilities that provide real-time visibility into the production process and tracks product batches; it also assigns employees, machines and assets to each job. All details are captured in a centralized system, which can be integrated with NetSuite ERP so that businesses can access all their operational, transactional and financial data from one place.

For all the advances in production over the years, success in manufacturing continues to come down to a company’s ability to deliver the right product at the right time and at the right price. Many companies find that batch production is the best approach to meeting market demands efficiently. Batch scheduling can be a complex task, but with the right software tools and processes, companies can plan and execute their batch schedules more effectively with fewer delays, optimal throughput and lower costs.

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Batch Scheduling FAQs

Where is batch processing used?

Certain products and industries lend themselves more to batch production. High volume, low variability items, for example, are a natural fit for this approach, while low volume and highly customized products may not make sense to schedule in batches. A wide variety of industries take a batch scheduling and production approach, from pharmaceutical and chemical companies to apparel, food and beverage manufacturers. These businesses can all produce multiple goods using the same facilities and machinery.

What are scheduling algorithms?

Performing batch scheduling can be a complex process, which is why implementing production planning software with batch scheduling capabilities is critical. These tools can incorporate machine learning algorithms to analyze data and create optimized batch scheduling recommendations.

What is batch processing and scheduling used for?

Batch production involves manufacturing identical products in groups, or batches, rather than individually or as part of a continuous production run. Batch scheduling is how companies plan for and execute batch processing.

How is batch production scheduling done?

Manufacturers can use production planning software to define their batch parameters, matching them to the capacity of their facilities, calculating the resources needed to complete a batch and factoring in the availability of raw materials and assembly items to eliminate bottlenecks and increase output. They can then send those standards for batch configurations, associated asset and labor requirements, and detailed work instructions directly to the shop floor to assist with production.

What is batch job monitoring?

Batch job monitoring is a software feature that lets manufacturers track the assembly status of their batches during the production process.