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Scheduling with Spreadsheets
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Submitted By:
Frank Burgos
Flexo Industry Consultant

URL: http://www.flexoexchange.com/
Contact: 
frankb@flexoexchange.com

Scheduling for a fast-paced, multi-press, multi-shift pressroom is a dynamic, challenging, and sometimes overwhelming endeavor. Even in pressrooms with one or two presses and a handful of jobs at any given time, effective scheduling can be tricky. If it were as simple as lining up orders by due date, job titles like “Production Scheduler” wouldn’t exist. Orders would simply be scheduled to print in the order they were received. The fact is that many variables must be considered in order to strike a good balance between efficiency on the pressroom floor and shipping the printed jobs when promised. Often, the most efficient job sequence is not always readily apparent.

Deadlines and “hot-rush” jobs often make it necessary to arrange jobs in sequences that are less than ideal with respect to production efficiency. An extreme example of this would be cutting in on a job in progress in order to print one that is either due very soon, or over-due. On the other hand, ensuring productivity sometimes means that jobs with due dates that are further out are scheduled to print before those with closer due dates. Grouping jobs by similar ink color, for example, may mean that due dates advance and retreat a little in sequence.

Variables other than due date and ink color also influence schedules. Shortages in raw materials can mean delays, interruptions, and changes in schedule. Conflicts with jobs requiring the same plate cylinders may force the delay of one job so that another may be printed. Substrates can be processed in so many ways that any number of criteria has to be evaluated in order to determine the order that jobs should be printed in.

Eurocharts Production Planning Board

lithco-eurochart-wall-tn

Everyone sees
the schedule
at a glance!

The ability to neatly and conveniently view and arrange jobs on paper or a computer monitor can help make the task of scheduling much less confusing and time consuming, and there have been many tools developed for this purpose. From paper forms, to wall boards, to sophisticated software, the purpose of these tools is to facilitate sorting and grouping print jobs by criteria that makes the best sense, all factors considered.

Somewhere between paper and expensive software programs or modules is a tool that I think may be unrivaled for scheduling. It is the common spreadsheet and it is powerful! Since you’re reading this, you very likely have a PC. And if you have a PC, you either have a spreadsheet program on it, or you should! Spreadsheets are useful for so many purposes that everyone should be familiar with using them. They’re not just for accountants. For quick and easy sorting and sequence manipulation, they are unbeatable.

I happen to use Microsoft Excel as my spreadsheet program, but programs like Lotus 123 and others provide functionality similar to Excel, and the methods I am about to describe can be adapted to them. If you use a spreadsheet program other than Excel, substitute the terms and methods I use for those more appropriate for you. For this discussion, I will assume a basic understanding of spreadsheets, but I will make a note or two where I think it might help.

Among the functions that make Excel so useful for scheduling are cutting, copying, inserting, pasting, formatting, coloring text, sorting, and filtering of records. Become comfortable with these functions, and you’ll become adept at manipulating work orders on the sheet. For printing and posting of schedules, it’s also helpful to learn how to set print area, and set-up page layouts for printing. There are many other features to Excel and programs like it, such as integration with other software tools for the office, the ability to e-mail files, compatibility with databases, and so on. However, I will resist the temptation to explore those areas and limit this discussion to using Excel as a tool for scheduling on the pressroom floor. 

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