Shining a Light onto Chemicals Production Scheduling to Unlock Trapped Value

Chemicals Production Scheduling Project Achieves 20% Increase in Throughput with a Two Month Payback Period

September 27, 2022

Guest Blog: Mark Rockey is a Production Scheduling Practice Leader at Profit Point, an AspenTech supply chain Implementation Services Provider.

In the 1990s, NASA was in the midst of increasing costs and schedule complexities without the budget to match. To break this cycle, NASA introduced the “Faster, Better, Cheaper” (FBC) philosophy, pushing projects to do more with less. This change led to some of the most successful missions in NASA’s history, such as the Mars Pathfinder mission that sent a lander and the Sojourner rover to Mars in half the time and 1/14 of the budget.

Similar to NASA’s FBC philosophy, Profit Point embraces “do more with less” principles to help manufacturers maximize their asset utilization and supply chain efficiencies by implementing quick time-to-value solutions. In a typical production scheduling improvement project, our customers can expect around 5% throughput gains for a batch site.

Recently, Profit Point worked with a global Specialty Chemicals manufacturer to help them improve their production scheduling process at a batch facility in Germany. The result: an astonishing 20% increase in throughput—compared to typical 5% gains—without incurring additional capital expenses, simply by leveraging out-of-the-box capabilities of AspenTech’s aspenONE® Supply Chain Management (SCM) solution. Our client was delighted since the payback period for this project was just two months. 

How did Profit Point increase throughput by 20% with scheduling visibility?
Before the new solution was implemented, this batch production facility was relying on spreadsheets and rules of thumb, based on prior experience, to create feasible schedules with enough lead time to execute. The full extent of how these spreadsheets were limiting the facility’s true potential was unknown — until Profit Point implemented the AspenTech SCM solution.

Because schedule visibility and granularity were missing from their previous method, Schedulers were not able to:

  • Assess how effectively time was used in production
  • Detect potential scheduling conflicts
  • Identify production bottlenecks and constraints

The implementation of Aspen Plant Scheduler and Aspen Scheduler Explorer allowed the facility schedulers to identify gaps in the schedule that could be leveraged for increased production and enabled Operations team members to identify where additional inefficiencies existed. For example, with the previous spreadsheets, Schedulers lacked insight into packaging operations and were unable to see when two blenders finished at the same time. While one blender may be able to be packed out immediately, the second would have to wait hours before the packaging line was available again.

How did we simplify scheduling complexities through visualization?
Manufacturers today face a chaotic supply chain with raw material shortages. Profit Point observed that the Schedulers lacked visibility into these raw material shortages — a significant issue, which was resolved by adding a coloring scheme to the planning board. Batches on the planning board are colored, based on projected raw materials shortages. After the change, the site can now see shortages before they happen, enabling Schedulers to anticipate raw material shortages and be proactive.

A similar coloring scheme enables what-if analysis capabilities by helping the schedulers visualize batch lateness by coloring batches relative to when they need to be loaded onto a truck. Prior to this capability, performing what-if analyses for resequencing batches was not feasible due to time constraints. Absence of such in-depth analysis resulted in less accurate schedules and longer lead times for their customers. 

By using this coloring scheme, Schedulers can now see what can and cannot be pushed out and answer in minutes questions that previously would take hours. Insight into the domino effect of how one decision impacts others now enables Schedulers to create stable schedules and accurately forecast. Influencing the rest of the plant, these coloring schemes of projecting raw material shortages and streamlining batch schedule evaluations started a positive ripple effect across numerous plant KPIs, such as increasing on time & in full (OTIF) deliveries, and improving customer service.

How did Profit Point’s implementation lead to faster, more reliable deliveries?
Prior to the solution implementation, the facility was under the impression that they could not meet customer orders on time — leading them to turn away or delay orders. The new approach allowed the facility to:

  • Deliver customer orders faster and with reliable delivery dates
  • Commit to more volume
  • Decrease lead times significantly with orders now taking a week or two, rather than a month

Breaking Down Silos to Move the Site Forward as a Unified Force
A crucial factor in achieving the 20% throughput increase was the improved visualization, collaboration and alignment between the Scheduling and Operations team members.

Sometimes, a challenge in such projects is helping the customer stakeholders adapt to the new system, especially for those who may be averse to changes. However, Profit Point saw the exact opposite here, thanks to Aspen Schedule Explorer – a digital manufacturing collaboration platform. The solution provides a simple, intuitive, visual representation of the schedule — making it easy for Operators to learn and adopt. Additionally, the solution empowered Operations to be integrated into the scheduling process. For instance, Operators recommended when more batches could be made. Collaboration between Schedulers and Operations was supercharged — bringing together different roles and experiences across the plant led to a powerful new understanding of how to unlock trapped value and increase production throughput.

 Figure 1: Aspen Schedule Explorer visualizes the schedule while organizing conversations within batches, making it easy for Operations to adopt and enabling rapid plant-wide communication

Profit Point Unlocks Site’s True Potential with Scheduling Visibility

After Profit Point’s implementation of Aspen Plant Scheduler and Aspen Schedule Explorer, this German batch production facility dramatically increased their throughput by 20% with a payback period of two months. The configuration of AspenTech’s out-of-the-box visualization showed Schedulers lost time, production bottlenecks, and enabled agile decision making. Coordination amongst Operations team members and Scheduling strengthened as feedback and communication flowed more openly.

Profit Point helped shift the culture of this site from reactive to proactive, unlocking its true potential.

To learn more about other recent Profit Point supply chain projects, read an interview featuring Alan Kosansky, co-founder and president of Profit Point.

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