Is Excel a suitable add-on tool to support the production scheduling in a company? Many manufacturing companies using the EPR System Microsoft Dynamic 365 Business Central including the Manufacturing module will answer this question with a clear yes. They work with it and have come to terms with its minor and major shortcomings. But is Excel really a suitable tool for reliable and optimal production scheduling ? What are the dangers of using Excel to manage your production in Microsoft Dynamics 365 BC? That's what this blog post is all about.
First of all, let me point out that our company’s main focus lies on developing visual scheduling extensions for D365 BC Manufacturing, named Visual Production Scheduler and Visual Advanced Production Scheduler. The idea for this blog post originates from the fact that in a survey at lot of the customers, who use our extensions, stated that they had previously been working with Excel for many years. So as a marketer I tried to figure out what made them turn away from Excel towards our visual scheduler. Here I put together some pros and cons of using Excel for production scheduling in D365 BC and point out the value a visual scheduling extensions brings to the process. Maybe it helps you to decide when it is time for you to take the next level of production scheduling.
Dynamics 365 BC Manufacturing is a data giant
An EPR System like Microsoft Dynamics 365 BC produces a mass of data. It has to capture all data along the process chain, such as orders, customers, resources, materials, etc. The big value for everybody and especially for production planning and scheduling is that all data is accessible in one system, everyone in the company works on the basis of the same data, and that changes in the data are immediately taken into account in internal calculations, such as the calculation of delivery dates, the allocation of resources to operations, etc. But as all these data are only presented in tables, cards and reports, planners are looking for a general overview. And here Excel comes into play.
Excel brings value by providing a clear overall picture
Pulling the data into Excel is quickly done by the integrated export function in D365 BC, so that they can then be visualized in a kind of planning board. By doing so, you get the graphical, time oriented overview of orders, operations, resource allocations, and delivery dates you are looking for.
Using Excel to create a graphical planning board is first choice for many small companies, especially because it is part of the Office package, so there will be no additional costs. And, hey, anyone can work with Excel, can't they? So Excel is a free tool with great benefits.
Besides, we often hear that companies know that their data management in D365 BC is not 100% accurate. The calculations that D365 BC then makes cannot be transferred 1 to 1 into planning practice and will have to be adjusted by the production planner in Excel and calculated accordingly.
But here are the weak points
If you work with Excel, then you are certainly aware of some weak points:
Anyone can work with Excel, but in order to create a sophisticated planning board, a certain amount of expert knowledge is required, both with regard to the tool and the production itself. In most cases, especially in smaller companies, this special competence is covered by only one person. Many small companies are familiar with this situation: if the planner is ill or on holiday, the production process goes up and down.
Another danger spot is that Excel is error-prone to some extent. A simple typing error in a field, a wrong reference that crept in when you copied a cell, a formula that was accidentally overwritten ... These errors are not noticeable in the Excel sheet at first glance because the calculation and relationship formulas running in the background are not directly visible in the table.
Singular expert knowledge, susceptibility to errors - there are two more danger points that you may not be aware of: you work with data OUTSIDE the ERP system! You export data from D365 BC and import it into your Excel sheet. What does this mean: a) Your Excel calculation is always a snapshot. If something changes in the data in the ERP system after the export, e.g. a machine breaks down, this is no longer taken into account in your calculation. b) You falsify the data in your ERP system when you make manual adjustments to assignments, sequences, processing times, etc. in the Excel sheet to control your production. You change data from D365 BC and do not write back. The system no longer calculates with the real data. And yet you have introduced an ERP system specifically so that you work with a common data system.
Visual scheduler extensions bring you to the next level
Why do our customers give up using Excel as add-on scheduling tool and choose our visual schedulers instead? Here is what they have given us for reason:
# Excel does not scale by increasing number of orders
In the beginning, our customers were able to process their production orders with the support of Excel, combined with a profound, personal experience in the daily planning process. However, as the number of orders increased, the planning parameters they were working with grew. This was the end of Excel and their personal, really excellent, scheduling skills:
“We encountered a lot of issues over time as we saw our orders grow: These issues were e.g. conflicts in planning, missed delivery times, resources not being optimized. There were a lot of inconsistencies in our planning and operations, which needed to be addressed”. Vadim Rassolenko, Kutterer RUS (read full story)
# Excel is an external tool and not part of the ERP System
Our customers were looking for a ready-made digital planning board that can be quickly and completely integrated into D365 BC, that is easy to use with no extra development, but with versatile and advanced scheduling functionality. They no longer wanted to make the detour via data export and work with a low functional planning board, created by Excel.
# VPS can be used by everybody in the company
Our visual schedulers are not in the hand of one person, as they are part of the ERP-System. They can be called up by the sales department in the same way as by the manager of the shop floor. They keep everybody at the same level of information - employees, production planners, managers etc. Customers have told us that communication within the company has improved greatly because the same level of knowledge makes for much greater transparency.
„Today multiple planners use the tool across various engineering departments." Joab Mak'Ongul, Davis & Shirtliff (read full story)
# VPS visualizes production processes 1 to 1
Fully integration means that our visual schedulers mirror the existing data 1 to 1. So in some cases our customers gain more transparency and control over the process, too. And find out weak points by themselves :-)
“The production was much more complex than believed. When making routings for all products we discovered, that this knowledge was on a few employees, which is a risk factor for our company." Henrik Størling, pK Chemicals A/S (read full story)
# Errors in D365 BC became visible with the VPS
In addition, there is another effect that should not be underestimated and that is generally related to the advantage of visualization: if you visualize data, even faulty data in the system become visible. Because the VPS stubbornly takes the data from D365 BC and enters it as it is, a planner can immediately recognize if, for example, routings have been entered incorrectly. Conversely, it also becomes easier to identify processes that can be streamlined, thus saving time and money.
So - should you use Excel for production scheduling in D365 BC?
As I said earlier, Excel is certainly an acceptable choice for many small companies with a simple production structure, it is at no cost and manageable to use. There are some weak points, like the single expert knowledge, or typing errors that may affect your whole planning, data inconsistency. But overall it is a good tool for small manufacturers.
If you want to make full usage of D365 BC and want to bring your production to the next level, you will have to look for a fully integrated planning board with a bunch of scheduling functionality, visualizing data 1 to 1 - that is what I am learning from our customers.
Now you may want to test the next level? Nothing easier than that: click below and download a free trial version in AppSource 👇
BTW: VAPS is the "big brother" of VPS with advanced scheduling functionality :-)