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Finite Scheduling vs. Infinite Scheduling – What’s the Difference?

Manufacturers are always looking for ways to improve efficiencies in the plant. Often, this results in finding ways to increase capacity and save costs. When evaluating how to do this, production scheduling is a hot topic. Should manufacturers focus on infinite capacity scheduling or finite capacity scheduling?

In this blog, we’ll:

  • Define infinite scheduling versus finite scheduling
  • Explain the differences and why there are benefits and downsides to each scheduling method
  • Help manufacturers decide which type of scheduling is going to work best in their plant

At the end of the blog, we’ll talk about how you can solve the problem of how manufacturers can eliminate manual work that’s needed for both infinite scheduling and finite scheduling.

What is Infinite Scheduling?

Infinite scheduling ignores capacity altogether and assumes there is enough capacity available to make the product. It doesn’t matter that you can only make 1 coffee cup an hour on a machine. Infinite scheduling schedules as much as it can to ensure products are completed and delivered on time. This is all based on demand and lead times.

Infinite scheduling will tell you to make 1,000 coffee cups in a single day even though you can only technically make 24. This is often done inside of an ERP system. Without human intervention, infinite scheduling ignores any existing work and can lead to resource overload or scheduling too much at once, potentially leading to missed delivery dates.

The reason why manufacturers use infinite scheduling is so they have schedules that are easily managed and understood. Using the same coffee cup example, the coffee cup manufacturer will see the ERP system is telling them to produce 1,000 coffee cups, and knowing that isn’t likely, they will manually figure out how they want to run the plant to hit that goal. 

Infinite Capacity Planning Saves Time Upfront

There are two things infinite scheduling is doing up front that will save manufacturers a lot of time and labor.

In an ERP system, there is the demand coming from a lot of different places – sales orders, inventory, other jobs, and forecasting. Trying to figure out the total number of coffee cups that need to be made based on the demand can actually be a lot of work because of the variety of where that demand originates.

The other thing it’s doing is looking at raw materials and components required to make the coffee cup and only suggesting you make those 1,000 coffee cups when you have all of the materials you need.

Both of these things are labor-intensive and time-consuming processes.

Having the ERP system automatically figure this out and create a rough cut schedule in advance saves a lot of time, even though it’s going to suggest making a certain amount of coffee cups that you know isn’t possible. Though this does save time up front, manual work will be required on the back end to manipulate the schedule into something that is feasible and workable. This is the biggest problem with production scheduling in an ERP.

The ERP system is simply looking at demand and materials available, not capacity or cycle times, to determine when you can actually produce to create a production schedule. This is infinite scheduling.

What is Finite Scheduling?

Finite scheduling, on the other hand, is going to look at capacity and capacity restraints to figure out how to schedule all 1,000 of these coffee cups so due dates are met.

Finite production scheduling isn’t nearly as popular as infinite scheduling because the data inside the ERP has to be unbelievably accurate and timely to get a schedule that is actually useable.

If manufacturers aren’t getting timely reports about what was produced yesterday, an accurate representation of what is in inventory, or even sales numbers, an incorrect schedule will be created. It’s incredibly important to have accurate and up-to-date data to produce a quality, workable schedule.

The ERP system also assumes that all of the standards, like standard cycle time or scrap rate and all of the parameters around making the coffee cup, are correct. This leads to another major problem with production scheduling in an ERP.

The problem with finite scheduling in an ERP system is that the data has to be very accurate for you to be able to work with it. The ERP system has to understand all of your constraints and capacity and what is happening out in the factory in a very timely and accurate manner. This needs to be at least daily, if not twice a day. Everything has to be updated with what happened. Are you ahead? Are you behind?

If this information isn’t known or inputted too late, the schedule will be inaccurate.

The Difference Between Forward Scheduling and Backward Scheduling

The reason why you would use infinite scheduling (otherwise known as backward scheduling) is that it’s easier to get a schedule out of the ERP system with less setup. Your data doesn’t have to be as accurate, but it still provides a lot of value.

But, you have to do a lot of work on the back-end to actually get a schedule you can run out on the factory floor. You have to take all of the job suggestions and look through them. You have to know what you’re going to run, communicate it to the floor, and then it actually has to get done. You need a dedicated person, often a scheduler or planner, to do this work. Otherwise, you’re going to be working with uneven workloads or an overcommitment of resources, prohibiting you from hitting targets.

There’s a whole manual process in getting that done.

On the other hand, the reason why you would want to do finite scheduling (or forward scheduling), and some people can, is because it will produce a schedule that you can actually run. It doesn’t require any human intervention to produce the schedule other than a simple spot check.

One of our customers is able to do this very, very well. They have it nailed down to the point where it works because they’re a job shop and everything that goes to the plant is quoted ahead of time. They’re based on quoted cycle times so they know when everything has to be made and delivered.

But, it takes more work up front to make sure all of the data is set up correctly and all of the parameters are right inside of the ERP. So, instead of manual processes done afterward, it’s done beforehand.

Basically, infinite schedule and finite scheduling both offer immense benefits… and downsides. Do you want to do all of the care and feeding up front or do you want to clean up the mess afterward? It’s really a double-edged sword.

That’s the question you need to ask yourself.

Mingo Makes Scheduling Simpler and Flexible

An ERP system is producing a schedule based on faulty data which is going to create a faulty schedule that’s not workable with finite scheduling. We built a product based on the fact that these things are not correct 99% of the time.

The way that Mingo comes into play is that it understands your real constraints. It has your actual cycle times. It has all of the histories that can tell you how much you can actually produce.

Knowing that information, Mingo can take your demand and produce a more accurate schedule, working with the ERP system and using the finite scheduling method.

So, Mingo is basically giving manufacturers the best of both worlds. With accurate data, an accurate schedule can be produced without much manual work. It’s a schedule that offers flexibility and the capability to meet demand.

Bryan Sapot
Bryan Sapot
Bryan Sapot is a lifelong entrepreneur, speaker, CEO, and founder of Mingo. With more than 24 years of experience in manufacturing technology, Bryan is known for his deep manufacturing industry insights. Throughout his career, he’s built products and started companies that leveraged technology to solve problems to make the lives of manufacturers easier. Follow Bryan on LinkedIn here.