Production Planner/Scheduler

Julie Schneider

Tell us about your work---what do you do? I am responsible for scheduling two manufacturing lines of a major pharmaceutical company . In total, I schedule approximately 2.5 million units annually. What skills are needed? Strong communication skills, strong systems skills and some mathematical abilities. What was your major? Management and Communication How did you get started in your career? I worked for eight years in the sales and marketing area, which gave me a very good knowledge of our products. After that, I switched to the materials management area so I could better understand how the production side of the business worked. I took a "Planning Assistant" job, which was actually a downgrade from the position I held, but the knowledge I picked up was invaluable, and prepared me for my promotion to Planner/Scheduler. What experience do you need in this job? Knowledge of the product you sell is very helpful . If you know that the "flu" drugs you make are going to sell more in January/February, you are better able to plan to make more in the October/November timeframe. This knowledge isn't absolutely necessary, but it is very helpful. Some budgeting experience is also helpful to guide in what raw materials should be purchased. Only raw materials that will be used in the next few weeks are purchased to keep inventory dollars low. Describe your "typical" workday: Manufacturing lines usually begin operation around 6:00 am. My typical day would begin by confirming the lines are running and everything is where it should be (i.e., wrappers are at the middle of the line, shipping boxes and labels are at the end). This ensures seamless production with no loss in time. It costs hundreds of thousands of dollars to run production on just one day. It is essential there is no wasted time. After that, it is necessary to make sure everything is in place for the next few days of production . This all seems obvious, but it rarely is. There are always situations that need to be handled immediately. Upon opening shipping boxes, you may find the vendor shipped the wrong ones. Or, perhaps, they don't fold properly. When there is a million dollars worth of products headed your way, there had better be boxes to put them in. A Production Planner/Scheduler also needs to be looking towards the future, both short-term and long-term. Most lines are scheduled six weeks in advanced. This is based on Sales and Marketing trends. The six weeks are needed to get all commodities in place. However, a change in market could occur at any minute, and you would have to change the schedule and switch everything around. This requires EVERYONE to rearrange their priorities to keep things running. What is the hardest aspect of your job? The hardest aspect is following when things are switching. It is also having patience when this happens. There is nothing that can be done to prevent it. That's part of the job. Often times, you have to ask people to give the extra effort to get things done. Or, a customer may call one day and ask for a special run of a product to help them out of a bind. It never fails that once you get everything switched around, they call the next day to say nevermind. It is also hard to balance inventory dollars. It would seem the solution to planning would be to order tons of commodities to handle all production for several months. Unfortunately, there is not enough space, or money to buy that much. Therefore, all inventories must be managed to house approximately 4 -- 6 weeks of production. What is the most rewarding aspect of your job? The best part of the job is leaving work every day and knowing you didn't lose any time, and cleared all production. Every single day is a challenge and fast moving . Some positions in corporations handle deadlines that are 2 months in the future (i.e., budgets and goals). Production deadlines are immediate . If you made it through the day without losing time, you succeeded! Another great part is that time flies by. The first time you look at a clock, the day is almost over! It's a great feeling to pull everyone together and accomplish something every single day. What are your suggestions for someone considering this field? This field is very fast-paced and very exciting. Some people aren't made to go that quickly, and are more comfortable with long, detailed projects that take months to complete. This is not how production works. You have to be a fast-thinker, and willing to make decisions on your own . There isn't always a manager standing to approve your decision. You also must be willing to ask for help. You have to work with many areas and ask people to pull together. It is common to ask people to work over the weekend together to keep things running during the week. It is a very strong TEAM environment.