Maintenance and Finite Scheduling


In October 1994 I spoke at the APICS International Conference. As is the case with most speakers, I attended other presentations during the course of the conference. There was a long line forming in the hallway outside one of the conference rooms. Since I had nothing planned during that  hour, I concluded this must be a good one to attend. So I got in line. I was lucky to get in. It was standing room only. The speaker was presenting a paper on finite scheduling. Although it was obvious she was selling software, she made a good presentation.

Later that day, I attended a presentation on world class maintenance. That conference room had the same capacity as the one on finite scheduling. There were only three attendees present. I was one of the three.

I wondered if all the people who attended the finite scheduling presentation worked in manufacturing facilities that never encountered equipment problems. So, when I did my presentation later that week, I polled the attendees in my presentation. My presentation was about Zero Defects and Shingo's Source Inspection. My attendees were more manufacturing oriented than most of the Conference attendees. All eighty-five people in the room confirmed they had maintenance related problems.

That led me to another thought. How is it then is everyone so excited about sophisticated scheduling algorithms when the schedules will become obsolete the minute the first machine crashes?

In the early 1970's Ray Lankford installed finite scheduling at my employer, Otis Engineering Corporation, in Dallas. Otis does not produce elevators. It is a subsidiary of Halliburton Corporation. Dick Cheney's old employer. At any rate, Ray moved on to bigger and better things after becoming internationally recognized with the finite loader. In the 1970's Otis was the largest CNC shop in the world. It included machining, welding, assembly, testing, metallurgical testing, heat treating, heavy fabrication, etc. You name it; we did it. 

Otis was a leader in employing the latest technology in manufacturing. In 1972 we developed a homegrown MRP system. In 1974 we had CAD/CAM systems. In 1975 we implemented finite scheduling. Ray was the so-called father of finite scheduling in the 1970's. By 1976 we had group technology. We had over 100 design engineers under one roof. In a separate office, we had four patent attorneys who also possessed undergraduate engineering degrees. We had over a million parts in the database. Some assemblies contained over 20,000 items. The most difficult thing for those of us in manufacturing were the 15,000 engineering changes that had to be processed every month.

I was at Otis for thirteen years and worked in quality control, machining, inventory control, and customer service. We took orders from all over the world and shipped to over 600 domestic and international locations. We shipped via air, water, and ground. If a customer wanted something, he would get it from us. Even if it had not even been invented yet, we'd design it and build it and ship it. Sometimes we would do all that in the same day. In those years we had to put our home phone numbers on our business cards. It was not uncommon for a customer to call at 3 in the morning.

Reactive maintenance was not allowed at Otis. There were plenty of things that could go wrong and quite often they did. But one thing was never tolerated and that was "reactive maintenance." Companies develop philosophies and at Otis, no matter how hot a job or customer demand was, proactive maintenance practices were never compromised. In my thirteen years at Otis no customer shipment was ever delayed due to down equipment.

Well, to make a long story short, we pulled the plug on finite scheduling in late 1979. Customer service improved quite a bit after that.

Maintenance is far more important than scheduling. Think about that the next time you board a plane. 


1995/2006 James Vick, Inc.

Contact:    Phone: 817-279-3116    5102 Wedgefield, Granbury, Texas 76049