Guest Column – Dr. Peter Green

Automated Resource Scheduling – The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
Over the years, I have had a number of requests to implement scheduling systems for a variety of industrial organizations. In every case, the management of the organization believed that the source of their organization’s problems were poor scheduling of their people’s time and the equipment they used.
They were all looking for a magic technology bullet that would solve problems such as late customer shipments, excessive backlogs or too much paid overtime.
At first, I was delighted to demonstrate the technology prowess of my team and how we could use our artificial intelligence technology to solve these scheduling problems. Managers of these organizations were also willing to fund these projects because:
1. Toyota was getting accolades for using automated scheduling to efficiently produce their automobiles on highly automated assembly lines. If it worked for Toyota, why wouldn’t it work for a job shop in central Connecticut?
2. It was easier to fund a technology solution than it was to solve some tough management issues. If the computer told you how to run your plant then management could not be blamed; and computers are always right, aren’t they?
Then the failures started to stack up! Yes, we made the software work, but like all “innovative” software projects it took twice as long and cost twice as much as it should have done. Even worse, no one used the resultant scheduling software as it was too complicated to maintain all the operational rules in the dynamically changing operational environment of a mid-sized industrial company.
But we did have successes. As a precursor to implementing these scheduling systems, we had to implement barcode tracking systems to gather the needed data, which the automated scheduling systems used to do their scheduling activities. We found that, as soon as managers had real-time operational tracking data, they were able to make good decisions about how to allocate people and equipment resources.
We found that managers, supervisors and lead people made much better decisions than our high-technology “silver bullet” artificial intelligence software could. The reason for this was that the people were much more knowledgeable, based on their years of experience, than any number of rules that we could put in our software. So they didn’t use our scheduling software but made incredibly effective use of the real-time tracking data. Just shows that people with the right data and real intelligence can trump artificial intelligence anytime.
So lessons learned. These days, when I am asked to implement a scheduling system, I suggest that we first implement a tracking system and then see whether the scheduling system is needed.
Implementing a barcode tracking system will not cure bad management skills but it will give good managers the real-time information they need to manage their operations much more effectively.

Techie Issues – Woes with Microsoft Windows Server 2003 64 Bit Software
In attempting to build a new server to use one of the new dual core 64 bit chips, I ran into considerable trouble with the 64 Bit versions of Microsoft software. In many cases I had to work my way around missing or badly implemented functionality. I found that Microsoft’s 32 Bit Windows Server 2003 software works great with the new chips but I would not recommend using the 64 bit software unless you really need to implement enterprise level functionality.

Dr. Peter Green
Dr Green is an expert in tracking materials and business operations in real-time using barcode, RFID and wireless mobile computer technologies. He serves as Chief Technology Officer of BellHawk Systems Corporation and consults to organizations on how to apply technology to solve their operational problems. Dr Green also writes and lectures to professional groups. Dr. Green is an active software developer with expertise in areas such as .Net, SQL and web based technologies. He was previously a Professor at WPI University and a research staff member at MIT. He has over 30 years experience in implementing systems to solve operational problems for industrial, Government and commercial clients.

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