Forty-three consecutive months with no late deliveries leave little doubt about the effectiveness of this scheduling tool

Since November 1990 Bay Cast Inc. has had an irreproachable record for on-time delivery. Impressive? Yes, but Scott L. Holman, Bay Cast's chief executive, points out, "Any idiot can deliver on time if he pads his schedule." What makes Bay Cast's accomplishment truly significant is the length of time it now takes the Bay City, Mich., foundry to fill a standard order: a trim 6 weeks. Back in 1981 that process would have taken at least 26 weeks. Bay Cast beats its competitors' average turnaround time by 2 weeks.

The need to get control of Bay Cast's production schedules gained real urgency when Holman went from being an employee -- he had been the company's general manager for six years -- to being Bay Cast's owner, in 1987. The foundry was no exception in an industry notorious for late deliveries. "Not everyone is honest about delivery dates," Holman acknowledges. "Salespeople tell customers what they want to hear so they can get jobs."

Before Holman developed this schedule, each operating unit of the foundry -- and the company's administration -- had defined its own schedule independent of exigencies down the line and heedless of potential bottlenecks. Holman himself had no way to determine whether a casting was running behind schedule until the final delivery date was missed. "I don't think people were incompetent," Holman says. "I think they were victims of a process that wasn't well controlled or planned."

He was desperate to find a way to govern and condense the shop-floor schedule. A number of disappointing attempts to track the processes had no impact on the foundry's pace of production. But a casting he had once worked on for NASA -- which introduced him to critical path management -- and his facility with his Macintosh helped him devise the Die Delivery Control Form that became central to Bay Cast's on-time delivery.

About half of Bay Cast's orders use the form as a guide. Those orders, all for auto-industry suppliers, are for castings in a variety of ferrous casting steels and shapes, but their production proceeds along roughly the same path. Holman says that the "schedule is flexible enough to accommodate the special needs of each order with plenty of open space to note the specifics of each job. It standardizes the timing and procedures and allows us to achieve close to assembly-line efficiencies in a custom job shop."

Salespeople no longer cavalierly promise delivery dates to customers. They first collect extensive information about prospective jobs and meet with production-department employees. Holman meets monthly with the production committee to determine, based on Bay Cast's new orders, whether to deliver in four, five, or six weeks.

The production clerk calculates final due dates for each order and works backward to figure intermediate "drop-dead" dates that give the foundry the versatility to handle a number of orders simultaneously. The schedule serves as a planning, implementation, follow-up, and historical document.

"Today," says Holman, "employees in the cleaning department, for example, know not to work on the easiest-to-clean casting or on the one that happens to be on the top of the pile. They dig through the tags to find the casting that needs to be done first in order for it to make it to the shot-blast furnace the next day. We run that furnace only once a week. With this schedule tagged to each order, we can take action before it's too late."

This discipline relieves stress for both Bay Cast employees and customers, and the updates Bay Cast faxes to its customers each Friday have made life much easier for companies relying on just-in-time delivery. In any case, customers need not worry: Holman claims that an average of 87% of orders are out early. The remainder are shipped on time.

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"Every week's new orders get tracking forms of a certain color, so that it's easy to spot laggards. We use calendars in six different colors. If there were fewer, they'd overlap, and jobs in their late stages might get confused with new jobs in their earlier stages. The neon-colored calendars stand out from the office clutter and show up in the dark foundry. Last fall hot-pink forms accompanied all schedules that started on Friday, October 15. A form stays with each project. It highlights all the procedures that a typical job comprises, and we assign target dates for the crucial steps of the standard casting-making process. The four rows of boxes under the days of the week show that this is a four-week schedule."

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The Die Delivery Control Form, with its vertical and horizontal setup, appears as baffling as the Rosetta stone. Scott Holman explains how it works:

This job came in on Thursday, October 14, and this Die Delivery Control Form accompanied it through production.

This checklist of activities for the first day in the foundry lays out the necessary preparation of the pattern.

The Styrofoam pattern we receive from the customer is destroyed during the manufacturing process, so we keep photos of each pattern on file in case of customer questions or complaints.

The Styrofoam pattern arrives at the foundry marked with the engineers' specifications for the coating it needs for molding and manufacture.

The last possible date to pour this casting was set for the night of October 22-23. If we had missed that target, we couldn't have poured until the following Monday. Then the casting would have had to cool on Tuesday and Wednesday, and we'd have lost almost a week. Pouring on the 19th put us well ahead of schedule.

This pour was one of several made from heat number 930443. We make an archival test bar of steel from each process and catalog it by heat number, and we save it for seven years in case problems arise.

For quality-control purposes, we note the chemistry of the ferrous casting-steel compound actually achieved versus what was listed in the purchase order.

On Friday, October 15, the pattern arrived at the casting facility.

The form is structured like a calendar, with each week's activities specified in order. The calendar is flexible, though. It indicates the sequence of the required tasks and the last acceptable day for the completion of certain tasks. We used to fall behind schedule because our planning failed to account for the resting time a casting requires between steps. By starting our calendar on Friday, we visually incorporate Saturday's and Sunday's downtime -- indicated by the shaded areas -- and stretch production to a seven-day week.

This pattern arrived in fine condition, but if a customer sent us a damaged pattern, we'd have to charge for the repair time, and we'd need to account for the delay.

This second set of photos shows the casting in an intermediate stage. We attach them to the back of the form to preserve and verify evidence of the foundry engineering.

The mold cure was targeted for October 16, the first drop-dead date on this schedule. You can see that we got the mold ready a day early.

The target date to begin cooling in the mold had been set at October 23, but because we poured early, the casting had already finished cooling and had had the sand shaken off by October 22.

We were ready to ship this on November 8, three days before the November 11 due date, because we were ahead of our targets right from the start.