3 areas where manufacturers overuse Excel

Is your organization still relying on Excel spreadsheets to manage key data? It may be time to reconsider your core manufacturing infrastructure.

· 3AG blog,reporting,data coach

Manufacturers tend to be the kind of people who roll up their sleeves and get stuff done. This practical approach—both to day-to-day operations and emergency problem-solving—often delivers immediate results. But it can also be misapplied and come with significant costs, especially to data operations. In a world in which data is quickly becoming a primary currency, such mishandling can be fatal to manufacturers’ success.

At 3AG, we’ve observed a wide range of in-house data projects, many hastily assembled using the most immediately available tool: Excel. While Excel is incredibly versatile and works well for certain business activities, it is not designed to support complex, robust data initiatives. Every time a new Excel spreadsheet is created, those relying on them to manage company data may instead actively compromise its integrity and reliability.

That said, a single spreadsheet can become a single point of failure—because the more it’s used in other data projects, the more this one inaccurate or flawed spreadsheet can create cascading errors elsewhere. This sort of destructive effect can have widespread, significant impact on overall business success. While we see a range of Excel misapplications, manufacturers tend to use it too much for:

  1. Production planning and work orders
  2. Incident reporting
  3. Inventory management

 

1. Production planning and work orders

Many problems can result from running production planning from Excel. First, your production schedule will likely already be out of date the minute you release it to the shop floor. Much can change over the course of a week or month: customer orders may be modified, mistakes made, equipment may break down, or staffing issues may all literally throw a wrench into your plans, no matter how well considered they are.

This issue of quickly outdated production schedules leads to the second problem: using Excel for production planning management. Excel files are notoriously difficult to manage when shared with multiple users. While it is easy to create and distribute copies of the same file to a large number of people, this ease of sharing is also its Achilles’ heel. Sharing spreadsheets with multiple users almost always creates a complex file network the creator will find it very difficult, if not impossible, to keep updated.

Further, if your planning team uses Excel to share production schedules, they’re probably also using Excel to do the formal planning, that is, using it to incorporate customer orders, market trends, seasonality, and inventory management into a plan balancing all these variables. Excel begins to show its weaknesses when analysis needs become too complex.

The problem with sending Excel-based work orders to the factory floor is that this is essentially holding a one-sided conversation. The only way for the floor to suggest changes is to send back a modified Excel sheet; this is both unnecessarily time-consuming and doesn’t allow for job completion to be seamlessly integrated into the production system. Also, if such spreadsheets are manually filled out by either the planning team or on the shop floor, additional errors may occur and add up quickly.

 

2. Incident reporting

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