Give the schedule some love!

The schedule is one of the least utilized areas of Tekla PowerFab but is one of the most powerful.

The schedule in Tekla PowerFab is one of the most under-appreciated areas of the software. Many will not spend the time to understand its capabilities, which leads to its under-utilization.  Because of this, I want to explain the benefits of the schedule, which hopefully encourages further usage.

Templates

Time is always of the essence, and those creating a schedule need a means of quickly entering information. Tekla PowerFab allows you to create schedule templates so that the tasks in the schedule can automatically be inserted.  In addition, links between the tasks (predecessors/successors) can be built into the template so they can be included automatically as well.  This means that you can create the base of your schedule in a couple clicks.  

You also have the added benefit of being able to create multiple templates.  For example, it may be necessary to create a more detailed and complex schedule for larger projects.  Conversely, smaller projects may not require as much detail.  You have the ability to create a schedule for larger projects and a separate template for smaller projects.  You might even want to create a schedule specific to a client that requires specific information on a schedule.  Suffice it to say that you can create as many templates as needed so that you can quickly insert the needed items into your schedule.  

You might even want to create a schedule specific to a client that requires specific information on a schedule. 

Lastly, templates also help enforce consistency of the schedules across multiple projects.  What do I mean by that?  Management can set the tasks that it needs to see on schedules and enforce its usage by requiring that a certain template be used.  This keeps various individuals from creating their own format that is entirely different from other individuals in the organization.  This means you will be familiar with the layout and content of every schedule rather than trying to interpret someone’s very unique format!

Auto-updates

Most schedules I have seen at fabricators are in Excel. A small minority of fabricators use a tool such as Microsoft Project.  These are great tools that are very flexible. However, there is normally a major issue…they require significant updating in order to reflect changing information on a daily basis.  Daily probably isn’t the correct adjective to use…I’ve normally seen schedules updated no more than weekly if they are updated at all.  

I’ve normally seen schedules updated no more than weekly if they are updated at all.  

Tekla PowerFab has the ability to automatically update certain information in the schedule. Various tasks can be linked to statuses throughout the system that are updated by PowerFab without manual manipulation. Below is a list of these areas with a brief description of each:

  • Drawings Approved – % of drawings that have been statused as approved.
  • Material Purchased - % of material that has been purchased.
  • Material Received - % of material that has been received.
  • TFS (taken from stock) - % of material that has entered production and been removed from inventory.
  • Production Progress - % of production stations that have been processed.
  • Production Completed - % of material that have been fabricated.
  • Station Progress - % of material that has been processed through a specific station in the shop (e.g. saw, fitup, layout, weld, etc.). 
  • Shipping Destination Progress - % of material that has completed shipping to a specific destination such as the galvanizer.
  • Shipping Completed - % of material that has completed shipping to the job site.  
  • Field Progress - % of field stations that have been processed.
  • Field Completed - % of material that has completed all field operations (e.g. erected).

Not only can the schedule update these statuses automatically, but it can do it down to the sequence, lot, category, subcategory, or pay category level.  Perhaps you don’t necessarily need to see that information.  However, having visibility to more information automatically gives you greater insight into your projects.  Most schedules I’ve seen don’t break the hours down at all.  Being able to have insight into smaller chunks of hours can help you to zero-in on any issues.

How long does it take to gather the percent complete for every project and then manually plug it into a spreadsheet?

Think honestly about this… How long would it take you to gather the reports for every project on your schedule in order to update even a handful of these statuses in Excel or Microsoft Project?  You may be saying “I don’t need to update my schedule with a lot of that information.”  So let’s say you only need to update one of them on your current schedule…percent complete for example.  How long does it take to gather the percent complete for every project and then manually plug it into a spreadsheet? Now compare that time to automatic…which is faster?

 

Re-estimated Hours

How many times have you looked at the hours on your schedule and realized that they are only based on estimated hours?  But you know there were changes from estimated to actual and those hours aren’t being included in your scheduling.  In addition, the change order hours aren’t being updated and included either.  That has the potential to be a lot of hours that aren’t included in the schedule!  Or perhaps you are even planning on too many hours due to the fact that it is actually less work.

Tekla PowerFab has the ability to update the hours on the schedule based on the actual work in your shop by utilizing information from the estimate to essentially re-estimate your hours.  These re-estimated hours (called Base Hours in the schedule) are then compared to the original estimated hours.  If the Base Hours are more than the Original Estimated Hours, then the Base Hours are used as the plan for your shop. 

 

Actual Hours

You might be asking what’s so special about including actual hours worked in the schedule. I’m glad you asked! Obviously, you want to reduce the planned hours in the schedule by the actual hours worked in order to plan for the remaining hours.

There are multiple ways to update the hours worked in Tekla PowerFab: 

  • Manual Entering – you can manually enter hours in lump-sum form in the schedule.
  • Importing – the hours could be exported from time tracking software and then imported into Tekla PowerFab.  This even gives you the ability to have the detail (employee, date, regular hours, overtime hours, etc.) in PowerFab for easy reference.
  • Production Status – when the shop personnel update statuses in PowerFab, they have the ability to enter the hours they spent on that task.  It then automatically flows into the schedule
  • Scanning – if you utilize bar coding in your shop, you may have the ability to capture time per piece/task when scanning in the shop.

 

Utilization of Hours

Once again, you may be wondering what is so special about showing the utilization of hours on the schedule.  Most schedules I have seen show the percentage of hours worked as the percent complete.  However, the hours you have worked may be a very different percentage than the amount of material you have processed, which is the true percent complete.  Tekla PowerFab compares the percentage of hours worked to the percentage of material fabricated in your shop.  If the percentage of hours worked exceeds the percentage of material fabricated, it shows up bright red indicating that you may be tracking wrong on your hours.  This is a level of comparison of hours that I have rarely seen anyone track.  

The hours you have worked may be a very different percentage than the amount of material you have processed, which is the true percent complete.

 

Snapshots

Have you ever gotten near the end of your project and the contractor starts complaining that you have delayed the overall schedule?  However, you know that they weren’t approving the drawings in a timely fashion which was the true cause of the delay. 

Tekla PowerFab allows you to record a savepoint (snapshot) at any given point in time. You can then load that savepoint to see where you were on that day and do a comparison of current to the savepoint.  This gives you information as to the true cause of any issues in the schedule.  

 

Production Schedule

So far, we’ve only talked about a Project Schedule. Tekla PowerFab takes this even further.  By creating a Project Schedule, adding dates, adding hours, and adding a resource, you have automatically created a production schedule.  The resource can be something as simple as the total capacity of your shop, or it can be as minute as the capacity on a machine.  It may even be your internal detailers.  Whatever the resource, you will have visibility into the utilization of your capacity on a week-by-week basis.  This will tell you when you are over capacity or when you need additional work in order to fill your shop.  Note, this is created simply by completing the Project Schedule.  

By creating a Project Schedule, adding dates, adding hours, and adding a resource, you have automatically created a Production Schedule.

In addition, the Production Schedule not only shows you the hours planned for the week, but it also shows you how many of those hours have actually been released.  It doesn’t matter what hours you have planned if they haven’t been released to the shop!  PowerFab updates that information automatically for you. 

 

Summary

The schedule is one of the least utilized areas of Tekla PowerFab but is one of the most powerful.  I won’t candy-coat things though…it is a complex area of the software that takes some time to master. It isn’t perfect but neither is Microsoft Project or any other software package. However, the mastering of the schedule comes with great reward. I tell every client to start simple to begin with and then work up to greater detail as you gain a greater understanding of how it works. Too many fabricators go down the path of least resistance when it comes to scheduling, and their schedules reflect this very truth.  As a result, their shops tend to be planned more on gut feel than on actual data.  Spending time in the schedule may not be easy, but nothing in this world that’s worth having ever comes easy! 

The schedule is one of the least utilized areas of Tekla PowerFab but is one of the most powerful. 

Take time to understand what Tekla PowerFab’s schedule can do, and you’ll soon learn to appreciate its benefits. 

About the Author

Ricky Horton

Ricky Horton is a full-time consultant specializing in the implementation and design of information systems surrounding the Tekla PowerFab suite of products. He has almost three decades of experience as an executive in the structural steel industry and over a decade in utilizing Tekla Powerfab.

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