Little Things II - What of Timing, Schedule

Tags: Little Things

What of Timing, aka ‘Schedule’?

Not the sense in which we ask “What’s your schedule today?” The personal calendar is in hyper focus for modern business and personal conduct, and is not what I choose to call a little thing. Rather, the sense of schedule I choose to address here is, ‘When does something turn on or off?’. Again, the realm of engineers, not so much anyone else.

There exists relative timing, not only absolute timing. In point of fact, though, all time(s) are relative, but that’s a different topic.

Early in my career post-graduation, I encountered this little thing. It was near deadly for a management team member who did not have any awareness of the physics interrupting the progress. A great guy, I learned much from him, but his forté was people… business… planning. Physics wasn’t it. One of the things learned is when you don’t know, hire an expert, someone who knows better. That expert and I sorted through ladder diagrams, ran tests, talked to experts at the factory to delve into the cause of this particular problem. It was Timing. In this case, being a little late could be devastating. This would be the sense of ‘Relative’ timing – when this event happens, then the clock starts and that other action had better be done before time expires.

A timing schedule can be expensive, depending on what it is attached to. How about a schedule attached to a tariff (Utility Rate)? If lots of things are starting up when the highest rate is in effect, that can be expensive. It can be really expensive when a ratchet demand rate is in effect. When equipment - ‘stuff’ - is first turned on, usually that’s when the electric demand is highest, and it counts. For electricity, a kW is always more expensive that a kWh. What if modern technology was used to flip the switch 5 minutes before the tariff went into effect?

A common practice has been to turn equipment on when the person gets to their work station / desk / office. Therefore, if the office start time is 08:00, the demand for electricity, internet, lights, conditioned air, communication, data and coffee hits in that next 15 minutes.

In a production facility, I was taught to make sure my machines were on, warmed up and stabilized before my machine operators and assembly line personnel arrived. For those unfamiliar with a production facility, look to the cafeteria for a concrete example of operational efficiency. Before the staff arrives, the coffee is brewed & ready; the eggs have been scrambled; sausage cooked, the sweet aroma of bacon wafts to any passerby’s olfactory senses drawing them in to satisfy the essential need met by the cafeteria product.

What if a user or enterprise admin set computers to awaken in a scheduled manner, spin up calendar and email apps in the same deliberate, timed fashion? What if uploads, downloads need to be done at a less expensive time-of-day? Point the browser to an intranet page? At minimum, the startup delay and excuse is eliminated. A search on “schedule computer wake from sleep” reveals many solutions to do just this (lots of info in this oldie but goodie article & comments:, or this how-to:

My point here is that planning the starts and stops of resources used throughout the day can reap benefits beyond just financial. People waiting for something to start or finish are not in their creative moment. More resources must be consumed to provide for that transition load (bigger pipes, thicker wires, etc.).

Therefore, techniques are known; facts align with logic, so what might impede the plan? Well, in a nutshell, we do. People do. It could be that a plan is not created because exceptions are insurmountable, or over time the plan has been circumvented and corroded from within, or the need or benefit of a plan is not known. Some ideas to address:

  • Make a plan. When exceptions are myriad, start with the item of least resistance.
  • People are notorious for not doing a task when a ‘why’ is unknown and the how is mysterious.
    • Address the How: chase the search or links from above to create a step by step process for ‘how’.
    • Educate beyond the obvious first level benefit, cost saving. People care about the second level benefits: Less time to wait, better response time, better comfort, less environmental impact (less energy, pipelines, power lines …).
  • Review the plan. Audit is such an ugly word, but it is necessary because it will get to ‘why’. Obvious finds:
    • New or changed requirements. In the case of the relative timing problem, we found that the cause of the timing delay had to do with a very small device added into the system to improve radio signals. This was plan corrosion from within. Requirements can arise from Staff, Clients/products, Suppliers, Regulation.
    • Exception residual. I know, brain hurts. It means look for the switch that was flipped on last Saturday and never turned off. Overrides & jumpers are the source.
    • New ‘stuff’. I don’t know about you, but I am thrilled when I power on something new and it does what I want it to do. The on/off plan becomes a little, forgotten thing.
  • Publish success. People want to know their efforts are making a difference.

Now, about those systems I’ve added…


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