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Competitive Manufacturing / Manufacturing Technologies-Factory Layout

Supplier: QMI Solutions

Clearing the Clutter: How to Design the Best Layout for your Factory


Competitive Manufacturing / Manufacturing Technologies-Factory Layout

By following this simple procedure, you can make the right move and transform your factory into a smooth-running, well-oiled machine.

Do you feel a little overwhelmed with the sight before you when you walk onto the factory floor? Are you sick of all the clutter? Do you feel that the equipment could be better laid out so that product isn’t travelling from one end of the factory to the other and back again? Well it probably can.

The nature of a growing business is such that with all the time pressures new equipment tends to get put in a spare corner rather than finding where the most logical place for it would be. And there it remains until years later when people get sick of the mess and inefficiency.

The trouble is when it comes time to make the big move nobody is sure where the best spot is for all the machinery and equipment. Well here it is, just follow the steps outlined in this article and you can rearrange your factory with confidence that it will operate smoothly now and into the future.

1. Identify Objectives

Why have you decided to change the layout of your factory? What benefits do you expect to derive from making such changes? Where possible you should quantify the benefits you are seeking (eg. we want to increase the capacity of the factory by 20%.)

2. Identify Product Families

Develop a list of the various products that you are manufacturing. By product family we mean a group of products that are basically the same and are manufactured via the same processes. A family of products will have variations from product to product such as different model configurations but they generally have the same base model.

3. Mapping the Process

Plant layout should be driven by the requirements of current and expected future operations. To comprehensively compile all the intricacies of operations it is necessary to map each of the relevant processes. The quickest and easiest method of doing this is by flow-charting.

Process Flow Charts

Process flow charts are a diagrammatic representation of individual processes that show:

  • each work-centre (eg. a piece of machinery, storage area or inspection area)
  • sequencing of operations
  • material and information flow

Process flow charts do not show physical layout or size, it is a listing of the tasks and actions required for a particular process.

4. Process Improvements

Once you have an understanding of the current status of your processes from having developed the Process Flow Charts you should look to improve the processes before optimising the layout. The reason being that you don’t want to invest in an optimised layout of a sub-optimal process. That is akin to automating a process that is altogether unnecessary.

There is a wide range of tools available for process improvement activities such as:

  • 5S Housekeeping
  • Theory of Constraints
  • Set-Up Time Reduction
  • Process Simulation

We will not go into any of these in detail in this document, as there is plenty of information available on each of these as well as the many other process improvement tools in existence.

Tip: Once you have completed your process flow chart you should identify which steps in the process comprise the bottleneck. You know then, that if your objective is to increase throughput (for example) you must increase the throughput of the bottleneck.

At the completion of this stage you should revisit your Process Flow Charts and make sure they are still a true representation of the new processes.

Note: Remembering that world-class manufacturers practice continuous improvement, this stage has the potential to go on indefinitely. You should address easily exploitable weaknesses in the process and then move on, rather than getting sidetracked and spending a large amount of time at this stage.

5. Create a Relationship Chart

The systematic process of optimising your layout requires that you understand the relationships between the various work-centres within your factory. And a relationship chart allows you to capture that information in an organised fashion. A sample relationship chart is shown below:

The first step is to take the various work-centres from your Process Flow Charts and list them in the left-hand column of the Relationship Chart.

The matrix to the right of that list provides a cell for the relationship (or proximity rating) between every pairing of work-centres. Within those squares you write a rating for each of those relationships.

Assigning Proximity Ratings

A proximity rating is a simple weighting that reflects the desirability of physical proximity between any two work-centres. Production entities that have complicated or high volume material flow between them acquire a high proximity rating.

Conversely, those entities which have undesirable interaction, (eg. one process introduces contaminants into the other), have a negative proximity rating applied. Whether such work-centres are separated by distance or a physical barrier can be determined later. Standard proximity ratings are listed below:

6. Developing a Block Layout

The next step in the design process is to assign areas and in some cases (eg very tall equipment) volumes to each of the given entities based on current and expected needs. These are then positioned on a diagram of the building to produce a “block layout”.

The block layout is really a concept level layout that assigns sufficient space for each workcentre so the operator can then work to locate them to optimise the flow of materials and address other constraints that are captured in the relationship chart. The goal is to move the various entities around until the relationship chart is best satisfied.

The best way to do this is modifying a CAD drawing of the layout. This allows simple modification, accurate measurement of distances and areas, and the ability to create several different proposed layouts.

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