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Industrial Engineering includes the contents of Time and Motion Study, Layout, and Cost Reduction; but not Construction Piece Rates .

Productivity and Management Article Series click for Index

Plant Layout, Facility Layout,

 Factory Design, Floor Plan

Layout, or the physical organization of people, materials and machines within a workplace, is at the very heart of productivity. Yes, layout requires fitting workstations into a building floor plan but that is the last step. First define the operating characteristics of your process, and a new layout will be much easier to plan, and more effective when implemented.
There is no universal template because one solution does not fit all

If you want a universal template or layout or formula, this article won’t help much. I’m sorry but there is no single quick fix, because equipment, process, flow, and building plans have such a major effect on layout and they vary widely. Variable factors in your facility will be unique, so your layout will be unique.

A successful layout must consider work done; flow and routing of output; equipment size, capability and capacity considering product mix; crew sizes and skills; inventory and cycle time goals; material handling and safety.

A new layout will require work and thought and later, cost to implement. Benefits can, but will not automatically. pay back the investment, and perhaps this article will offer insights into the return in your situation.

Benefits of a thoughtful layout 
By analyzing and improving workplace (and workspace) layout, it is possible to:
1. Position today's materials, personnel, process and equipment efficiently within the facility.

2. Organize and cut through the "spaghetti" flow that adds distance and confusion. Optimize product flow through the process, make it visible. Simplify and reduce product and personnel movement.

3. Place work stations and inventory to amplify their interactions.

4. Add output, capacity and utilization by relieving space constraints.

5. Reduce handling and damage to product.

6. Simplify organization of material from receiving through shipping.

7. Allow for future growth or consolidation, either in space or in an avenue to follow.

If your organization makes layout improvements, you can achieve immediate results, as well as form a base for continuing improvement.

If not a universal template, then what?
A new layout can be achieved quickly even if it is not a universal, off the shelf, template. As with any other project, experience and skill can produce rapid and effective results.  

A layout can be large or small in scope, tailored to your objectives, timetable and budget. Major layouts often are phased over time. Remember it may be years before you perform the next re-layout; better get this one right.

Plan and implement a layout with your own resources, or with those of an experienced consultant such as Jackson Productivity Research Inc., who develops layouts for clients to meet today’s operating criteria and schedules, relieve constraints, cut operating costs, simplify flow, add capacity or require less space, bring together different or new processes and equipment, allow for future growth.

Lean operation and plant layout
First, achieve a lean operation and then lay it out. You won't be successful if you do not have a lean operation, but try to convert to lean just through layout.

Material flow, or routing through the process, will dictate the sequence of equipment as it does with any successful layout. But a lean layout will tend to have a straightline flow, little in-process inventory, more special purpose machines and ready access to all ancillary materials for quick changeover and flexible operations. A process that depends on inventory for schedule changes and volume variations requires a layout that will accomodate the materials.

Key factors to achieve successful layouts
1. The primary reasons for creating a layout are to generate a better flow pattern for materials and / or people in an existing area; to provide for changing conditions, to utilize space better, or to set up a new or different facility.

2. In any case, it is important first to define the the contents to be included, space requirements that the contents will occupy, major access points to the facility, building limitations, regulations affecting the space including floor loads, rest rooms, fire codes and emergency routes. Then, plot several options for placement and movement as "block" layouts, discuss them with the stakeholders, and choose an efficient, safe, long lasting arrangement with good flow. Choose an option, and finally "detail" the option down to the level necessary to install equipment, furnishings, utilities and connections.

3. The type of inventory system in use is also a major factor early in a manufacturing layout. Will material be supplied Just in Case, the traditional Materials Requirement Planning technique, or will the focus be on a lean process, or Just In Time delivery? Know what system you will use, in order to assign the correct amount of space to materials, in the appropriate places.

4. A successful layout first considers the variable factors that define your process circumstances and objectives, then creates a productive flow, then fits that flow into the physical geometry of your equipment and facilities. A good flow pattern for materials and people should be a driving force for any layout. It may not be possible to quantify the benefits, but many productive practices follow from a careful layout; materials movement without retracing steps, visibility of inventory and of work, easy access of direct and support people, superior material handling, safety, housekeeping, emergency routes, an avenue for growth.

5. The classic method to gain room is to move into storage space, warehouses for instance. That often can be a practical option, especially if a concurrent objective is to reduce inventory.

6. A prerequisite to a layout is to define material handling into an area, considering material dimensions and weight, overhead lift, trucks, conveyors, etc. Also determine how utilities will be provided, because while overhead supply is much easier it also can block crane access to equipment and interfere with sight lines and vision.

7. A recent client believed that his current layout did not reflect management’s desire for employees to enjoy their working environment, and we created much less cluttered, more safe, conditions with a layout. He also wanted to be able to show off the highly capable modern equipment to his potential customers; that is possible today.

Layout implementation
Layouts tend to be fixed in place for a long time, because a new one can be expensive and cause disruption as it is installed. And too, a layout will probably be obsolescent soon after it is put in due to new equipment or product or a shift in volumes. There is no magic solution to this dilemma, unless your crystal ball is clearer than mine. If possible, try to create “pockets” of empty floor space in the layout, with nothing physically installed there. Then when a new requirement arises, you will have room to maneuver.

It is very common to execute a relocation with a "checkers" game, a series of sequential moves. But there has to be an empty space on your checkerboard to start with. First move into the empty space, then move something else into the just-vacated space, and so on. . 

Layout implementation cost and complexity varies; if utilities such as water and drains are under a concrete floor, a change will be long and expensive. Many modern buildings provide utility access from the ceilings, even drains, and changes can be accomplished much more readily and swiftly. If possible, place really permanent objects together to minimize the obstructions to later expansion or rearrangement.

A building addition
When a new addition is to be laid out and built, be sure to address not only the immediate need but also the future as well as it can be anticipated, to keep the layout effective for some time. If the budget allows, build in extra space to provide options for future actions. Be sure to plan where a major expansion will be even if it is not built until later. Then in the layout do not block later access to the expansion route with permanent facilities such as docks, rest rooms, steam generators, waste treatment equipment, chemical processes.

Plan the building layout before setting the final design for the facility if possible, because existing walls and access points restrict flow and placement of equipment.

Thanks for the time, I hope the article was useful. JPR welcomes the opportunity to discuss your particular application.

Jack Greene, Jackson Productivity Research Inc.

What's Next?

You have searched the web to understand how the principals of layout can benefit your organization, but maybe don't know quite how to proceed. I'll be glad to share what I know about the subject, and will welcome your call or email. Tell me as much as you'd like, confidentially, about your organization's situation and objectives, timetable and budget, and I'll describe some practical actions to accomplish your scope. You will have a better understanding of the options.


There's no cost or obligation to contact Jack Greene at 843-422-1298

Author Jack Greene has headed Industrial Engineering for ITT Latin America and RayBan Sunglasses, and worldwide IE for Abbott Labs. Now as president of JPR, Jack can work with your organization, from strategic guidance at the executive level to practical, hands-on application of techniques. Jack has recently started to lead seminars on facility layout, in Shanghai.