I did some of my long-ago masters thesis work on factory design (you can read a rather dated article on the topic here). I’ve had the opportunity to design factory layouts ranging from a $1B investment down to a company with $4M in revenues. Factories were designed a long time ago to take advantage both of gravity, and the fact that you have to run belts off a main drive shaft, and so you used multiple floors and had material generally work their ways down to the bottom. Once factories could be run on electricity, new factory designs didn’t change to accommodate the changes in production processes for almost 40 years. Now that lean has been affecting production processes for a couple decades, how far has factory layout/design come? In my experience, not very. I just worked on another factory layout this week, and thought it was a good opportunity to share some of the common mistakes and problems with factory layout that people aren’t considering in their approach. Instead of writing another thesis, I will post a few comments throughout the week in smaller bite-sized chunks.
We design factories as if that we the best we could, and will, do. If we know of future business, or are growing, we might put in some room for some known factors. But we don’t design in a generic sense that tomorrow’s business will be different than today, and our factory must change. It will change because of changes in the business. It will change because of continuous improvement. It will change because of technology improvements. It will change. Don’t try to have the best design that will only be the best for one day. Try to have the best design that is flexible to adapt and change with your journey.
2. Human / People Infrastructure
We leave to brute force the fact that people must manage this factory. How many factory designs incorporate team meeting areas near their work areas? Or allow a supervisor to have line-of-sight with all of the people they support? Or plan for management and engineers and other resources to be within close distance to where they are needed? We leave this as an afterthought, versus a primary criteria of design. A good example of this is maintenance. In far too many places, maintenance is a corner off away from where their customers are. Why not have satellite maintenance areas close to each production area, with the needed parts, tools and depending on your overall resources, people?
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