Lean Factory Design Part 2


I've been posting a few comments on factory design. See Part 1 here. Here are a few more comments on what people do wrong as they design a new factory, or re-layout an existing one.

3. Secondary Flows
We place our primary material flow of raw material into WIP into finished goods on a pedestal and all other flows must be subservient to that. This is the way it should be, to a point. But there are a lot of resources, time, material and other problems with the material flows of dunnage, offal, waste streams, containers and so on. In one factory, their offal from a large blow molded product was almost 40% of material usage, but in volume was equal to the material coming in. This wasn't considered, and they dedicated as much resources to taking care of this waste stream as they did the value added work.

4. Right Angles
This one kills me, especially as an engineer. Even if we're not obsessive compulsive, we feel compelled to put everything, equipment, racks, aisles, at right angles. People don't move at right angles. Forktrucks don't either. Everything naturally flows in arcs. Why do we insist on putting 3 pieces of equipment in a straight row, then turn right 90 degrees, then two more pieces of equipment? Why do aisles have to be straight? Yes, there are some real constraints and they start with the outside walls, but just because Autocad automatically snaps our elements to a grid, doesn't mean we have to do it in real life.

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Jamie Flinchbaugh
Jamie Flinchbaugh is an accomplished Entrepreneur, Senior Executive, and Board Member with more than 20 years of success spanning finance, manufacturing, automotive, and management consulting. Leveraging extensive operational experience, Jamie is an invaluable asset for a company seeking expert guidance with process improvements, lean strategies, and leadership coaching in order to transform operations, reduce costs, and drive profitability. His areas of expertise include continuous improvement, entrepreneurship, coaching and training, process transformation, business strategy, and organizational design.


  1. In theory, you are absolutley right, Jamie, but sadly we live in a cubic world. I once worked for a company (Cincinnati Microwave) that was so opulent, the owner had the architect who built his dream house design the factory. Unfamiliar with industrial type stuff, he built a beautiful building without a right angle in the place. While his planning assumptions were similar to your thoughts, the factory equipment world has not caught up to either you or that architect. Rack comes in straight sections, to be bolted to more sections making long straight lines, conveyor typically comes in stright sections or 90 degree curves, office cubicles are made of straight lines and right angles. In short, you can’t find off the shelf stuff to put into an arced factory, and there seems to be no avoiding either a lot of wasted space or excess cost to for custom factory equipment.

  2. I agree with you on #3, but be realistic about #4. You might decide its more efficient to put in traffic circles on a US road, but you’ll cause accidents because people are unfamiliar with traffic circles… the efficiency goes against the grain of everything out there. Building a factory without straight lines would lead to space inefficiency because all of the equipment out there is designed for that. So, build an effective factory or go on a Quixotic quest to re-do the whole manufacturing world? I saw a site that got all artistic and had a huge diagonal aisle running through the building. The amount of wasted space from that, little nooks and rooms that you couldn’t make good use of because of the diagonal was huge.

  3. You’re reading way too much into this. I didn’t say build a plant based on angles. I said don’t get OBSESSED with everything having to be at a right angle.

    The goal is to build a factory around the process – period.

    If having a straight aisle down the long axis of the plant doesn’t support your process, then don’t do it even if it looks good.

    And the owner mentioned above clearly but form before function. Even companies far from lean know to build their plants around their process, even if they do a poor job of it.


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