Improve Your Manufacturing Plant Layout with Lean Tools

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Your manufacturing plant’s layout has a larger impact on your business performance than you may think. Most people aren’t aware that a production plant layout should be continuously improved to meet its money-saving potential. A Lean plant layout does this. Creating a production plan of your equipment locations and employee routes can help you speed up processes, improve your yield, and increase your profits. But it takes time. It is typically done through 2D or 3D software and involves mapping your facility, equipment, and other major components. 

Let us take your project off your hands and give you back your time! Consult our experts today! 

Improving your manufacturing plant layout using Lean will increase the efficiency of your operations and your company as a whole. As you may know, Lean practices eliminate waste from processes and deliver value to your customer through higher quality, lower costs, and shorter lead times. Manufacturing Facilities that practice the Lean Methodology increase the flow of material and information, reduce handling time, save space, and increase productivity and quality. 

In this article, the Lean experts at The Next Step have broken down what a Lean plant layout is, the benefits, and what makes a Lean layout good. Let us help save you time on research and money on unoptimized plant layouts. Read on to gain a better understanding of how these savings could be implemented in your plant.  

Contact our Lean experts to learn how we can optimize your layout. We can cut your order completion time in half. 

What is a Lean Plant Layout? 

Now that we covered what a Lean plant layout will do for you, let’s tackle what it is. The best way to do this is to explain what a Lean layout isn’t.  

In a traditional layout, products move through a series of operations before being completed and there is a focus on producing the largest batches for the least amount. As a result, the overall production of a product has additional processes and wastes which decrease efficiency.  Traditional layouts include product or line layouts, functional layouts, and fixed position layouts. You can learn more about these production layout types here. The goal of a Lean layout, on the other hand, is to increase the efficiency and flexibility of the production process by focusing on the parts of your process linked together and the waste. 

Let’s break it down further.

How is a Lean Plant Layout Different from a Traditional Plant Layout? 

Focused on the Value Stream vs the Process 

Traditionally, plants are designed based on their various processes or departments. Machines will be grouped with other like machines in different workshops, such as separate machining and assembly areas. Work is done in batches and transported between departments with forklifts. You know the works. The problem with the traditional design is that lead times and work-in-progress inventories are inefficient because there is more handling. 

Lean plant layouts instead focus on the value stream of each step of the process. Value streams are an accumulation of processes that add value for the customer. So, different machines are grouped together by the products they create instead of by their function. The processes are more connected and therefore less handling is required. Manufacturing plants can be laid out with Lean methodologies to meet goals that will shorten lead times and work-in-progress inventories. Examples include using smaller focused machines or reducing forklift use, thus decreasing batch sizes.  

Small, moveable Equipment vs Large, Stationary Equipment 

Traditional production plants use large, general-use equipment to quickly and cheaply make large batches. Plants will show off their machines that run fast and cruise through batches. However, these large machines slow down the flow of material and are inflexible. They require you to deal with larger batch sizes before and after. You need more storage and are less flexible with changes in demand.  

Lean production plants plan for changes in demand with smaller equipment. The equipment in Lean layouts are specialized for different products and can be easily changed or moved. The smaller equipment means smaller batches and more flexibility. 

Function vs Aesthetic 

As tempting as it may be to make your factory aesthetically pleasing, and we have all seen factories that have opted for this route, factories are meant to be functional. Chairs, tables, or large spaces between machines may look better but with a Lean plant layout, they need to go. Otherwise, excess space will be quickly filled with inventory and adds movement waste.  

Lean plant layouts do away with excess space. Less space between machines in a production layout means less inventory buildup and less wasted time transporting material. The goal is to streamline the flow of material and information across the production process. We might be biased, but we think a well-laid-out facility presents better to the customer anyways. 

What are the Benefits?

There are certainly challenges to developing a Lean plant layout but there are also numerous benefits. Consulting our operations team can help save you time and get the most out of your factory layout. Here are the benefits: 

Increase Your Throughput 

Throughput is the speed of the order from beginning to completion. A successful Lean production plant layout is set up with efficiency in mind, specifically with the goal of minimizing material handling. In addition to the whole production throughput increasing, each step of the process increases in speed as well.  

Maximize Your Floor Space

A Lean plant layout takes space-saving a step further by aiming to eliminate unused space that could accumulate work-in-progress inventory. Land is many people’s largest expense; you have to make the most of it. A Lean plant layout will free up space for future expansion.  

Easier Visualization and Improvement

Lean plant layouts help make continuous improvement possible by simplifying the production process, so waste is more visible. The flow of material and information is more streamlined, so inefficient areas are more apparent. Bottlenecks are visible and easier to address.  Future changes are easier as the layout is more flexible and the equipment easier to move.  

Maximize Your Profits

The result of all the previous benefits is maximized profits for you. A well-designed and implemented Lean plant layout saves time, money, and space and increases production flexibility. Product quality will increase because there will be fewer large batch defects. Customer satisfaction will increase because of the shorter lead times. Overall, your whole production process will be improved.

So… What Makes a Good Layout? 

The right Lean solution minimizes waste and maximizes product flow in order to run the most efficient operation. There is no perfect Lean layout. Every manufacturing plant has different needs and there is always room for improvement.  

However, at The Next Step we have experience implementing Lean solutions to plant layouts . Here are our three criteria for a good Lean plant layout:  

  1. A Continuous Flow 

Lean plants seek to optimize value streams. The production process needs to have a maximized flow, specifically the flow of raw material, work-in-process, finished goods, consumables, people, waste, and information. Long distances, long setup times, large machines, and production bottlenecks all hinder the flow and value streams.  

In a Lean facility, all the processes run smoothly and aren’t hindered by the flow of material, people, or information. Machines are moved closer, batch sizes reduced, extra handling and motion avoided, and one-piece flow. All processes are connected effectively and products are delivered to the customers on time. One-piece (or continuous) flow is a type of system that focuses on the sequences in the process, having employees work on one product at a time instead of a whole batch. We have cut clients’ order completion time in half just by introducing a one-piece flow.  

  1. Less Waste 

You may have heard of the eight wastes in production: transportation, inventory, motion, waiting, over-production, over-processing, defects, and unused skills. As we discussed, a traditional mass-production plant increases changeover times and introduces a lot of unnecessary waste. A successfully designed Lean layout prevents over-production of large batches. Over-production creates more transportation and processing needs, longer wait times, and more transportation. As we have talked about, Lean layouts make smaller batches and utilize space effectively to avoid the eight wastes.  

  1. Flexible to Change 

A Lean layout successfully implemented in a manufacturing plant is flexible to change, whether that be a change in demand or new products, equipment, or safety requirements. A factory layout finds flexibility in small, easy-to-move equipment and open space for future expansion. Excessive inventory takes up space that could be used for future growth or new products.  

What are the Steps in Making a Lean Plant Layout? 

How do you go about creating a Lean layout for your production facility? Here are the basic steps: 

  1. Understand your clients’ needs. 
  1. Understand your space constraints within your facility. 
  1. Select your equipment to use in your layout.  
  1. Design the layout electronically.  
  1. Define and optimize the flow of products and processes in the layout.  
  1. Create a simulation of how material moves down the line of production.  
  1. Check your impact and make changes to improve the design. 
  1. Operate faster, save space, and profit.  

Our Lean experts can help you create and implement a Lean layout in your facility! Contact us today!