Improving Plant Layout with Lean Flow

December 09, 2013

by Roy Laun

If you’re moving your manufacturing operation or running up against capacity constraints, your company has a perfect opportunity to benefit from improved plant layout using the principles of lean flow.

We can sometimes fall prey to a series of bad habits, leaving equipment and inventory where they are because it’s convenient – yet not efficient. This is a trap we can fall into and also be blind to without some outside perspective. You probably spend a good amount of time working on improving your production processes. But chances are that you haven’t applied that same discipline to improving the physical space that houses your operations, perhaps since you last moved.

opportunities can be hiding in plain sight

Some new perspective combined with a well-designed process to consider product flow can often uncover improvements using existing assets.

In fact, on several occasions we have been able to show companies considering a move or an additional build-out that the existing footprint they had was sufficient by improving their existing plant layout. Once you step back and get the right tools and perspective, you can start to understand your space better, so you can manage it more efficiently.

Finding the “Aha Moments” of Improved Plant Layout

The Value Stream Mapping process, part of the Continuous Improvement toolkit , helps us determine the best ways to improve product flow through a facility. Plant layout focuses on flow, and the logistics of getting the product to market most efficiently. Marrying Value Stream Mapping with the proper logistics plan, “Aha!” moments often result.

Whether you’re moving or feeling a need to expand, Value Stream Mapping can uncover valuable opportunities to streamline using Lean thinking. It focuses on what’s happening at the piece/part level, then expands to the consider customer values and requirements to find efficiencies, like handling parts fewer times. The detailed nature of Value Stream Mapping captures every aspect of your manufacturing steps from beginning to end, capturing the time each step takes and noting any inventory building up between each step.

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Value Stream Mapping alone does not take into consideration some important space and safety issues. The process is also insensitive to the physical constraints of the facility, focusing on a high-level view of how individual piece parts go through plant. This is where combining the process with the right plant logistics comes in. While every plant is different, typically our Plant Layout services help companies capitalize on the benefits of Value Stream Mapping related to their products, plus the benefits of logistics improvements that deliver additional efficiencies they didn’t expect at the outset.

Our Plant Layout services give clients a two-dimensional view of their proposed new floor plan and a full-scale representation of where equipment, inventory, and finished goods will be located. We can then ensure that the Value Stream Mapping results are not corrupted in any way by the new plant layout.

Managing Plant Layout Changes Effectively

The most threatening problem in executing a new plant layout can be staff resistance to the impending change. It’s crucial that owners and major stakeholders responsible for managing the transition involve their key staff in the process. Limited staff exposure to the effort will always deliver limited results! Efforts like consolidating divisions, reorganizing existing divisions, and moving major equipment affect everyone in the facility. A team approach makes the effort that much more successful. We help clients develop the appropriate steering committee to support the process changes, plant layout changes, or moving logistics, getting them on board early on and helping them gather the broader staff support required.

Once you start scrutinizing your equipment and logistics, there is a natural opportunity to consider energy improvements also, as well as waste treatment and waste streams. When possible, we can connect the new plant layout with energy saving incentives with the input of our Energy Consulting group, which is well-versed in environmental health and safety. Our efforts to improve plant layout also extend to assisting the tradespeople setting up the facility, handling power, water, air, lighting, etc. To maintain the integrity of the new layout, we work with them to find optimal places for wiring, tubing and other equipment.

How do you know if there are opportunities for Lean Flow in your facility? Take a hard look at your facility.

  • Do you think you’re utilizing space in the best way possible?
  • Are you experiencing bottlenecks, poor customer service, or late deliveries (which often result from bottlenecks)?
  • Is your inventory looking fine, while your customer service is suffering?
  • If you thought, quite literally, out of the box – forget the walls, pipes, drains and everything else – what would you do differently?

What if there were no limits or constraints? Your new plant layout should capture the essence of that thinking, whether you’re redesigning an existing space or moving production to a new one.

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You know your machines, your processes, your tooling, your staff – but how well do you really understand your space, and its possibilities? Here’s a parting thought: everything occupying space but not producing product is limiting your profits.

CONNSTEP solved a huge problem for us and helped us bring our delivery rate to 100%. As a direct result of that, we have been awarded with an increase in business which, ultimately, will also benefit (our supplier) Har-Conn.”

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Chris DePentima

CEO, Pegasus Manufacturing Inc.

“I see great value in the new experiences and perspectives CONNSTEP brings to our business, at reasonable prices. They’re not like consultants, they’re like partners in the business – willing to roll up their sleeves and help.”

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Mark Burzynski

President, Arthur G Russell Co

“CONNSTEP has proved to be a tremendous resource for ESI. CONNSTEP has helped us to adapt to today’s marketplace and remain a quality minded, competitive global player. Our ISO/TS16949 implementation process was efficient and rewarding. I look forward to our future projects with CONNSTEP.”

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Ron Delfini

President, Engineering Specialties Inc.

“CONNSTEP worked with FuelCell Energy to educate and facilitate Lean initiatives and to help meet our needs to establish an overall production improvement plan. This plan has been utilized over a period of time as a ‘guiding light’ to spur numerous improvements that dramatically reduced our product cost.”

Tom Lucas

Manager, Fuel Cell Energy

“CONNSTEP is a valuable partner to Hologic, providing the expertise and ‘outside eyes’ everyone needs to keep their continuous improvement on track. We are now well-positioned on a dynamic growth path and look forward to a long-term relationship with CONNSTEP.”

Greg Safarik

VP Manufacturing Operations, Hologic

“Our experience working with CONNSTEP has brought us benefits we never expected. It’s a great team to work with!”

Bruce Wheeler

VP of Operations, Metal Finishing Technologies Inc.

“The goals of the team were to reduce manufacturing lead-time, reduce floor space utilized, and increase worker productivity. All the goals were met. CONNSTEP helped us to better compete.”

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Dan Rubbo

General Manager, Tornik LLC

“The Business Growth Program is working well for us. We enhanced our website following the meetings to improve our SEO and become more visible to search engines. The segment on negotiating …  promoted changes in our thinking and improved how we interact with customers. The mentoring between sessions was helpful in boosting our progress.”

CT manufacturer Colonial Spring

Bill Lathrop

President, Colonial Spring Co.

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