Improve Your Plant Layout with Lean Flow

Improve Your Plant Layout with Lean Flow

By: Dean Simmons

Have you ever wondered if you are using your manufacturing space in the best way possible? Are you running up against capacity constraints? Maybe you’re thinking of moving your manufacturing operations to a new facility? 

In all of the above scenarios, your company has a perfect opportunity to benefit from using the principle of lean flow to improve your plant layout. In fact, many companies considering a move to a bigger facility or doing an additional buildout find that by simply improving their current plant layout, their existing footprint is sufficient to meet their needs.


The Value Stream Mapping Process

You likely haven’t moved any equipment or inventory since you originally moved into your building. And while you probably spend time working on improving your production processes, there are many advantages to applying that same discipline to the physical space of your operation.

The Value Stream Mapping (VSM) process is a continuous improvement tool that helps determine the best ways to implement product flow through a facility. Plant layout focuses on flow and the logistics of getting the product to market most efficiently. Combining Value Stream Mapping with the proper logistics plan can uncover valuable opportunities to streamline flow using Lean thinking.

Whether you’re moving or feeling a need to expand, VSM looks at what’s happening at the piece/part level, and then considers customer values and requirements to find efficiencies, like handling parts fewer times. The detailed nature of VSM captures every aspect of your manufacturing steps from beginning to end, including the time each step takes, any wait time between steps, and any inventory building up between each step.

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 the plant. This is where combining the process with the right plant logistics comes in since every plant is different.


Managing Plant Layout Changes Effectively

The most threatening issue in executing a new plant layout can be employee 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.

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. Establishing a steering committee upfront to garner support for the plant layout changes and any process changes or moving logistics, helps get everyone on board and creates broader staff support.

Also, when you begin to scrutinize your equipment and logistics, there is a natural tendency to consider energy improvements. Energy saving incentives may be available from your local utility and can be implemented with your new plant layout for increased savings and better environmental health.


Opportunities for Lean Flow

How do you know if there are opportunities for Lean Flow in your facility?

Take a good look around your facility and ask yourself and your team leaders:

  • Do you think you’re utilizing space in the most efficient way?
  • Are you experiencing bottlenecks, poor customer service, or late deliveries (which often result from bottlenecks)?
  • Is your inventory in decent shape but your production workflow needs improvement?
  • If you could do things differently, maybe move equipment around, what would you do?

What if there were no limits or constraints? A new plant layout can capture the essence of your thinking, whether you’re redesigning an existing space or moving production to a new one. It also ensures that a majority of everything occupying space in your facility is producing product and not limiting your profits

You know your equipment, your processes, your tooling, your staff – but how well do you really understand your space, and its possibilities? A Plant Layout provides a two-dimensional view of the proposed new floor plan and a full-scale representation of where equipment, inventory, and finished goods will be located.


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