Most companies, at some point in their evolution, are faced with the daunting task of relocation. Perhaps a company has outgrown its existing facility and simply needs more space. Perhaps it is more advantageous to be closer to key customers. Maybe the current location no longer has the infrastructure required to support the business. Whatever the reason for relocating a plant, remember that the new location must allow the company to achieve the following objectives:
- The plant layout must minimize product throughput time so the company can offer the most competitive lead times.
- The machines and equipment should be used effectively.
- There should be the right amount of inventory to effectively service the customers.
- Product quality levels should be excellent.
- A workforce must allow the company to continuously improve its competitive position by understanding and implementing each of the previous four objectives.
The following guidelines for configuring and managing a new plant will help achieve the objectives listed above:
- Consider grouping machines and equipment into cells. Efficiencies can be gained by grouping all the equipment required to produce product families or parts that require the same production processes. In such a configuration, different types of machines are grouped together, which is contrary to the traditional concept of placing the same type of machine in the same area.
- Organize the facility to support one-piece flow. Instead of the traditional batch movement of product between work centers, one-piece flow uses a lot size of one. This increases the speed and predictability of the production process, and it reduces work-in-process (WIP) accumulation if the process is properly balanced.
- Organize workflow in a manner that supports a “pull” process at times when one-piece flow is impractical (such as long setup times, shared resources, excessive equipment downtime, imbalance of process times and more). In such a process, product is pulled through the plant at the same rate that sales or internal customer usage are generated. A pull system significantly reduces the need for building inventory by producing only what can be consumed.
- Minimize material handling. The best material handling is no material handling. However, when product needs to be moved from one place to another, preference should be given to sliding or rolling rather than lifting and carrying. No-cost or low-cost ideas such as gravity-feed chutes or rollers should be employed. Whenever possible, configure a process to handle a product only once.
- Minimize distances traveled. Avoid walking or carrying product great distances by moving operations closer together and combining operations within a work center.
- Minimize strain on all workers. Work centers should be ergonomically designed to avoid back and other muscle strains. The ideal area of reach is from the shoulders down to the waist, whether the worker is standing or sitting. Excessive muscle strain is a major cause of lost-time injuries.
- Minimize clutter. Things that are not used in a designated area should be removed. Everything that remains, including tools, supplies, inventory and equipment, should have a clearly identified location.
- Minimize storage. If you have the space to store things, it will surely get filled. Strive to continuously minimize your storage space for raw material, WIP, finished goods and spare parts throughout the production process. Workbenches and other horizontal surfaces should not become storage areas. Likewise, items should not be allowed to accumulate on floors, under benches or behind machinery.
- Maximize utilization. Make optimal use of people, space and equipment to improve the return on investment.
- Maximize flexibility. It is critical to create a layout that can adapt quickly to changes in product, equipment, personnel or material. Wheels or strong casters can be applied to many types of equipment, allowing easy movement when needed.
- Maximize smooth flow. Continuously search for bottlenecks that inhibit throughput. When they are found, take steps to eliminate them and, if necessary, re-balance the entire process.
- Maximize visibility. To quickly spot problems, maintain a clear line of vision. Where line of sight is not possible, consider using visual signals such as lights to convey specific situations requiring attention.
- Maximize communication. Without clear and effective communication, little is accomplished. Set up communication boards containing performance measures, daily requirements and issues of importance to the organization. Emphasize the importance of goals and objectives, and provide feedback on how well things are going.
By keeping these guidelines in mind, companies may be able to make relocating a plant just a little less stressful.