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Garnering Better Shop-Floor Workflow

How five shops have re-arranged their equipment array, and people, to expedite the flow of materials

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By Jake Widman

In the other half of the building is an 80 x 100-ft area with the flatbed printers plus a couple of additional rooms. "Our Inca and Rho are in one large room, and the routers are in separate rooms right next to it. We put in a floor-to-ceiling wall between them to keep the dust from the router away from the printer. And then at the end of that is our wood shop, where we do things like box mounts and custom framing. It’s at the far end of the building because of the dust, too, which conveniently also puts it near the loading dock."

The router rooms and wood shop are the only separate rooms in the entire workspace (aside from the basic half-and-half division of the building). Those rooms are also soundproofed with an extra layer of insulation. Furthermore, CSI built two 8-ft-wide windows with special soundproof Plexiglas in the wall of the router room. Visitors and clients are always interested in watching the router, says Haley, and that way they get to watch it run without having to hear it.

Haley mentions one other advantage to working in large, undivided spaces: It means people can help each other out when needed. On the grand-format side, for example, the sewing personnel can help move a job from the Jeti to the sewing area. But they’ve taken the concept even further on the flatbed and router side: the personnel there are actually cross-trained, so that the same person can set up a print job and then go help with the router.

Ganging Like Areas of Technology
Location: Hobart, IN
Time at current location: about 2 1/2 years
Size: 33,000 sq ft
Equipment: Six printers, including an HP Scitex TurboJet and 3 EFI Vuteks, plus coaters, laminators, cutters, and more.

Point Imaging made the move into a new space about 2 1/2 years ago. "Certainly, I analyzed our old facility before the move," says Kevin Huseman, president. "Much of the production tension was just because we grew so darn fast year over year. When we first moved into our old plant in 1995, we had no idea what we were going to do with all the space."

Huseman had a couple of principles for the layout of the new building: "In the design of our new plant, we wanted to do what we could to support unidirectional movement in manufacturing and to gang together areas of like technology." The result is that one third of the building is arranged to support rigid substrate printing, the center supports 16-foot printing and edge finishing, and the remaining third accommodates higher-speed, narrow-format production. Attention to these issues has helped the company’s output-per-person-hour rise from about 100 sq ft 3 years ago, in their old space, to 300 sq ft today.

The layout of the shop has not fundamentally changed since the company moved in. While it worked well for the first year and a half, says Huseman, since then they’ve added the TurboJet and a Vutek QS3200. "We put them where they’d be least disturbing to the rest of the plant," Huseman recalls, "but the new equipment has sort of set us on our ear. We’re going to be revisiting our floor plan." Twelve to 18 months from now, he says, he expects the plant will again look different.

Reflecting on his experience, Huseman has some thoughts on floor plans and equipment layout in general: "Beyond the manufacturing floor, make sure that you intelligently design inbound and outbound traffic areas, storage areas, and so on," he advises. "Shops tend to get hung up with the cool stuff they make things with and don’t pay enough attention to the support systems. We maybe could have done better with our materials handling, packaging, and collating areas, for example. It strikes me how advanced our industry’s equipment is, but how archaic our business systems are."

He also recommends taking time to address people flow as well-issues like how easy it is to get to the copy machines. "It’s amazing how much wasted movement goes on," he says, "and every touch, every movement cuts into margins. You’re going to continue to see gross margins get squeezed; the only route to stay alive is to extract costs."