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Plant Layout and The Bottom Line

(March 2008) posted on Thu Mar 06, 2008

Four shops discuss how to improve facility layout and workflow.

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Smith: Just about every single aspect of the entire animal called production. The waste is pretty obvious when you see someone walking too far, carrying too heavy a load, or getting in the way of others on the floor. Or a job starting in one corner of the facility and finishing in another, and it’s nowhere near the door.

I think the art and skill is in making daily observations, carving time out of your day to do it. We make the analogy of the lifeguard chair: Someone needs to stand back with a clipboard and notice where people walk, notice which rolls don’t fit through which doors, notice where the truck backs up and what has to happen in order to get your product there. For us, improving the layout was just a commitment to make constant, daily observations.

The next main thing was to look for any opportunity to revise our layout as often as possible. For instance, if there’s a new machine coming in, is this an opportunity to pull everything out into the parking lot and start over again? It’s time-consuming, but even if these changes save only a few minutes of production time, those minutes can turn into hours and then days of lost productivity.

Initially, we were subleasing what is now our lobby; that lobby was our entire operation in ’97. That was within a big silkscreen T-shirt operation; we had our little HP 2500 in one of the small offices there. As the silkscreening operation got a little smaller, we got a little bigger, and eventually took over a 5500-square-foot building. As we grew, we had the corner where the designers were and the hallway where the sales guys were, and one wall built in the back so we could keep the fumes in, and a finishing department. We’d scoot the finishing equipment out of the way to bring a vehicle in to wrap it, but there were always problems with water and rain, and sweeping, and so on.