Lean Manufacturing Topic of the Day:  Facility Considerations for Lean Manufacturing

Lean Manufacturing Topic of the Day:  Facility Considerations for Lean Manufacturing

How to Build New, or Modify Your Old Plant to Optimize Lean Manufacturing

The obvious first question is “Do we really need a new facility” i.e. have we fully utilized the current space?
Are we using all available hours (24×7)?  Are we utilizing the full cube (all three dimensions)?  Have we reduced our inventory and freed up the associated space?
Remember: Space constraint can also be used as a powerful means to force continuous improvement.

If a new facility is indeed required, how do we design and use it to optimize the philosophy of Lean Manufacturing?

The following is a listing of some considerations:

• Can the building be cost effectively build with all accessible sides at “dock height”?
Can dock doors be installed, or at least structurally compensated for, along the entire periphery of the plant?
Doing so provides for future flexibility for re-arrangement, and can assist with point of use stocking (deliveries can be made anywhere along the plant’s outer walls).
Combining multiple dock doors, side loading trucks, and an appropriately designed plant can greatly facilitate plant speed and efficiency.

side and real loading trucks provide flexibility

A sufficient supply of dock doors can also allow you to produce directly into the truck trailer (even if doing so takes a few days to fill the trailer).  Trucks drop off an empty and pickup a full trailer.

• Make all power and air flexible.  Use a ceiling grid of “quick disconnects” when possible.
One thing that you can always count on is CHANGE.  Whatever arrangement is “optimal” today, will most likely be sub-optimal tomorrow.  Some forethought during the design phase of your facility can make future equipment / layout re-arrangement easy and inexpensive.
We have set up plants where the light equipment and work benches were literally on lock-down casters. The shop floor was re-arranged, on the fly, to optimize the layout for the particular product being run at the time.
This flexibility has an obvious impact on your actual rate of continuous improvement.  Too many times good improvement ideas languish waiting to get the facilities moved.
Also, it is worth noting that a flexible power and air supply allows your shop floor teams to “Just Do It”.  Flexibility greatly reduces the amount of advanced planning required.  And the on-going “tweaking” invariably improves not only shop efficiency, but also the buy-in from the operators.
Some of our most effective floor designs came about by trial and error enhancement.

• Leave room on the shop floor for any required support personnel.  A lean facility requires quick and easy communication and decision making.  Locate your manufacturing engineers, et al, right out in the middle of the action!

• Is it worth the extra construction cost to make the building high-bay? Doing so allows the flexibility of use as warehouse as well as manufacturing, and also allows for the addition of relatively inexpensive future floor space via mezzanine.
We have set up assembly operations, in high-bay facilities, where the work-station’s “back-stock” of raw materials and tooling was stored directly overhead (on pallet racking).  This arrangement eliminated kitting and simplified replenishment for low volume parts.

• When computing the amount of space required in your new facility, it is critical that you also consider your work hour philosophy.
Obviously, the amount of space required to produce a given output of product is quite different for a 1 shift, 5 days/week operation than that required of multi-shift operation.
Also consider the ancillary impact of your operating hour pattern.  Spreading your workforce over more of the available work week has a significant impact on the amount of equipment required, the amount of money tied up in inventory, and on your customer response times (lead times).

Visitor viewing areas and/or walkways can be powerful marketing tools.
A lean efficient operation can be a differentiator in the eyes of a potential customer.  You might want to consider providing viewing areas and safe walkways through a portion of the plant to facilitate this feature.

• Provide for your Work Teams with support resources.  They’ll need one or more convenient meeting places, with phone, computer, and audio/video resources.  There should be at least one room that provides privacy for candid discussions.  White boards, flip charts, etc. are necessities in all meeting rooms.

Facilitate communications.  Provide white boards and flip charts, clip boards, and lots of markers anywhere and everywhere that people might be likely to meet and discuss issues.  Some of our most successful clients lined their hallways with such graphic communication devices.
Too many good ideas die for lack of paper and a marker!

• Companies generally build plants larger than is currently needed, to allow for future growth.  While this may be a prudent approach, it is important to restrict the plant space being utilized during the interim.  Lean manufacturing concepts are encouraged and sustained by constantly constraining the space used by your operations.  If you don’t, the typical operation will expand to fill the available space.
One technique that we often use is to literally tape off the open areas, and hang notices that it is not to be used without written approval from the plant manager.
Note: We change the signs to read “This space reserved for the XYZ company” prior to any prospect visits!

Also, when thinking about design for a new or enlarged facility, the subject of “Make vs. Buy” is extremely pertinent, as is your entire supply chain relationship.   You might want to consider these often overlooked aspects.

While there are a host of additional considerations, we’ll stop here for now.

One last note: Your facilities and maintenance people are often unsung heroes.  Make sure that they are recognized when you have plant/area/team celebrations.  Quite often, the results would never have been accomplished without their unseen support.

If you have specific questions or would like to discuss these concepts further, feel free to contact us.  There’s no charge, and we’ll try to be helpful.

Jack Harrison
Senior Partner
The Hands-On Group


  • K Basu | October 10, 2011 | Reply

    can u suggest some typical plant layouts in order to utilise the available space effectively.

      • Jack | November 4, 2011 | Reply

        First, take a look at your usage of the "cube", i.e. all three dimensions. Can you better utilize the space overhead (storage over the work benches? Mezzanine?). Can you better utilize the floor under work benches, etc.? Space restriction can also be effectively used to force improvement. If your equipment is flexible, squeeze operations closer together. This can have the effect of eliminating a transfer, and storage, and helps to force batch size (set-up time) reductions. Another “Big Bang for the Buck” is to look at extending the work week: if you’re not already a 24 x 7 operation, moving some folks to the alternate shifts or extending the week to 6 or 7 days can have the same effect as a space increase, and has significant positive impact on the amount of “equivalent” pieces of equipment. These, and additional techniques, are discussed at length elsewhere on this site. Feel free to write or call if you’d like to address your specifics.

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