Optimizing Manufacturing Operations


Introduction: This series of articles is directed toward companies who have or are planning manufacturing operations. The topics explored will be focused on optimizing those operations and maximizing the cost/benefit aspect.


Lean manufacturing:  Updating production layout for maximum efficiency

Much has been written about the “leaning” of processes, from decreasing product changeover time to reducing scrap and process steps…It’s all about maximizing value-added activities, right?  How often have you taken a look at how your manufacturing area is physically laid out? Where are the raw materials and finished goods stored?  How does the location of the equipment vs. the operator affect efficiency?  What about quality?  How much quality analysis is done inline and how much is done during or post production, effectively slowing down the movement of your product from production completion to shipping?

The physical layout of a facility can have a major effect on production efficiency, which is the basis of the concept of cellular manufacturing.  While cellular manufacturing is a concept of its own and warrants a separate article, there are many small steps that can be taken to ensure that you are getting the most out of your space:
• Are slow or overstock materials stored away from production areas?  Is the process for calling up raw materials streamlined? Supplementing software-based inventory management programs with simple on-floor systems like color-coded flags, signage, or lights are great ways to keep everyone in the loop. These concepts are part of the “Kanban” system created by Toyota.  While you may not be ready for a complete Kanban overhaul, there are simpler and less time consuming steps that can be taken.

• Is access for forklifts/pallet jacks always kept clear
and marked?
• Is the flow of materials, from raw material selection to packaging, streamlined?  In other words, are you ensuring that employees are not stopping work in order to move to another area to get their own raw materials or tools?
• Is the area clearly visible by supervisors and maintenance technicians?  If the area has high visibility there will be less movement on behalf of the employees when a machine goes down or a supervisor is needed.  “Light trees” mounted on equipment and tied into simple PLCs (programmable logic controllers) are a simple and cost-effective way to track whether equipment is running smoothly at all times.
• Are supervisors and maintenance technicians located within the manufacturing hub?  It should not take more than a few minutes to locate the proper personnel if there are issues.  Positioning production supervisor offices and work areas within visibility of production areas is ideal.  Scheduling staggered morning and afternoon walk-throughs of the area are critical as well.
• Are frequently used tools, lubricants, office supplies, etc. located within a few feet of manufacturing areas?  Leaving the work area to find a pen or hex wrench is highly inefficient and happens all the time.  Mounting the tools on a wall (shadowboard or other) or a simple rolling desk nearby and scheduling rotating responsibilities for keeping the storage areas well-stocked
is crucial. 
• What about the physical location of the equipment?  Would rotating it or moving it to the center of the room or up against the wall change anything?  There are several simple software programs that will allow you to use simple dimensioned blocks to create hypothetical layouts without resorting to high-end drawing or modeling software.  Often times a simple rearrangement of equipment will cut down on unnecessary movement by 5-10 percent.  The best place to start with ideas for a new layout are the employees who work in the areas full time. 
• Take a good look at the area.  Remove any unnecessary clutter.  Can you use wall space instead of floor space?  Can we utilize the space under the equipment by installing drawers or storing a rolling desk or file cabinet?  Ensure the area has all that it needs and only what it needs.  Ask employees to store personal items (purses, lunch, etc.) in another common area. 

Cellular manufacturing has many aspects of the topics above but has intrinsic to it the concept of all required tooling and processes be located within a defined area and often dedicated to that operation. Cellular manufacturing layouts are often times horseshoe-shaped thus aiding material handling a minimizing travel.
The checklist above outlines tasks than can be done in a few hours rather than months.  Investing the time to evaluate the layout of not only your production areas but your office areas is well worth it.  Assigning one employee to ensure that once the setup is complete, the areas don’t fall victim to old habits is vital.  Once the system gains momentum, it will be easier to see how the small changes have made a difference and you may be motivated to look into additional lean manufacturing concepts.

Heather MacKinnon has over eight years experience in Engineering R&D,  product design, manufacturing operations and facilities commissioning and management. She has a degree in mechanical engineering, an MBA and is pursuing certification as an energy manager.  She works as an independent consultant and general contractor, focusing on lean and green development projects and product development.  She can be contacted at h.mack.eng@gmail.com.

John Herrick, has over 30 years experience in manufacturing industries .He has a degree in engineering, an MBA and is a certified six sigma blackbelt. He is also a member of the Product Development and Management Association and a member of the board of directors of Inventors NorthWest. He is a principal in a Bend firm that provides product development services. (www.herrickprodev.com) He is also the author of the CBN series “The Product Entrepreneur”.


About Author

Founded in 1994 by the late Pamela Hulse Andrews, Cascade Business News (CBN) became Central Oregon’s premier business publication. CascadeBusNews.com • CBN@CascadeBusNews.com

Leave A Reply