Materials in Motion

Designing an Effective Manufacturing Facility Layout

For most manufacturing operations, the goal is relatively simple: develop a lean manufacturing system to streamline production and ensure a smooth flow of work, material, and information. In the world of manufacturing, the old adage is true: time really is money. 

So, What Are The Requirements for An Effective Facility Layout?

Effective manufacturing operations should utilize space efficiently and minimize material handling costs. This includes:

  • Ensuring that labor is used efficiently
  • Eliminating bottlenecks
  • Providing proficient communication between workers and supervisors
  • Eliminating downtime
  • Ensuring [material/product] movement is not static
  • Considering flexibility for future workflow changes

There are several ways to ensure that facilities are meeting the above requirements to design an effective layout that streamlines production and promotes a lean manufacturing process. Depending on the operation, there are actually three basic facility layouts used in manufacturing, all with the objective of meeting the requirements listed above.

Basic Facility Layouts for Manufacturing

Although there are hundreds of hybrid design layouts, they are all based on three basic layout concepts intended to meet the needs of specific types of manufacturing. These layout designs consist of: Process Layout Design, Fixed-Position Layout Design, and Product Layout Design. Each type of layout has its own unique set of advantages and disadvantages, and each tends to utilize its own type of material handling set-up. In fact, material handling is an important part of all three layouts, but for the Product Layout Design approach, it is virtually imperative.

Product Layout Design

Product Layout Design is one of the most popular facility layouts in the world of manufacturing. Product Layouts (also known as assembly lines) arrange activities in a production line according to a sequence of operations that need to be performed to assemble a particular product. Product Layouts are suitable for mass production or repetitive operations in which demand is steady and volume is high. Because of this, Product Layouts are more autonomous than the other designs mentioned above. A Product Layout Design requires that materials be moved in one direction along the assembly line and always in the same pattern. The major concern for the Product Layout Design is balancing the assembly line so that no one workstation becomes a bottleneck and holds up the flow of work through the line. The advantage of the Product Layout Design is in its efficiency and ease of use. The disadvantage is in its inflexibility.

For manufacturing facilities utilizing a Product Layout Operation Design, there are ways to improve layout functionality and flexibility. A flexible manufacturing system can produce a large volume and variety of products. The emphasis is often on automation, and computers run all the machines that complete the process. Since it’s so expensive to use automated processes in a Product Layout Design, most industries can’t afford to incorporate Flexible Manufacturing Systems in the traditional sense of the word. But, there are more economic solutions for companies looking to streamline their operation and develop a flexible manufacturing facility, particularly for those following the Product Layout Design.

Some Product Layouts utilize conveyor belts as a means of material handling to ensure continuous movement of materials and products along a fixed production path. The problem with using conveyors in some applications is that they are so inflexible that processes can’t be changed or altered for future workflow. Furthermore, for most facilities utilizing the Product Layout Design, aisles are narrow and floor obstacles obstruct the flow of material on the ground. But, what if materials need to be moved in multiple directions? A fixed-production path exists under the premise that the path of production is just that: fixed. But, a fixed layout can sometimes result in bottlenecking and production downtime. One solution for increased flexibility in manufacturing, particularly for facilities utilizing a Product Layout Design, is the incorporation of an overhead monorail system. Today’s monorail systems are not only designed to move products down a fixed production path; they are also designed for increased flexibility and future workflow change.

Monorail Systems for Increased Flexbility

Depending on the needs of the specific facility, monorails can be freestanding or ceiling-mounted. If your facility is dealing with multiple overhead obstructions, a freestanding system is ideal. But, since most Product Layout manufacturing facilities are dealing with narrow aisles and floor obstructions, a ceiling-mounted monorail is the most versatile and ergonomic way of streamlining your production process and improving flexibility.

Today’s ceiling-mounted monorail systems are an economic solution for almost any Product Layout facility and an excellent alternative for work areas that can’t be serviced by bridge cranes. These include facilities with hard-to-reach locations, buildings with high ceilings, or even for areas that require great layout flexibility. Monorails are ideal for production processes that require lifting and moving product along a fixed path, such as painting processes, moving raw materials from one work cell to another, or even warehouse to warehouse transfer. But, what makes them so unique for facilities utilizing the Product Layout Design is their incredible flexibility. Unlike cranes that are fixed within one bay span, monorails can run through multiple bays and column lines on both the x and y axis. This flexibility prevents double handling of loads when paths or destinations remain constant.

Enclosed Track Monorails offer a modular design that provides increased versatility for a facility layout design that can often seem static or inflexible. These systems can provide facilities with the flexibility they’ve been lacking to ensure a comprehensive, material handling solution that can grow with your future workflow needs and challenges. They can be integrated into a total system with extra track, curves, interlocks and switches. Years ago, monorails were designed for fixed path production only, but today’s monorail systems offer the flexibility to switch paths and change courses. This is imperative for manufacturing facilities in the world today, which are constantly changing to keep up with future workflow needs and the integration of new systems. Monorail systems today can even connect to conveyors, which can be imperative for many facilities using a Product Layout design with pre-existing systems. As technology constantly grows and changes, it’s important for manufacturers to have the flexibility and versatility they need to consistently improve their operations and streamline their production processes. Redesigning an entire production facility is usually not an option for most companies, no matter which type of facility layout they have incorporated. Rather than redesign an entire manufacturing facility to streamline a production process and eliminate downtime, incorporating a flexible material handling solution is a much more economic way to redefine the entire flow of your operation and introduce a new layer of flexibility.

Kristina Harman

Technical Writer | Spanco.com

Kristina Harman is the senior technical writer and content manager for Spanco, Inc. Kristina has twelve years of experience in content development, technical communications, and copyediting. She holds a Bachelor of Science Degree in English from Towson University and a Master of Education Certification in English from Johns Hopkins University. She is a member of the Society for Technical Communication and the American Medical Writers Association.

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