Materials in Motion

Incorporating Flexibility for Process and Fixed-Position Layouts

The goal of an effective facility layout is to provide the most efficient workflow without disruption. There are several ways to ensure that facilities are designing an effective layout that streamlines production and promotes a lean manufacturing process. Depending on the operation, there are three basic facility layouts used in manufacturing, all with the objective of improving workflow and efficiency. But, all three layouts come with their own set of disadvantages, and flexibility is often a major concern.

Last week we focused on Product Layout Design and how to improve your facility’s operational flexibility. This week we will cover Process and Fixed-Position Layouts, and evaluate two different gantry cranes that can help to increase layout flexibility and streamline production.

Gantry cranes are a popular material handling solution for many industries, and they can accommodate practically any operation and facility layout. But, superior portability and adjustability make them a perfect solution for facility layouts that can be especially rigid. For facilities using a Fixed-Position or Process Layout Design, incorporating subtle changes in material handling can provide flexibility and improve efficiency without having to rearrange an entire operation.

Process Layouts

For process layouts, jobs don’t flow in an orderly fashion, and backtracking is a common problem. Workers tend to experience a lot of down time because they are waiting for work or materials to arrive from another department. This type of layout requires flexible material handling equipment—such as forklifts—in order to follow multiple paths, move in any direction, and start and stop material flow as needed.

For the Process Layout design, material handling is more of an after thought, only used to move parts and processes to the product, rather than the other way around. To avoid the use of expensive, cumbersome, and high-maintenance forklifts, or to add to a pre-existing forklift fleet, consider incorporating a three-way adjustable manual gantry crane, which can be easily moved under load from any one part of a facility to another. These highly flexible gantry cranes are portable enough to reach all corners of your plant. They are totally re-locatable, making them ideal for Process Layouts and future workflow changes. With adjustable height, span, and tread, these gantries are ideal for use through doorways, aisles, and under mezzanines or other overhead obstacles. What’s more, they can be used as a supplementary material handling solution to reduce downtime and ensure continuous workflow.

Fixed-Position Layouts

Fixed-Position Layouts are often used when the product is too fragile or too heavy to move through a production or process line. This includes manufacturers that produce items like ships, houses, or aircraft vehicles. With Fixed-Position Layouts–equipment, material, and workers must come to the production area–and the equipment is generally left on site because it is too expensive or difficult to move. The advantage to Fixed-Position layouts is low fixed-costs, while the disadvantage is high variable costs.

Fixed-Position Layouts were designed to meet the needs of a very particular type of manufacturing operation, and material handling is only used to move specific materials to and from fixed stations within the layout. For this reason, a gantry crane is also the perfect solution for flexible material handling or as a supplementary system to move equipment from one work area to another. Here, the gantry crane isn’t used to move the product to the material; it’s used to move the material to the product. With capacities up to 20 tons, heavy-duty gantries like a wide flange or PF gantry crane system are a great option for Fixed-Position Layouts, especially for those operations that need to move bulky or large materials. These supplemental lifting systems will help facilities free up existing overhead cranes, and provide wide, clear passage underneath the gantry for machinery, vehicles, and personnel. They are also extremely flexible because they don’t travel along a fixed path, and for operations building large products, these cranes are durable and precise enough to lift even the heaviest parts.

Virtually all gantry cranes are relocatable, making them ideal for future workflow changes or as a supplementary solution to prevent lagging in the production process. 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.