Machinery and proper equipment are essential to any manufacturing operation. CMC receives requests nearly every week for assistance to find equipment to make a large number of products. While everyone seems to understand how important machines are, many factories do not seem to understand how much the placement of equipment matters and how the simple relocation of machinery in a factory can have a large effect on productivity at a relatively low cost.
Poor layout and machine placement cause many problems in manufacturing facilities: production bottlenecks, excessive work-in-progress (WIP), and too much material handling between stations. Many factories, especially in China, grow organically as the company grows. New equipment and products are added to the factory without consideration for the big picture. Factory owners often tell us that they do not have enough space in their current facility and need to move to a new location. When they do, they tend to import the layout as it was rather than as it could be.
Signs to Look Out For
How can you tell if the machinery in your factory is poorly laid out and needs relocation? First, take a quick visual inspection of the production process. Next, check if it exhibits any of the following:
These signs alone will not be enough to determine if machinery is poorly placed. However, if one or more of them is true (especially excessive movement), the odds are high that the production layout is suboptimal.
If you do see these signs and have the capabilities to assess bottlenecks and create a value stream map, you should do so. This guide from CMC is a useful primer on the creation of VSM. There are a number of great software packages that can help as well. Here are three professional solutions:
- Lucidchart has a VSM toolbox and is an easy-to-use and inexpensive solution
- Visio (by Microsoft), the most commonly used in big companies
- Quality Companion (by Minitab), a serious competitor to Visio for manufacturing-related diagrams
This is generally a great exercise for factories to engage in to better understand themselves and look for new opportunities to improve themselves. However, manufacturing consultants are well placed to solve these problems if you don’t possess the capacity in-house or need the problem solved quickly without disrupting the work of any member of your staff.
Is Moving Your Machines Around Not an Option?
Plan around them. Some factories have large pieces of machinery that cannot be moved. This is often an especially critical function. For example, CMC worked with a ceramics producer that was having challenges expanding its capacity to meet customers’ needs. It had a huge kiln that ran along nearly the entire length of the factory and had to be kept on at all times. Clearly, it could not be moved. CMC consultants planned around it instead. They looked at which pieces of machinery needed to be closer to reduce wait time between processes and assessed possible damage to the units. By moving what could be moved around and what could not, the factory increased productivity to meet its customers’ needs without new equipment or a new location.
The Bottom Line
The location of machinery is not, usually, set in stone. Just because something has always been in a location does not mean it needs to be there. Production should flow quickly from one process to the next. Machine relocation to fit production needs and plan for future expansion is as vital as purchasing new equipment and is nearly always more cost-effective.
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