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Designing Outside the "Box"

The days of manufacturing facilities that resemble cinder blocks are a thing of the past; today the entire operational structure has an impact on plant design.

By Denny Stamm, Director of Manufacturing Services, Lockwood Greene

CONSIDERING BUILDING A NEW manufacturing facility? What picture comes to mind? In the mid-1900s, the typical image of a manufacturing building was little more than a large brick building with multiple floors and possibly a saw-tooth roof. Later, the pre-engineered box came into vogue - and it is still used in many cases. The standard rectangular box design appeals to developers because it is "generic," in theory making it easy to lease again and again.

Today, manufacturers are taking a different view of the manufacturing facility. The need to be world class in today's global economy demands world-class manufacturing operations. The facility must be designed around the specific activities that take place within in order to minimize waste and support a new way of operating. Every aspect of the plant's design centers around the ability to maximize support for the value-added activities that take place in manufacturing operations.

The concept of "world-class manufacturing," though, is just one piece of the puzzle. In order to achieve world-class manufacturing standards of operation, the entire business must make fundamental changes in the way it operates. Reaching this goal requires a company to make the transition to a "world-class enterprise," and that affects every aspect of the business.

A New Team Approach

Manufacturers are obsessed with things like first-time quality, six sigma yields, 99.99 percent equipment availability, and value-added to non-value-added space ratios. As a company works to become a world-class operation, manufacturing processes become cellular in design. Machines and equipment are arranged in different ways. The facility must provide a state-of-the-art working environment, so more technology is used. Inventories are reduced, and suppliers deliver smaller quantities of materials more frequently, often to the point of use.

Simultaneously, the structure of the organization changes to accommodate multifunctional product teams that are dedicated to specific product families. Concern for the environment continues to take on importance. Each characteristic of the world-class enterprise has a direct impact on the design of facilities. Like every other component of the enterprise, the facility must be designed to support the transition to, and maintenance of, world-class operations.

You might wonder how the use of dedicated product teams could affect facility design. Well, the product team includes representatives from engineering, maintenance, quality, logistics, and other support functions. These teams are responsible for the value stream (the activities that produce value in the eyes of the customer) of product families, and work directly with the manufacturing team to maximize the value stream. No longer is the organization composed of large specialized silos such as product design engineering, procurement, manufacturing, logistics, quality, etc., that perform their unique functions and toss the results to the next silo. Now the silos have been broken up, or at least greatly reduced in size.

The silo members now become part of a cross-functional work team with a different focus and a different way of working. The work team is usually located in or adjacent to the operations that make the products for which they are responsible. The large, remotely located space in which people were grouped by function (procurement, quality, engineering, etc.) is disappearing. The team members have work space, often without walls, on the shop floor. They require conveniently located team meeting rooms in which they and the manufacturing personnel can work together to solve problems that arise in the manufacturing process.

Product Management

In this new paradigm, proximities have taken on greater importance. Every functional area is viewed in relationship to its ability to support its internal and external customers. Important adjacencies are analyzed during design, and functions are located, as much as possible, alongside the functions that they must support.

Products generally have shorter life cycles. New-product introduction has become an important competitive factor. Old products are phased out much more frequently. This requires flexibility in the workplace to rearrange equipment and add new equipment. In turn, this requires more open space in the manufacturing place, fewer columns, and electrical and mechanical drops installed in a grid throughout the facility to accommodate frequent relocations and the addition of equipment. Utility systems must be designed with the flexibility to service modular cells instead of fixed requirements with hard connections.

The processes are controlled through visual signals and kanban systems - a manner of supply that cuts down on work in process and delivers materials only when needed - again requiring open lines of sight, better lighting, and more open spaces.

More and more sophisticated technologies are being used in today's manufacturing and support operations to achieve precise consistency, control the operations, and reduce the amount of human labor. These technologies, while getting tougher, still require a cleaner environment, uninterruptible power supplies, and temperature and humidity controls. They are less tolerant of temperature fluctuations and unseen dirt particles in the air. This requires mechanical systems that control the environment. Clean-room conditions are sometimes required for the equipment that is used as much as for products that are being manufactured. Control rooms with raised floors and strict temperature and humidity controls are required in most facilities.

Some of the technologies used in manufacturing and material-handling systems can have an impact on floor loads and floor flatness requirements. Automated Storage and Retrieval Systems (ASRS), for example, concentrate floor loads and require floor flatness to be held within extremely demanding tolerances. Others, such as overhead monorail systems, impact structural requirements.

The Human Factor

It has been proven by world-class firms that the most complex machines of all, human beings, produce more products of better quality if they are working in a pleasant, clean, well-lit environment. As a result, some design features that are not as easy to relate directly to the support of value-added activities are given more consideration during the design of modern facilities.

Today's world-class work environment has better lighting and a more pleasant appearance. Natural light is favored whenever possible. Floors in the workplace are usually painted in a light color with epoxy coatings to produce a better working environment and help distribute light. This is one indicator of the cleanliness required in the world-class manufacturing environment. It is cleaner and the new manufacturing paradigm is to keep it that way at all times, even in "dirty" operations such as machining and welding.

The idea that happier workers are more productive has also contributed to a general upgrade in amenities - lunch kitchens and dining areas, shower rooms, secure personal lockers, and even recreation areas ranging from ping-pong tables in the workplace to picnic areas and basketball courts. In an effort to help improve the health of employees, some manufacturers include health clubs with a full range of exercise equipment.

Machine tools and equipment are less often grouped, or "ganged," by machine type in the world-class manufacturing facility. More often they are arranged in less autonomous multifunctional work cells that are staffed by cross-trained personnel. The combination of more sophisticated automation and cross training creates a need for more and better training facilities within the manufacturing plant. Virtually no plant is built today without adequate multimedia training facilities.

Inventory Control

One much-publicized aspect of world-class facilities, just-in-time operations (JIT), has had an impact on facility design. JIT allows the manufacturer to maintain smaller raw-material and component inventories, and they now want materials delivered as near as possible to the point of use. No longer do manufacturers want a centrally located receiving area with a large nearby storage area for raw materials. They want dock doors conveniently located around the perimeter of the building to receive smaller quantities of raw materials where they will be used. Side-loading trailers that allow for quick loading and unloading also require different dock designs.

The philosophy of the past dictated that materials were received, stored, and shipped from a central shipping and receiving area, or came into one end of the building and were shipped out the other, but that is changing to accommodate JIT. This affects the building design and the space around the building. Site access and traffic flows must be considered and adequate space provided for truck deliveries. Pedestrian traffic must be accommodated and parking areas need to be located in such a way as to minimize mixed truck, automobile, and pedestrian traffic.

Further logistical complications can arise as a result of another trend created by the conversion to JIT operations. Manufacturers sometimes shorten and simplify their supply chain by providing space within their facilities for their suppliers to operate manufacturing or storage and distribution functions. A variation on this idea is the park or campus setting in which a major manufacturing facility is co-located with suppliers' facilities on the same site.

The design of the distribution area itself is often changed to support new ways of operating. Lead time to delivery is an important competitive factor today. Automated systems are commonly used to retrieve materials from finished-goods storage, build loads, and ship. Sometimes finished goods from the internal manufacturing process are kitted, or grouped, with purchased materials for shipment in a cross-docking arrangement. Cross docking is best done in an L-shaped facility or a properly configured, dedicated cross-docking spur located adjacent to finished-goods storage. The old "box" doesn't work for finished-goods storage and shipping areas when cross-docking is required.

In fact, all inventory levels are dramatically reduced in the world-class manufacturing operation. Work-in-process (WIP) inventories and finished-goods inventories are also held in much smaller quantities. This reduces the amount of area that is dedicated to materials storage and increases the value-added to non-value-added space ratio, an important measure of asset utilization in today's environment.

Better Aesthetics

Today's manufacturer wants to be considered a good corporate neighbor. This impacts the exterior design and landscaping of new facilities. The old saw-tooth design might have served the manufacturing needs of its time, but let's face it, it was an eyesore. Facilities today tend to have more pleasing architectural finishes and pleasant surroundings. If necessary, noise abatement is provided to keep from bothering people in neighboring buildings.

All of these factors require concurrent design of the manufacturing process and the facility. The days of design engineers going off on their own and designing a building to house manufacturing operations are long past. Form must follow function.

Thus the cross-functional team concept, consisting of process design, architectural, and engineering disciplines working together in a collaborative design effort, is not just desirable, it is an absolute necessity for world-class companies.

All contents Copyright ©2003 by
Halcyon Business Publications, Inc.

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