Factory Plant Layout and Design

There is no such thing as a perfect packaging line layout

An unexpected statement perhaps, especially from a company that has been doing factory plant layout and design for nearly 30 years; you’d think we should have got it right by now!

Well first, I guess we need to consider what we should define as perfect because whichever way we look at this, compromises will need to be made. Compromises that are inherent in the very process itself; akin we could say to the fate of the egg in the omelette making process. A packaging line in its simplest form will be a series of machines joined together by conveyoring. In terms of the perfect layout: this could be viewed as imperfection. Surely in our perfect layout we would want unimpeded access to all sides of a machine e.g. for materials, operator access, maintenance access or simply walking through the factory. We could of course elevate/de-elevate sections of the conveyor to achieve machine accessibility but then product on the conveyor becomes difficult to access and we’ve added significant levels of cost to the layout. We’re making compromises already.

So what compromises would be acceptable? Simplistically (to illustrate the point), it might depend on your viewpoint: the finance director would want the least cost (or best ROI), the production manager might want the most flexibility, the operations manager to run the line with least resources and the engineering manager might be considering rationalisation of spares and ease of maintenance. Can we have it all?

In designing the packaging line layout we will have constraints and elements where there can be no compromise. Health and safety; ergonomics, evacuation routes, accessibility, manual handling and material handling for example, are not areas in which we should be looking for compromise. We will have our design criteria in terms of production output and target efficiencies. Then there will be (arguably) the biggest constraint of all: space. Will it fit? This is usually where the compromises start to become apparent because the second (vital) part of this question is usually omitted: will it fit …. and still meet our design requirements, safety standards and operational criteria? Making it fit achieves nothing if it doesn’t work; we’re not simply solving a jigsaw puzzle.

If compromise, to a greater or lesser extent, is something we have to accept then where do we begin in our layout design process to start to prioritise our ‘must haves’ from our ‘nice to haves’?

  • The procurement process and equipment choice is very important, for example; machine ‘handing’, operator location, frequency, location and method of loading materials.
  • Equipment location and handing in the layout is another key area. Here we would seek to improve visibility and accessibly of machines from minimal operating positions.
  • Also where possible, we would try to reduce consumable material supply areas to the line.
  • An aspect of line design that is quite often overlooked is operator communication: something that can be a significant factor in large complex lines. Physical constraints such as walls (to separate hygiene areas for example) may be unavoidable but the addition of windows, line status display screens or even CCTV can make a big difference. All the line operators need to have good awareness of the status of the line and not be isolated from conditions upstream and downstream of their ‘zone’.

If the ‘perfect’ packaging line layout is not achievable then where does that leave us? Compromises will have to be made but it’s about making the right choices and understanding the implications. We utilise 3D laser scanning to analyse and assess every element of the space constraints. We also utilise simulation modelling to evaluate layout alternatives and implications for operator movements, operator utilisation, material flows, storage buffers, line efficiencies and equipment selection.

Informed decision making will achieve the best [possible] packaging line layout.

We’d be glad to hear your thoughts on the subject. Maybe help with your next challenging layout?

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Prime Design Projects Limited
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TW18 4AX
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