Plant Layout Considerations

In this article I shall deal with the arrangement of work areas and equipments. I shall discuss the relative allocation of adequate spaces at the appropriate places for work equipment, for working men, materials, other supporting activities and also customers-if they are present (as it happens in the service industries such as patients in hospitals, guests in a hotel). The basic theme behind the arrangement of work areas is to produce the product economically, to provide the service effectively, and to provide a safe and good physical environment for the users that is, the workers and/or the customers.

Plant layout is tailor made and is designed even before the actual installation of machinery and other things are put in place. In fact if a consultant is appointed he puts up different proposals in front of the company owners (concerned authorities). Experts from the company then after elaborate discussions with consultants may finally arrive at the best one or suitably modify the layout at one or two places.

Plant layout is related to a number of aspects of production and operations management. This, I shall bring out, while discussing as to what results a good plant layout should produce.

Features: Ease of working, Maximum Safety, and Minimum Health Hazards for People Working in/Using the Facility:

In production plants this will go a long way in increasing worker satisfaction and, therefore, labor productivity. Plant layout has much to do with productivity techniques such as work study, job evaluation, incentives and ergonomics. One cannot speak of these productivity related techniques/concepts without relating them to the design of the physical working environment, that is, plant layout. In fact, physical plant layout is one component of the integrated picture for labor productivity improvement, and has to fit properly in relation to the other components of the picture.

This is emphasized here because facilities layout theories in their quest for mathematical optimization tend to over look the human aspects and treat the subject as one dealing purely with the arrangement of physical spaces. As mentioned earlier, user-orientation is an important consideration in management, decision-making; and ultimately, the arrangement of the work areas is for the users of those areas.

Minimum Handling of Materials:

A good plant layout takes into consideration the various flows of materials inside the plant thus minimizing the handling of materials. The choice of the material handling equipment and the system of storage of materials, have a lot to do with the way the plant facilities are laid out. The decision as to whether one should employ an overhead crane or fort-lift trucks depends a lot on how the different departments in the plant are located spatially with respect to each other. Conversely, the choice of whether the material is to be stored in the production areas or in the stores determines the physical plant layout. So, the decisions of movement and storage of materials and that of plant layout have mutual feedbacks. A good physical plant layout should produce economies in the storage and movement of materials.

Minimum Damage and Spoilage of Materials:

If adequate consideration regarding the handling and storage of materials is given, it automatically minimizes damage and spoilage of materials.

Reduced Congestion of Materials, Machinery and Men:

A good physical layout should eliminate confusion in the plant. By doing so, it not only makes the life of the supervisor easier but also contributes towards overall improvements in the productivity of the shop.

A good plant layout means a good spatial system. This should make production scheduling and control easier and should consequently reduce the delays in production and increase utilization of the available plant capacity. In the unnecessary search for materials, in the difficult handling of materials due to the unnecessary zig-zag movement of materials, and due to the general confusion and wrong information regarding their availability, many production hours have been lost in practice; many unnecessary change-overs of production have occurred. All these can be avoided by a systematic arrangement of the non-living and living entities that comprise a production plant.

Flexibility with Regard to Changing Production Conditions:

A good layout, that is a good spatial system, should be one that is adaptable or flexible enough to take care of probable future changes in the volume of production, in the range of products manufactured, and changes in the method/processes of production.