The layout of a plant or facility is concerned with the physical placement of resources such as equipment and storage facilities, which should be designed to facilitate the efficient flow of customers or materials through the manufacturing or service system. The layout design is very important and should be taken very seriously as it can have a significant impact on the cost and efficiency of an operation and can involve substantial investment in time and money. The decisions taken with regards to the facility layout will have a direct influence on how efficiently workers will be able to carry out their jobs, how much and how fast goods can be produced, how difficult it is to automate a system, and how the system in place would be able to respond to any changes with regards to product or service design, product mix, or demand volume.
In many operations the installation of a new layout, or redesign of an existing layout, can be difficult to change once they are implemented due to the significant investment required on items such as equipment. Therefore, it is imperative to make sure that the policy decisions relating to the organisation, method and work flow are made before the facilities are laid out rather than trying to fit these three into the layout. This is an important area of production and operations management since it is dealing with the capital equipment of the organisation which, in general, is difficult to relocate once it has been put into position.
The plant layout process is rather complex which cannot be set down with any finality, and one in which experience plays a great part. It is impossible for an organisation to design the perfect layout, however a number of criteria which should be followed to design a good plant layout, namely the following:
- Maximum Flexibility: A good layout should be designed in such a way that modifications could rapidly take place to meet changing circumstances, and thus should be devised with the possible future needs of the operation in mind.
- Maximum Co-ordination: The layout should be designed in such a way that entry into, and disposal from, any department or functional area should be carried out in the most convenient way to the issuing and receiving departments.
- Maximum use of volume: The facility should be considered as cubic devices and maximum use is to be made of the volume available. This principle is useful in stores, where goods can be stored at considerable heights without causing any inconvenience.
- Maximum visibility: All the workers and materials should be readily observable at all times and that there should be no hidden places into which goods or information might get misplaced and forgotten. Organisations should be careful when they make use of partitioning or screening as these may introduce undesirable segregation which reduces the effective use of floor space.
- Maximum accessibility: The machinery, equipment and other installations should not in any way obstruct the servicing and maintenance points, which should be readily accessible at all times. Obstructing certain service points such as electricity and water mains could hinder the production process in place.
- Minimum distance and Material handling: All movements taking place within the plant should be both necessary and direct. Handling work does add the cost but does not increase the value, thus any unnecessary movement should be avoided and if present, eliminated. It is best not to handle the material and information, however if this is necessary it should be reduced to a minimum by making use of appropriate devices.
- Inherent Safety: All processes which might constitute a danger to either the staff or customers should not be accessible to the unauthorized. Fire exists should be clearly marked with uninhibited access and pathways should be clearly defined and uncluttered.
- Unidirectional Flow: All materials which are being used in the production process should always flow in one direction, starting from the storage, passing through all processes and facilities, and finally resulting in the finished product which is later dispatched for storage or sold directly to the customer.
- Management Coordination: Supervision and communication should be assisted by the location of staff and communication equipment in place within the chosen layout.