Businesses are rarely setup in the most efficient configuration from the very beginning. If you happen to be one of the keen and lucky few to have the foresight to do so, congratulations. If not, you might be looking for advice on how to re-organize your production line in a more lean manner. While the basic principles of lean assembly floors are easily found and widely known, sometimes the logistics of mapping out floor space and employees can be difficult without some assistance.
With that in mind, here are a few tools that can help you map out and smoothly make your transition to or initial setup of a lean work-floor.
Google Sketchup: At the appealing cost of completely free, Google’s Sketchup software is ideal for drawing diagrams and models (in 3D) to represent your workspace. Say you want to create models for each machine, worker, and element in your assembly line and then move them around; that’s no problem. You can also use this software to show an object moving through the assembly setup and changing as it goes from one stage to the next. For additional functionality, an upgraded version can be purchased, but for the vast majority of cases the free version will easily meet your needs. If those needs are purely conceptualizing and determining space needs, material flow distances, etc., you will indeed be covered just fine.
Witness: If your needs are more geared toward simulation and determining outcomes of a new assembly line setup, you may be better served by something like WITNESS software by developer Lanner. WITNESS is geared toward determining the “what ifs” that occur when layout is changed, new inputs or demands are entered, and more. Unlike Sketchup, this software is not so much about visualizing (though it does generate an animate version of your work space) as it is about crunching numbers. In many cases where you’re changing your arrangements, a combination of the two types of software can be good to make sure that your bases are covered. It is also worth noting that simulation software like WITNESS is also a much more expensive investment than free services like Sketchup.
Get Crafty: One oft-suggested way of experimenting with new layouts is time tested: Using paper. Taking a large sheet of paper (A0 or equivalent), represent your factory. Now cut out from other pieces of paper shapes or models to scale of each of your machines and stations. While this can be a bit tedious up front, it can also be one of the most efficient ways of experimenting with various layouts once have all of your shapes because it’s so easy to move them around. When you visualize a layout that you think looks good, you can then input it into a software program to get hard data as to how much your efficiency would or would not improve. If you’re more of a hands-on type of person anyways, this can be much less stressful that starting the process by trying to create models on a computer.
Templates: Yet another way you can easily reorganize is with templates publicly available online. If you have a fairly conventional warehouse or space in which to work, it will be easier to find templates that are feasible within the space you have to work with. If not, you can always use templates as starting points, and then work them around any obstacles (walls, pillars, etc.) that might break up your work floor.
Floor Markings: Floor markings are another tool that should be used once you have your assembly line(s) in place. Floor markings can be placed around your assembly line(s) to create awareness and safety precautions. Floor markings also create organization and help to promote a more productive flow. Creative Safety Supply’s best selling floor tape, SafetyTac, is a great choice as it is designed to outlast paint in even the harshest work environments.
In the end, it most comes down to taking action in one direction or the other; these software packages and tools can of course help you in your decision making process, but, ultimately, none of them do everything for you. If you can, have an entire team, made up of people at different levels of production and management that is tasked with coming up with the new layout so that a lot of ideas and approaches are bounced around. While these tools can help, it may become apparent in the end that the best idea for your business may be something entirely new/unique altogether.
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