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7 Rules For Shop Planning

Space. Or more accurately, effective workspace. That is the holy grail in a production environment. 

Can we layout the shop so there is better flow to enhance our production capabilities?

The good news is that you can change things around to make your shop more effective.  Even if you are adding equipment.  To address this issue, we’ll look at seven key factors to consider.  Like a person’s fingerprints, every workspace is different.  That being said, our list is a general guideline.  Rather than getting into specifics, just think how these points can help you modify your own space.

If you haven’t heard of a SWOT Analysis before it stands for Strength, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats.  It’s a business tool that is more often than not applied to a company’s business plan, but for our facility efficiency approach we’re going to use it to outline the space.

Strengths are the attributes of the building that are helpful in achieving great production workflow.  For instance, a truck high loading dock or windows that allow a good bit of natural light.

Weaknesses are the things regarding the space that are harmful to positive workflow.  Low ceilings, oddly shaped rooms or production on multiple floors for example.

Opportunities are the items in the facility that could be changed for a more positive workflow.  Removing a non-load bearing wall to enlarge a space for example.

Threats are the conditions that are extremely negative in regard to production.  These require serious consideration and attention.  Inadequate drainage or outdated electrical systems for example.

To get started with your shop SWOT Analysis, use a sheet or two of graph paper and make a simple sketch of your facility layout.  Each square represents one foot.  Draw it to scale, and make sure you add in all of your doors and windows.  Mark your electrical outlets and any water pipes or floor drainage.  You want to illustrate your basic architectural blueprint.  Once finished, make a few copies.  We will be using these, so you will want something to doodle around on for brainstorming.

If you are already in working in the space, use one of the copies and add in all of your existing equipment, shelving, tables, desks, and machinery.  Measure these and draw them in at scale.  To help move stuff around later, make a few copies of the items and cut them out with scissors.  You can then temporarily place them on the layout to brainstorm on what should go where.

Once you are satisfied with your shop drawing, use this to examine your workflow based on the SWOT Analysis definition above.  On a separate sheet of paper, make a list of the things in your facility that match up to each of the attributes of SWOT.

When planning shop layouts, many inexperienced people will concentrate on just the areas around the machines.  In fact, the machines will dominate the planning.   These things are big, heavy and usually expensive, so that makes a certain amount of sense.

Yet, there is a lot of activity that supports these machines.  Inventory has to be received and counted.  Orders have to be staged for production.  There also is a considerable amount of prep work too.  Screen-printing requires the screen making, embroidery requires hooping.

After your product is decorated, will there be any post-production work?  Hangtags applied?  Neck labels removed and a new one sewn in?  Maybe the shirts get polybagged or custom packaged.

Then, everything has to be shipped.

Each of these functions requires a certain amount of floor space to happen properly and effectively too.  Don’t short change them by just planning on where the high dollar equipment is going to sit.  A good chunk of the work happens in the periphery.

This has to be mentioned.  Work safe.

When planning your shop, you’ll of course need to leave emergency exits clear.  Fire extinguishers should always be well marked, with an area taped off on the floor so they don’t get blocked.  As most shops in the industry use chemicals of some sort, you’ll need to make sure your eye-wash stations are easily accessible too.

These aren’t hints, as they are in the building codes and workplace safety laws.  Don’t set yourself up for a big OSHA fine by ignoring them.  Make sure they are in your planning by being part of your program list when working on your shop layout.

This may be one of the most important notions to planning effective workflow.  You’ll need to move stuff around.  Will you be able to do it easily and all in one direction?  Or will it resemble working your way through a maze?

Having clear and demarcated travel lanes mapped out on your floor is the secret for effective shop layout.  Throw some blue or yellow concrete tape on the floor to mark your access lanes in the shop.

This says to everyone, “Keep Clear”.  If you mark the lines off and train people not to place a stack of boxes or skids in the lane, moving product through your facility just got easier.

Pushing this one step further, have lines marked on the floor where your product should be staged next to your equipment.  Train your staff to use the lines to align the boxes so they are placed in neat and orderly rows.  Make it easy for success to happen by illustrating the expectations of what to do.

It’s a fact.  We have a lot of stuff in this industry.  Over time, it can become overwhelming.  Does your shop look like a junk pile?

The key to easy and effective workflow usually starts with eliminating any bottlenecks or friction points.  Quite often the clutter that’s around the shop just gets in the way of working.

Get organized.  Put stuff away.

A good rule of thumb is that the items that are used the most need to be the closest to where the work exists.  If multiple work groups use the same tools, make sure there is one set for each group.  No need to walk across the room to borrow something.

Items that aren’t regularly used need to be stored away from the work and off of the floor if possible.  Cabinets, shelving and bins work great.  Clearly mark where things go and what’s inside.  Put dates on them.  After a year or so if you haven’t touched it you might consider selling or discarding it.

Hopefully your shop has some good business and is steadily growing.  One notion to consider is what might happen not only a few months from now when business picks up, but three to five years from now when you need to add some more equipment to the mix.

Will you need more room?

The reason you might consider this now is that you might need to add plumbing or electrical needs.  It may be much more expensive to break up the concrete to add a new drain or work in a new electrical panel.  While you are planning, could you prep that part now and roll it into your improvement efforts?  It might just save you some money down the road.

When planning for growth, what changes could you make?  For example, putting in electrical outlines higher on the walls, or even in the ceilings may allow you to plug in future equipment without running extension cords everywhere.  Get these in early, and allow yourself the room to expand later.

Be sure to talk to your contractor or infrastructure vendor about it when doing any work.

Ah, the best for last.  If you have done your homework for all the other rules, this is where it all adds up.  Making your production sing.

How your production happens on a daily basis is usually dictated for the most part by the shape of the room, and where the loading docks or doors are situated.  A more rectangular shaped room could have everything flow in one direction, like a river.  A square shaped room, could have a more circular workflow, like a merry-go-round.

What you want to avoid as much as possible is a workflow that operates like a two-way street.  You want to avoid collisions if you can.  One way workflow is the best.

Using the graph paper layout and the rules listed above can you chart out a better workflow for your shop?

Where are the friction points where things get log-jammed?  What is in the way?

Could you turn or flip some equipment around that might make a difference?  What if you placed your order staging or inventory on the other side of the room?  Would that free up some needed space?

How much wall space do you have, so if you added shelving you could create those access lanes?  Could you sell or throw away any unnecessary items and find your floor again?

Ready, Aim, Fire

Before you start moving stuff around in your shop, you might want to gather your team together and show them what you have in mind.  They are the ones doing the work.  Maybe a thought or two from them could help with the project as well.  Sometimes involvement with other people produces that one undiscovered great idea that makes all the difference.

If you are making a major change, be sure to write a detailed plan.  Make it in checklist form.  Put due dates and show who is accountable for each action.  Include a notes section, so if you are outsourcing the task you can put the contractor’s information in the field.

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