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Don’t start the layout until you know the process

Do you feel like you’re in an infinite loop of frustrating layout changes as you keep changing process elements? It’s probably because you started layout planning too soon.

Two quotes on this subject from Chihiro Nakao, from the book Kaizen Forever

“Build a process first, then equipment comes.”

“Visualize the mountain (the entire factory), examine the forest (line), look at the trees (process) simultaneously.”

On the surface this is all very obvious – of course we knew the process before we started planning the layout. Then why are you still making so many layout changes?

The challenge is in knowing how much of the process you need to have structured before you start thinking about machine design and layout. While the terms change depending on the environment and what you’re making, the general approach will be the same which is where the second quote directs us.

Important process elements to know before starting to develop a layout are the connections between zones or departments (macro flow) and the connections between operations at the line or within the cell (micro). Each involves the flow of material and information, and investing more time into the process up front can save millions in wasted expense down the road fixing a layout and, therefore a process, that was not designed right the first time.