Volume 7, Issue 8 - September 2006


No “Best” Layout
Make the Setup Work for You
by Mike Biffl

As a salesperson in the fenestration industry, I have the opportunity to visit various plants and see how different companies go about manufacturing their products. Although the extrusions, machines and the components may all be the same, one thing is almost always unique—the plant layout. Even companies that make similar windows often have very different means of achieving the end result. The only thing two plant layouts may have in common is the product coming out at the end. 

When I first started in this industry, I assumed their must be some method of plant layout to achieve the most efficient manufacturing. What I have found out since then is that no matter how people arrange their plants, they find a way to make it work. I have customers who perform their manufacturing in multi-story manufacturing plants. Some have large, modern facilities built specifically for window manufacturing with incoming material on one end of the building and shipping doors on the other end. In both scenarios, the companies make a quality product at a competitive price and are successful in their respective markets.

Obviously, the modern plant constructed specifically with window manufacturing in mind has some inherent advantages. But what the other plants lack in forethought and convenience, they seem to make up for with ingenuity and adaptability. Although these types of plants look very different, the product flow in each case is surprisingly similar. The arrangement of equipment within the building constraints and the methods of moving material through the process are what is important. 

The most efficient plant layouts I have seen allow for a lineal flow of material through the process, or at least as close to a linear flow as the building will allow. Material is received and stored in a location that allows it to be taken straight to the cutting area. Then, whether material is fabricated in the saws or in downstream operations, the material movement from the saw to the welder is as short a distance and as much of a straight line as possible. Corner cleaning is generally immediately next to the welders and is in a convenient location to move cleaned frame and sash into the assembly area. 

A common method of maintaining an efficient material flow without building up too much work in process is to dedicate frame and sash processing to separate lines. Again, a common equipment arrangement in efficient plants is to have a frame line and a sash line face-to-face. This allows for concurrent processing of the frames and the sash. By keeping the two lines in close proximity, the mating of frame and sash in the assembly area is simple and quick. 

Although this may be an efficient way to lay out your plant, it may not always be feasible. Many efficient plants are arranged in a ‘U’ or a ‘Z’ configuration. This may not be ideal but it can be a very effective utilization of a given building. You need to work with what you have and make the most of it. Your suppliers may or may not be able to offer useful suggestions on how to arrange your plant. It is up to you to ask for that input but remember, not all of your suppliers have people who have made windows. Not all of them will understand your challenges. Most of all, your suppliers cannot understand the dynamics in your shop the way you do. Take whatever suggestions you can get to maximize the efficiency of your plant layout, but make it your own in a way that makes the best use of your space and your people.

Mike Biffl serves as national sales manager for Sturtz Machinery Inc. in Solon, Ohio. He may be reached at mbiffl@sturtz.com

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