All this production doesn’t happen by magic. Much of an operation manager’s time is spent planning the production process. Think about hosting a large party for your parents’ anniversary. The first thing you have to do is find a location that is large enough to accommodate all the people you will be inviting. Once you have identified the location, you then need to visit the site and decide how it will be laid out. Where should the tables and chairs go, where will you set up refreshments, and what about a gift table? Once you’ve decided on the layout, then you need to start making a list of the materials you’ll need for the party. This includes everything from plates, cups, and napkins to hiring a DJ and a caterer. Lastly, based on the number of guests, you’ll need to calculate how much of everything—food, drinks, etc.—to order.
Operations managers engage in similar planning, but they use different terminology to describe the different parts of the plan. In production planning, the components are facility location, facility layout, materials-requirement planning (MRP), and inventory control.
Of all the pieces of the planning puzzle, facility location is the most strategic and critical. Once you build a new manufacturing facility, you have made a substantial investment of time, resources, and capital that can’t be changed for a long time. Selecting the wrong location can be disastrous. Some of the key factors that influence facility location are the following:
- Proximity to customers, suppliers, and skilled labor
- Environmental regulations
- Financial incentives offered by state and local development authorities
- Quality-of-life considerations
- Potential for future expansion
The next step, after planning the production process, is deciding on plant layout—how equipment, machinery, and people will be arranged to make the production process as efficient as possible.
The primary aim of facility layout is to design a workflow that maximizes worker and production efficiency. Facility layout is complex because it must take into account the available space, the work processes, the delivery of components and parts, the final product, worker safety, and operational efficiency. A poorly laid-out production facility creates inefficiencies, increases costs, and leads to employee frustration and confusion.
The four most common types of facility layout are process, product, cellular, and fixed position.
A process layout aims to improve efficiency by arranging equipment according to its function. Ideally, the production line should be designed to eliminate waste in material flows, inventory handling, and management. In process layout, the work stations and machinery are not arranged according to the production sequence. Instead, there is an assembly of similar operations or similar machinery in each department (for example, a drill department, a paint department, etc.)
In a product layout, high-volume goods are produced efficiently by people, equipment, or departments arranged in an assembly line—that is, a series of workstations at which already-made parts are assembled.
In the following video, Jansen, a Swiss steel maker, describes how the company’s offices were designed to maximize the productivity and creativity of its engineers:
A cellular layout is a lean method of producing similar products using cells, or groups of team members, workstations, or equipment, to facilitate operations by eliminating set-up and unnecessary costs between operations. Cells might be designed for a specific process, part, or a complete product. The goal of cellular manufacturing is to move as quickly as possible and make a wide variety of similar products with as little waste as possible. This type of layout is well suited for single-piece and one-touch production methods. Because of increased speed and minimal handling of materials, cells can result in great cost and time savings and reduced inventory.
It is easy to move marshmallow candies around the factory while you are making them, but what about airplanes or ships? For the production of large items, manufacturers use fixed-position layout in which the product stays in one place and the workers (and equipment) go to the product. To see an excellent example of fixed-position layout, watch the following video that shows how Boeing builds an airplane.
After the facility location has been selected and the best layout has been determined, the next stage in production planning is to determine our material requirements.
Material-Requirements Planning (MRP)
Material-requirements planning (MRP) is a production planning, scheduling, and inventory control system used to manage manufacturing processes. Most MRP systems are software-based, but it is possible to do MRP by hand, as well.
An MRP system is intended to meet the following objectives simultaneously:
- Ensure that materials are available for production and products are available for delivery to customers
- Maintain the lowest possible material and product levels in store
- Plan manufacturing activities, delivery schedules, and purchasing activities
Some manufacturing firms have moved beyond MRP systems and are now using enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems. ERP systems provides an integrated and continuously updated view of core business processes using shared databases maintained by a database management system. ERP systems track business resources—cash, raw materials, production capacity—and the status of business commitments—orders, purchase orders, and payroll. The applications that make up the system share data from and between various departments (e.g., manufacturing, purchasing, sales, accounting, etc.). ERP facilitates information flow between all business functions and manages connections to outside stakeholders.
Even with the implementation of highly integrated planning software, operations managers still need to plan for and control inventory.
Just-in-Time (JIT) Manufacturing
Just-in-time (JIT) manufacturing is strategy that companies employ to increase efficiency and decrease waste by receiving goods only when they are needed in the production process, thereby reducing inventory costs. In theory, a JIT system would have parts and materials arriving on the warehouse dock at the exact moment they are needed in the production process. To make this happen, manufacturers and suppliers must work together closely to prevent just-in-time from becoming just-isn’t-there. Operations managers must accurately forecast the need for materials, since even the slightest deviation can result in a slowdown of production.