From the days of the Industrial Revolution to the newly minted 21st century, the construction of a manufacturing facility has been through its share of changes. Building standards, materials, and equipment have been introduced and improved over 300 years of industrialization and automation. A wide variety of items have been produced from these facilities with new products created every day. But at its heart, a modern manufacturing facility has many of the same considerations as one from the early 1700s. Each building was located and designed for a relatively specific purpose: to provide space for mass fabrication or assembly by machines and people. With this in mind, let’s take a closer look at the details of building a manufacturing facility.
Where should you build your new plant? It depends on what you are manufacturing and the supply chain logistics for materials and delivery.
• What is the distance between the location and your suppliers and customers?
• Are the appropriate transportation networks nearby?
• Is there a source of workers for the new facility?
• Will you have ready access to the required utilities?
How do you expect to receive your supplies and what method of transportation is best for distributing the finished product? Do you need access to rail, air, or docks? Can you take advantage of just in time delivery of supplies or are your vendors restricted by distance or material volume? While searching for a location, you must also consider the characteristics of the land. The cost of land is determined by its proximity to cities, the level of preparation it requires before construction can begin and whether you intend to lease or buy. Everything from the type of soil to the existence of springs or other water dictate the prep work required and the length of time it takes to complete.
The layout of the facility depends on what you are manufacturing and the level of flexibility you need to retool lines or install different equipment. Your layout can provide competitive advantages although you may only be able to optimize for two or three.
• Low-cost operations
• Fast delivery
• Accommodate multiple products or frequent new products
• Produce high or low volume
• Deliver high quality
• Provide unique services or features
Most designers approach layout from a high level down to the details. Everything is determined by what you manufacture and how it is made. The highest level of facility planning we have already detailed – the factory location. Once a location is determined, site planning is the next level. Will you have a single building or a multi-building campus? Where will roads or rails be placed? Where do utilities enter the building? Also, now is the time to plan for future expansion. Building in extra space during initial construction is less expensive, time-consuming, and disruptive than expanding later. Once the number of buildings is determined, the layout of the building is up for consideration. You will need areas for your various operations from fabrication and assembly to offices for sales, marketing, accounting, payroll, human resources, and other activities. The factory layout should be designed to maximize the use of space while creating an efficient production line from supply intake to product output.
• Is your equipment manual, semi-automatic, or fully automated?
• What will you need in terms of safety equipment?
• Don’t forget about storage for everything from office supplies and manufacturing materials to the finished product.
Finally, you are down to the level of workstation placement and activity areas. Process mapping is a handy method of determining the relationships between areas and the type of activity that takes place there. The map can help you plan around any constraints on the space. Also, creating a process map may show you where changes could be made to one or more processes for increased efficiency.
Unless you are an experienced builder, a complex project like a manufacturing facility should be handled by a contractor, preferably one experienced with the type of facility you need. A general contractor has the connections to find the best subcontractors for electrical work, plumbing, and construction. If the GC is local, there may be fewer issues with inspections and licensing. A local contractor will be familiar with the building code as it is administered in the region and understands the time it takes to receive various permits. The location of your jobsite impacts the timeline for construction.
• Depending on the region, there may be a shortage of particular skill sets or labor in general.
• If the facility is remote, workers will require parking, housing, and meals.
• Road conditions in various weathers can delay equipment delivery and use.
• In more crowded surroundings, you will need to deal with material storage and delivery, traffic, noise control and abatement, and pedestrian safety.
• Certain areas may require additional security for your jobsite.
Once the ground is broken, you will want the contractor to provide you updates on progress and acknowledge that after a certain point, changes to your building plans can become expensive or not possible. Thorough planning before construction can mitigate surprises down the road.
Building a manufacturing facility, from finding a location to completion of construction can take months or years. Are you prepared for the various risks?
• Changing demographics and workforce availability
• Changes in the transportation network or infrastructure
• Changing market demands
• The potential for natural disasters or regional hazards
Assess the risks and develop strategies to mitigate the cost. The probability and type of risk is another factor to consider in determining a location and may disqualify a few. A manufacturing facility is a complex project and requires enormous amounts of time, planning, and preparation. If this is your first facility, take advantage of those with experience to steer you around the various shoals of location, construction, and risk management. Even if you have been through the process before, changes in materials, differences in building codes and availability of skilled labor are not the same from one location to the next. Use this post as a basic framework to make a list of considerations, questions, and requirements for your project. The more details you can work out before you purchase land or begin construction, the less rework, and fewer change orders there will be.
A well-planned facility saves on costs of construction, operation, and innovation, and provides space for future expansion.
About the author:
Steve Wright works for Whirlwind Steel, a manufacturer of pre-engineered steel buildings and components. Whirlwind Steel metal buildings are manufactured and designed to meet the highest quality standards.