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Top 3 Considerations for Metal Fabrication Shop Floor Layout in 2022

Regardless of the products your metal fabrication, HVAC or roofing shop produces, optimizing the shop floor layout can assist in timely order fulfillment and help to maximize the efficiency of all procedures. An efficient and effective workflow can help to improve productivity, decrease labour costs, and ultimately increase profitability and growth.

While each shop floor is designed for the products it produces, there are some practical considerations that can be applied universally.

Whether you run a small metal fabrication or HVAC shop and you’re looking to expand your business, or you’ve already started expanding and need to optimize workflow, the following principles will help determine the most efficient shop layout for your individual needs:

  • Lean management principles
  • Value Network Mapping (VNM)
  • Entering Industry 4.0

What Role Does Machinery Play in Shop Floor Optimization?

The pieces of machinery in your shop are equally important as the layout itself, especially for smaller shops that don’t have the luxury of more space on the floor. If the space available remains the same while your business expands and grows, the layout of specific machinery is critical to optimize flow.

Keep reading to find out which machines are essential for metal fabrication, HVAC and roofing shops with limited space and a desire to grow.

Lean Management Principles

By now, everyone in industry has heard of lean management.

Successfully adopting a lean management style over time can help inform the design and re-design of your shop floor layout as your business changes and grows. Although implementing lean management principles can be daunting, the key is to take a long-term approach that will achieve small changes to improve shop efficiency and reduce waste. We’ve broken down the main considerations small and large shops alike should make when it comes to lean management:

  • Remove all unnecessary items and obstacles. Keep the work floor clear of materials except for those required for production.
  • Make workflow smooth and easy by arranging workstations so all material, equipment and tooling is easily accessible.
  • Understand your rate of demand and calculate takt time when necessary.
  • Clean, inspect and maintain workspace, tools and equipment on a regular basis.
  • Standardize processes so others can follow.
  • Encourage workers to identify and implement improvements to the process whenever possible.

Including Automation in Your Lean Strategy

Including some form of automation in your lean strategy will allow you to further reduce waste and optimize workflow. If you’re doing something more than 3 to 5 times per day anywhere in your shop, you should automate it. Automation has several advantages for shops of all sizes, especially smaller shops that are looking to invest in growth:

  • Free up your most skilled workers to complete more complex tasks.
  • Reduce labour costs in the long run.
  • Address any lack of skilled labour you may be experiencing.
  • Reduce work in progress (WIP) and increase productivity and customer satisfaction.

Whether you’re going to include automation in your lean strategy or not, lean management doesn’t have to be complicated. It does require time and planning in an environment that frequently changes. If you’re committed to a long-term business plan and want to ensure each shop floor re-design is fully optimized, adopting lean management principles is a must. Take your time to understand current shop conditions and the specific lean principles you want to implement. It will be worth it.

Value Network Mapping

For metal fabrication or HVAC businesses that operate as high-mix low-volume shops, the lean tool known as Value Stream Mapping (VSM) can have some shortcomings. Although it may be efficient enough for low-mix high-volume shops, it lacks the flexibility to map multiple value streams that share resources, which is essential for high-mix low-volume shops. That’s why we recommend implementing Value Network Mapping (VNM) instead. What does this lean tool have to do with your shop floor layout?

Value Network Mapping (VNM) merges value streams that are similar and captures how final assemblies or individual shop components relate. According to the Fabricator, there are 7 key steps to developing a successful VNM:

  • Select a product family.
  • Visualize the flow of the entire product.
  • Measure the waste involved in producing the complete project.
  • Analyze the flow of the entire product to re-engineer the facility layout.
  • Determine if “feeder cells” are possible to avoid overproduction and excess WIP.
  • Analyze the material handling between machines. One machine should never touch the same material twice.
  • Develop a Value Network Map.

Taking the time to develop a VNM will pay off in the long run, especially for shops looking to identify inefficiencies and grow their business. Utilizing this tool will help determine the most efficient shop floor layout for your individual needs.

Map and analyze many value streams on a single map to determine what improvements to make to your production system.

Entering Industry 4.0

Entering Industry 4.0 is important for every manufacturing business. Accelerated by Covid-19, the emergence of technological advancements such as automation are beginning to transform the ways shops operate. There are many reasons to consider investing in new technology for your business, and when you’re designing a new shop floor layout, there’s no better way to pinpoint exact process improvements and requirements for optimization.

For shops looking to dive right into this new wave of technology, investing in ERP software that collects shop floor data will provide immense amounts of value to your business. Keep track of labour, capture time applied to work orders, enhance labour performance and identify areas in need of improvement to reduce waste and cut costs with the right ERP.

How Can Small Shops Leverage New Technology?

We know a lot of shops are apprehensive about investing a large amount of money in ERP software or other technology you might hear about these days. However, there are a few ways smaller shops can begin to determine how to leverage technology in a manner that suits your specific needs:

  • Identify champions for change in the organization.
  • Create a consensus of what “digital” means for the company.
  • Identify high-value projects that will yield substantial profits & implement digitization.
  • Identify high-potential employees who can run the projects. These employees can improve the efficiency of marketing, sales and finance.

With the assistance of machine learning technologies, smaller businesses can depend on front-line workers to make decisions that improve profitability, customer satisfaction, and company reputation.

Digitization and Lean Management Principles

Implementing some form of technology in the shop can help you achieve lean management principles or develop strong value network maps when their execution seems too complicated or overwhelming. Digitization is at the forefront of innovation in the industry, and shops of all sizes can take advantage of this advancement.

If you’re really stuck and don’t know where to begin, consider three key steps you can take to move towards digitization in your business:

  • Go paperless to save time & money and reduce errors.
  • Use wireless sensors to monitor production and collect data in real-time.
  • Introduce smart processes with machines that can analyze their own data to predict maintenance requirements.

Looking for More?

Check out some of our other blog posts on shop floor layout and improving shop efficiency and productivity:

Getting Your Shop in Shape

How to Choose the Right Plasma Table or Press Brakes for Your Needs

A Simple Change that Could Improve your Laser Cutting Production

50 Ways to Remove Excess Work From Your Sheet Metal Shop

Shop Floor Optimization Will Improve Your Business Strategy

When designing or optimizing your shop floor layout, the last thing you want to do is guess. Although it may seem simple on the surface, it can significantly hinder your business performance if designed incorrectly. While there are everyday actions you can take to continually improve your shop floor, we know that lean management, VNM and digitization are some of the most important concepts to consider. Rather than viewing shop floor layout as a separate entity, consider it part of your larger business strategy. By implementing any one of these concepts in your business over time, your shop floor layouts will significantly improve!

Machinery and Shop Floor Optimization

We know smaller shops can feel restricted by limited space on the floor, and some of these concepts might seem overwhelming for shops with fewer resources. No matter the size of your shop, implementing strategic processes is possible. There are pivotal pieces of machinery that will help you improve the efficiency of your shop while taking limited space into consideration. Implementing the strategic layout of the machinery will create an opportunity for your shop to leverage lean management, VNM, or digitization.

Based on our experience working with various shop owners over the years, we’ve developed some machine considerations all shops should make:

  • Metal Fabrication: The location of your press brake and laser are pivotal. They are essential to all processes in a metal fab shop.
  • HVAC: The location of your plasma table, coil line and spiral machine are the most critical considerations to make. They affect everything you’ll be working on.
  • Roofing: Your sheer and folder are critical. Everything will run through these machines in your shop.

Looking for some direction on what machines to prioritize to optimize your shop floor layout? Our extensive machine configuration experience and knowledge can help.

Contact us to discuss what machines will address your specific shop needs and work with your optimized floor layout.


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