Optimise your Factory with a Facelift

Darren Wilson

by Darren Wilson

14th October 2014

It’s important to stand back now and again to monitor how your current plans and processes are working out. It’s easy to get immersed in the day-to-day running of your workplace without looking at it from another perspective and considering the areas that could be improved.

When was the last time you examined the current state of your production facility?

It’s not enough to justify your current production processes with the phrase “That’s how we’ve also done it.” As your business grows and the market transforms, so too should your factory and production schemes.

Operations Director, Darren Wilson, carried out extensive research in our factory and examined existing literature on productivity. Working with the team in ReAgent’s factory, as well as IT and Sales, Darren worked out how to implement changes and yield improvements at ReAgent with a re-fit. He put together a detailed report on his work, which has been condensed and re-formatted here.


Spaghetti diagram of IBC batch in original manufacturing layout

Gather Information about your Factory

We examined batch manufacturing data for a six month period to establish the amount and frequency of product manufactured across a range of batch sizes.

ReAgent experiences an ongoing annual growth of 20%; we had the task of redesigning the production layout to cope with this growth, whilst still being able to operate from the confines of three factory units.


Spaghetti diagram of IBC batch in revised manufacturing layout

In order to establish the level of productivity going on, the team put together some Spaghetti Diagrams of the current state of the manufacturing facility. This meant we were able to calculate the distances covered by the production team, as well as the amount of movement required to move particular batches.

The Spaghetti Diagrams showed us that there’s room for improvement with regards to the factory layout. There were large amounts of excess movement of people and materials, wasting time and energy. Raw materials were poorly organised and sometimes difficult to locate.

Study the Literature Available

It may feel a bit like going back to school, but do your research properly. It can provide ideas and inspiration, and show you theories which you can apply to your own workplace.

Here are some of the theories we considered in our research.

Goldratt’s Theory of Constraints (Goldratt, 1984)

Goldratt’s Theory of Constraints (ToC) was designed to provide steps that can help you improve a system and in turn, performance. It is supposed to help you identify and eliminate “bottle necks” that are slowing you down.

According to Goldratt, these bottle necks are constraints that are stopping your business from reaching its maximum capacity.

We considered constraints in our production factory and planned to restructure the layout in order to eliminate these and speed up processes.

Product/Process Matrix (Slack et al., 2009)

The Product/Process Matrix was devised to provide a means of selecting the most suitable process for a given application. It is presented as a graph, to which you can position the attributes of a particular process or job.

The graph describes how frequent a product is, and the volume produced. For example, at ReAgent, a one-off bespoke blend for a customer would be classed as high variety and low volume.


Product/Process Matrix (Slack et al.)


ReAgent has adopted a lean culture from the start. Our employees at all levels are invited to make suggestions about where we can improve so that any change, however small, leads to an overall positive outcome.

‘Kaizen’ is the Japanese term used to describe these lean improvements. Being lean can mean cutting down on raw materials so we only buy what we need and therefore minimise waste, or using techniques such as Spaghetti Diagrams to identify where time and money is being wasted.

You can think of ‘lean’ as being like trimming off the unwanted fat of your products and processes!

8D Model

The 8D Model (or “8 Disciplines”) was invented at the Ford Motor Company to address engineering problems. It was introduced to ReAgent by a customer in the automotive sector, and we use at from time-to-time as a problem-solving method here.

The 8D Model was created as a way to analyse problems in the workplace. It focuses on identifying the root issue of the problem and putting procedures in place to rectify this and ensure it won’t happen again.

Implement the Changes for Re-fit


The platform circa 1979, before it was recently demolished in the re-fit

Take the plunge and make the changes you’ve worked out for your re-fit.

We significantly revised our production layout based on the research we carried out. Some of the bigger changes include the demolition of an under-utilised platform and the order of a large mixing tank for ReAgent’s highest turnover product.

The Product/Process Matrix helped us to identify the best layout for maximum flexibility. To facilitate movement of raw materials, we installed a new opening between Units 17 and 18. We rearranged the storage of raw materials, so they’re situated nearer to manufacturing areas and cut down on unnecessary movement.

Additionally, we added extra pallet racking. This increase in storage has allowed us to store regularly used items at ground level, removing the need to wait for a forklift truck driver to become available.

Monitor the Outcome

Changes and benefits will vary between each company, but as part of a “lean” culture, it’s important to monitor the outcome of your modifications and identify where further changes need to be made.

We noted that initial improvements from a revised layout could yield an 8.5% improvement in productivity. The cost and time savings mean we’re also able to maintain the current level of staff numbers for a considerable time.

We calculated that we could save a total of 896 hours and around £84,000 per year. The changes cost around £52,000 to implement, but the total time and money savings make this well worth it.

It may be time to take a look at your own manufacturing facility, and see where you can make changes – big or small – to vastly improve your productivity.


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