Facility layout and design is an important component of a business's overall operations, both in terms of maximizing the effectiveness of production processes and meeting employee needs and/or desires. Writing in Production and Operations Management, Howard J. Weiss and Mark E. Gershon defined facility layout as "the physical arrangement of everything needed for the product or service, including machines, personnel, raw materials, and finished goods. The criteria for a good layout necessarily relate to people (personnel and customers), materials (raw, finished, and in process), machines, and their interactions."
Small business owners need to consider many operational factors when building or renovating a facility for maximum layout effectiveness. These criteria include the following:
"Facility layout must be considered very carefully because we do not want to constantly redesign the facility," summarized Weiss and Gershon. "Some of the goals in designing the facility are to ensure a minimum amount of materials handling, to avoid bottlenecks, to minimize machine interference, to ensure high employee morale and safety, and to ensure flexibility. Essentially, there are two distinct types of layout. Product layout is synonymous with assembly line and is oriented toward the products that are being made. Process layout is oriented around the processes that are used to make the products. Generally, product layout is applicable for high-volume repetitive operations, while process layout is applicable for low-volume custom-made goods."
Offices and manufacturing facilities are typically designed in much different ways—a reflection of the disparate products that the two entities make. "A factory produces things," wrote Stephan Konz in Facility Design. "These things are moved with conveyors and lift trucks; factory utilities include gas, water, compressed air, waste disposal, and large amounts of power as well as telephones and computer networks. A layout criterion is minimization of transportation cost." Konz pointed out, however, that the mandate of business offices is to produce information, whether disseminated in physical (reports, memos, and other documents), electronic (computer files), or oral (telephone, face-to-face encounters) form. "Office layout criteria, although hard to quantify, are minimization of communication cost and maximization of employee productivity," wrote Konz.
Layout requirements can also differ dramatically by industry. The needs of service-oriented businesses, for instance, are often predicated on whether customers receive their services at the physical location of the business (such as at a bank or pet grooming shop, for instance) or whether the business goes to the customer's home or place of business to provide the service (as with exterminators, home repair businesses, plumbing services, etc.) In the latter instances, these businesses will likely have facility layouts that emphasize storage space for equipment, chemicals, and paperwork rather than spacious customer waiting areas. Manufacturers may also have significantly different facility layouts, depending on the unique needs that they have. After all, the production challenges associated with producing jars of varnish or mountaineering equipment are apt to be considerably different than those of making truck chassis or foam beach toys. Retail outlets comprise yet another business sector that have unique facility layout needs. Such establishments typically emphasize sales floor space, inventory logistics, foot traffic issues, and overall store attractiveness when studying facility layout issues.
Konz also observed that differences in factory and office layouts can often be traced to user expectations. "Historically, office workers have been much more concerned with status and aesthetics than factory workers," he noted. "A key consideration in many office layouts is 'Who will get the best window location?' To show their status, executives expect, in addition to preferred locations, to have larger amounts of space. Rank expects more privacy and more plush physical surroundings." In addition, he stated, "Offices are designed to be 'tasteful' and to 'reflect the organization's approach to business dealings.' " Conversely, in the factory setting, aesthetic elements take a back seat to utility.
Given these emphases, it is not surprising that, as a general rule, office workers will enjoy advantages over their material production brethren in such areas as ventilation, lighting, acoustics, and climate control.
Cornacchia, Anthony J. "Facility Management: Life in the Fast Lane." The Office. June 1994.
Groover, M.P. Automation, Production Systems, and Computer-Integrated Manufacturing. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1987.
J.K. Lasser Institute. How to Run a Small Business. 7th ed. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1994.
Konz, Stephen. Facility Design. New York: John Wiley and Sons, 1985.
Myers, John. "Fundamentals of Production that Influence Industrial Facility Designs." Appraisal Journal. April 1994.
Weiss, Howard J., and Mark E. Gershon. Production and Operations Management. Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1989.