Focus on people, flows and the future of Plant.ca


Workplaces need to attract and support the best talent while adapting to change.

The smart design allows for proper placement of equipment. PHOTO: FOTOLIA

From standing desks to fully equipped game rooms, anyone who has stepped into a sleek new office space will see an innovative design.

A growing millennial workforce craves creativity, flexibility and inspiration in their work environments. But you won’t find many innovative, human-centric designs in a factory. Yet good design improves productivity, especially as more millennials enter manufacturing.

A simple design easily creates a more equipped environment for the future, one that puts people first and encourages the free flow of ideas and adaptability to new processes and equipment.

Collaboration between colleagues is essential. An important design element implemented in more installations is the collision spaces. From the specific location of work areas to toilets and coffee stations, they intentionally create meeting places where staff meet, share ideas, improve the efficiency of their tasks and inspire original ideas.

It is also useful to bring natural light into a plant. Introducing more transparent walls and even removing existing walls (if possible) creates more open spaces for life outside the factory, while also making store floors more welcoming.

The world offers some lessons in good manufacturing design. Take the Japanese manufacturers: they have long integrated production around human workflows to support the Kaizen philosophy. Their plants tend to be well organized and clean, and they are also some of the most productive.

European manufacturers tend to place more emphasis on promoting human interactions than their North American counterparts. It’s partly cultural. A fine example of European sensitivity to industrial workspace design is the automotive R&D and manufacturing operations of the BMW Group in Leipzig, Germany.

Its award-winning design creates an interactive relationship between employees, cars and the public thanks in part to its process-driven approach to flow and a transparent glass facade that brings in the outside world.

Better configurations

Of course, intelligent design must adapt to the appropriate placement of equipment, streamline and support existing processes, and consider future production needs.

Yet many factories have not planned well for their future needs. As a result, interiors consist of a complex puzzle of spaces added to the existing structure each time new equipment or process is introduced. These separate, “island-like” spaces take up valuable space for warehouses or material handling.

There are many practical considerations involved in the use, flow and handling of raw and finished materials, chemicals or wastes, and they all need to be managed in a safe and efficient manner.

There is a practical need to create flowcharts and virtual reality mockups that trace the routing of all entry and exit processes through the facility with a view of everyone involved in the workflow at every step. .

This makes it easy to design an efficient and compact footprint to keep the flow of materials, machinery and labor going as it should.

Well-designed and implemented long-term growth strategies are based on easily adaptable utility delivery patterns that leave room for unknown futures.

The design of manufacturing facilities needs to be flexible, but also adaptable to change. It is about enhancing the manufacturing process. Flexible means delivering every utility and structural capability wherever it might be needed in the future. This comes with a very high capital cost.

The adaptable design creates a well-planned backbone infrastructure co-located with a flow backbone that is easily extended or leveraged as equipment and processes evolve. Think of a road network in a city, with sewer, electricity and water services underneath. Each site is configured with headers that have sufficient capacity and geometry to facilitate new connections. This reduces the initial and future investment costs.

A factory design that welcomes people and anticipates saves space, lowers renovation costs and ensures operations are in good shape for whatever the future holds.

Jay Levine is Director of NXL Architects, a Toronto-based architectural firm that designs complex buildings for the science, technology and manufacturing sector.


Leon E. Hill

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