Facilities Planning-Obsolete, Trivial or Significant?

By Wrennall, William | Management Services, June 1997 | Go to article overview

Facilities Planning-Obsolete, Trivial or Significant?


Wrennall, William, Management Services


This paper discusses the importance of strategic facilities planning and design as it applies to manufacturing plants, offices, laboratories, warehouses and distribution centres - as a contributor to, and enabler of, an organisation's competitive advantage.

The strategic facilities planning approach

The systematic layout planning procedures by Muther et al, served us well from the 50s through the early 80s, but in today's operating environments they have severe limitations. This is not to say that we should ignore the earlier concepts, but rather that we

Facilities' design includes all the inputs that result in the physical assets of a company or institution. These assets provide the operational capacity of that organisation now and, hopefully, for several years to come. In addition to the investments committed to land, buildings, physical plant and equipment, the result - the facility design establishes the constraints and opportunities for the future productivity of operations.

Yet all too often, this design tends toward sub-optimisation and the resultant facility is either suffered or tinkered with for years thereafter. While sound facility design appears as the key to future operational success, is it possible that the attitude toward this subject is often less responsible than the conventional wisdom of its importance demands.

We can speculate that one reason for this is that operations management is a field where knowledge is less codified than, say, accounting. It represents a complex management task, with an array of multiple and often conflicting inputs that generates the value customers pay for. To adequately manage this complexity means that it is necessary to recognise and apply not only the know what of operations, but also the know how. We need to place facilities' design in the context of our operational strategy.

This paper discusses the importance of strategic facilities planning and design as it applies to manufacturing plants, offices, laboratories, service institutions, warehouses and distribution centres - as a contributor to and enabler of an organisation's competitive advantage. Using real-life examples, we will discuss how design practice can achieve this goal. In figure 1, we illustrate the evolutionary steps from the trial and error, through the systematic to the strategic facilities planning and design process.

Misconceptions and myths:

In the late 1970's and the 1980's, attempts to improve facility layouts were manual graphic and procedural/systematic. These procedures were a great improvement on the earlier template shuffling and make fit approach. In time, they encouraged researchers to explore and develop computer generated layouts. These consumed much time and expense, but were largely of limited benefit. They concentrated on the low work content components of facility design, bypassing the highest work content tasks, and the most important - of establishing strategic support of core processes and ensuring comprehensive data collection. In one respect, they did have an offspring - the multiple simulation offering that is part of the 1990's marketplace. Handled with a thorough understanding of the underlying process logic of facilities planning, its necessary inputs and constraints, simulation can be a valuable tool in facilities' design. Simulation, however, is not an instant answer to facility planning.

In his article The Facility Planning Iconoclast Brown has drawn our attention to the satisfaction that quick fixes and instant solutions attract. It seems to permeate the whole process from site selection through to a detailed equipment layout. For a start, all too many layout planners are given their task after the site and the building profile have been selected. When construction is underway, these planners are led to believe that their work is on the critical path of the total project.

Another incongruity comes into play as the Space Planning Units (SPUs) are developed. …

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