Strategic Business Planning Doís and Doníts; Plant Floor Design Tips

By Marty Haywood

In the Printing/Mailing industry, we think of plant floor design as a linear flow of materials from process to process, paper, and ink on one end and a completed mailing on the other. If you have space, this is not hard to achieve.

This article is not about where to place the people and machinery; each plant floor is unique. It is more about how to improve productivity. And yes, it may mean that you do have to move the furniture.

More than a few years back, I set an addresser line in a nice new manufacturing space. It was actually larger than I thought would be needed. I had the electrical drops put in, set the machinery and began trial production. Then the plant manager brought me the bad news. All the space I thought was mine was actually going to be shared with another department. My space was cut down to the bare minimum. Suddenly my nice linear flow of materials in and out of the space became a nightmare. What productivity gains I realized on the addresser line, were all but entirely lost when we brought product onto and finished mail out of the production line.

The root cause of the failure was the inability of plant management (myself included) to communicate exactly how much space I would have to work with. Which leads me to the first ďDOĒ:

Do communicate with all parties. The importance of this cannot be understated. Communication is difficult but not sharing information is detrimental to being productive. In the days before computers in manufacturing spaces, I co-supervised a department where we were given a clear production schedule each morning. I distributed copies of this schedule each day to each work pod on the line. Everybody knew exactly what to expect. And when. If there was a change in schedule (and there were many), everybody would get a copy of the new schedule. Gone were the issues with material not arriving when needed or way before they were needed, clogging up the manufacturing space. Everything arrived just as production required. That communication was key.

It wasnít a stroke of genius, just asking people why things went wrong and responding. You can apply this in most any operation.

Do everything you can to remove your team memberís reasons for not meeting goals. This goes along nicely with the above. While you canít address each and every reason a team member gives you, you can and should listen and act whenever you can.

Manufacturing has become highly automated. No longer does a plant floor have to be linear flows. Modern plant floor design takes into account more than the movement of materials, but also the waste, the value of the product from the customerís perspective and the quality. This is known as Lean Manufacturing.

Lean Manufacturing had itís beginning with Toyota in Japan and is practiced today as the Toyota Production System (TPS). Iím a history buff and could fill this whole article with the rich history of manufacturing systems. Iíll show a bit of restraint and concentrate on the more practical side.

While full implementation of TPS is not feasible for all but the larger print/mail operations, some of TPSís key principles can and should be incorporated into plant floor design.

DONíT allow Waste to creep onto your plant floor design. And everything is waste that doesnít go directly into the product.

ďWaste is anything other than the minimum amount of equipment, materials, parts and working time which is absolutely essential to add value to the product or serviceĒ Ohno Taiicho

Waste exists in every manufacturing operation. The Japanese use three words for waste in manufacturing Muri, Mura, and Muda.

Muri is a failure of not having clear expectations for the team members that actually create the product. That translates into making repetitive tasks easy for the people that do them. If isnít easy, it is overburden, tasking your team members unnecessarily. Muri is also caused by poorly designed or cluttered work spaces. Make sure that work areas are efficient and kept clean.

Mura is the lack of uniformity of procedure or material. I worked at a company that at the end of the month, there was an ďall hands on deckĒ approach to getting all work in process out the door. Even if the product was not due to the customer. Team members were stressed, overtime was clocked and all to meet monthly targets. But the next week departments were struggling to find work to do. There were shortages of work in progress and people were idle as the flow was restored.

Muda is the failure of processes to efficiently produce. There are seven key wastes in Muda, overproduction, inventory, transportation, defects, motion, over-processing, and waiting.

  1. Overproduction occurs when you are making more than you absolutely need to make or making it too far in advance the customerís expectation. Some waste will be necessary. We have to print a few extra of a brochure for folder set up. How many do you really need? Is there a way to standardize the setup of the folder to minimize setup? Learn to predict waste and reduce it.
  2. Inventory, over purchasing raw materials, too much work-in-progress on the floor or too much-finished product waiting for shipment, are all muda. And muda does not add value. It adds waste in unnecessary storage costs. Excess inventory can be caused by a lack of balance between work cycles causing a build up between processes.
  3. Transportation, the unnecessary movement between manufacturing work cycles of products. Look for ways to bring work cycles together. I know that you cannot take printed sheets directly from the pressroom to the cutter without drying time, but you may be able to bring those two operations closer. And you may be able to reduce drying time.
  4. Defects are caused when product produced will not meet the customerís expectation for the product. Defects are caused by unclear specifications or operating procedures. Defects cost with rework or redo. Operator error is a most common cause in our industry. How many times does an error creep in a work order that creates a defect in the final product? Or a typo that goes through the system until the customer discovers it? Defects are fought on several fronts. Automate processes so they can produce with minimal human oversight. Address/barcode read sensors on an addresser can detect issues quicker and with greater reliability than your team members can.
  5. Motion, as muda is defined any physical movement or a team member or machine that does not directly add value to the product. Typically caused by poor workstation design, can even be caused by poor machine design if controls are not easy to reach, then the operator takes extra, and in a muda way of looking at it, unnecessary steps. Iíve improved a workstation by simply reorganizing the work area. Easier for the team member, production goes up, waste goes down.
  6. Over-Processing can be defined as adding more to a product than the final customer expects. One of the causes of over-processing is a lack of clear specifications and quality standards. Your goal is to not add anything to the product that the customer doesnít expect.
  7. Waiting; how much waiting is there for a product to reach the next work cycle, people or machines idle? Waiting muda is often caused by poor coordination between work cycles. In printing, we too often have to push work through. This can disrupt work cycles and be a cause of muda. Learn to pull work through instead of push.


In lean manufacturing, there are three basic principles of quality; Jidoka, Kaizen, and Kanban.

  1. Jidoka is the ability of a machine or process to stop on its own if it detects a defect. For the printing/mailing industry, think of Jidoka as sensors. Most modern addressing equipment can detect misfeeds but think of adding scanners for print quality and to scan the intelligent mail barcode. Your goal is to create an environment where the machine can run with as little human intervention as possible unless there is a problem.
  2. Kaizen, or improvement, is a set method to find imperfections and stop the manufacturing process, if necessary until a solution can be found. Think of this as Root cause analysis. Always be looking for ways to improve the quality of your product by improving your processes that create that product.
  3. Kanban is a system of inventory control to ensure that the correct number of parts are available when manufacturing needs them.

Quality is a goal to be strived for. While perfection is never to be attained, the only good comes from trying.

All of these methods come with different levels of sophistication and expense. You may not be able to replace machinery on your plant floor to meet jidoka standards, but you may be able to reduce the attention a machine needs from a human operator until you can replace that machine. Some of the simple things that you can do to improve your communications with team members will reap the largest rewards. And without a capital investment. Just an investment in people.

Marty Haywood - Support Specialist

Marty Haywood is the Customer Support Specialist & Partnership Liaison Officer at AccuZIP, Inc. Martyís history includes custom manufacturing, advertising copywriting, and over 20 years experience in the Print/Mail industry. He is an Ideallianceģ Advanced Certified Mail Professional. AccuZIP, Inc. is a national software company that has provided feature rich solutions to manage Contact Data Quality, Address Hygiene, USPSģ Postal Presorting and Compliance and Mail Tracking and Reporting for over two decades. Its solutions are used by many industry verticals to streamline, standardize and simplify processes associated with data entry, data management, direct mailing and multi-channel communications. You can reach Marty at

About AccuZIP, Inc.
AccuZIP, Inc., a national software company based in Atascadero, CA, provides feature rich solutions to manage Contact Data Quality, Address Hygiene, USPS Postal Presorting and Compliance and Mail Tracking and Reporting.  Our solutions are designed to be utilized across many industry verticals to streamline, standardize and simplify processes associated with data entry, data management and multi-channel communications.  AccuZIP products and services make it easier for businesses to get their message out to the right people at the right location when they need to most.  Now in our third decade of doing business, the company has built an outstanding reputation for value, service and innovation.  For more information visit .

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