Material flow planning to optimize logistics, production, and storage

Material flows influence the productivity of your company. The procedures followed when planning on a greenfield site are not only applicable for new locations. Learn how your company, too, can use material flow analysis to optimize the organization of its internal material flows along the supply chain.

Anyone who spends just a few minutes simply watching what goes on in a production environment will soon notice how the distances walked by the workers add up. Where walking distances are unnecessarily long, employees spend far too much time away from their actual workplace – looking for this, fetching that or consulting colleagues in other areas of the factory. The cost of this, in the end, bears the company or customer.

“A production worker can easily cover 12 km a day on average.”

Factors such as materials, processes, personnel, machines and equipment are quite simple to evaluate and are thus natural starting points for improvement measures aimed at reducing throughput times. If you concentrate too closely on the optimization of individual aspects and factory control, however, you may fail to notice the potential offered by continuous development of your internal material flows. Material flow planning addresses longer-term goals. And software helps you to achieve these goals.

It is frequently overlooked that a poor layout generates various forms of waste: Unnecessary transport, waste in terms of handling and movements between production areas. This adds to waiting times and leads to costly process chains where complex storage systems are involved.

This can also lead to questions such as whether the current transport system is the right one. Tugger train or AGV, or forklift and roller conveyor? Rethinking the current situation should not only be allowed, but encouraged.

You are permitted to dream of the ideal situation.

If the company were to be able to plan a production facility on a greenfield site, what would it look like? Production would probably be organized in manufacturing cells. The plans would thus probably define an adaptable production space which can be subdivided or expanded at any time in the future. The space would not be broken up unnecessarily by logistics provisions. Individual sections would be arranged such that distances are short, and the production facility remains flexible. Or else there could be two sections with a flexible area between them. This would enable both sections to expand as required.

What is the effect of a layout optimized according to material flows?

Let’s take a look at how it pays off to design layouts according to material flows. Consistent adherence to the flow principle results in a production facility geared to the customer. Carefully structured production and logistics spaces serve to reduce transport times. That is reflected in enhanced efficiency. The employees also benefit, because unnecessary movements are eliminated, and necessary movements are minimized. Order and transparency can only arise in a suitable work environment. Another benefit lies in the minimization of material handling processes. Consequently, floor space can be used more effectively for manufacturing and assembly, rather than being wasted to store WIP in manufacturing areas and at the assembly lines. Throughput times are lower, productivity increases, and costs decrease.

Planning and Optimizing Materal Flow - Business opportunity and value - POTENTIAL BENEFITS
source: deloitte

Efficient processes are not just a coincidence.

Factory planners fall back on longstanding experience in material flow planning. But this is always based on sound knowledge. It is well worth browsing through the VDI guidelines, therefore. A Sankey diagram is already quite helpful for material flow analysis. The effort needed to produce such a diagram can be minimized with the right software tools. Take the time to obtain a clear overview of the existing system. Define KPIs and corresponding goals. Once the technical outlay for calculation of your KPIs is minimized, you already have almost everything you need to tackle material flow planning in a systematic manner.

But is material flow planning not a one-off topic?

It is often the case, when working to improve production processes, that little thought is given to how possible measures could either impact the layout of existing systems or themselves be influenced by the current set-up. An existing building may limit the possibilities for an optimum layout. Conversely, this building may satisfy all the current demands in respect of optimum material flows, but at the same time offer no provisions for future expansion or changes to the product mix. To improve the situation you have to literally think outside of the box.

“Our factories cannot and will not remain as they are.”

New markets and products, changing net output ratios, digitalization, volatile growth and continued developments in the context of Industry 4.0 demand new concepts and the consolidation of existing structures. More often that not, therefore, it is a question of optimizing locations which have evolved over many years. Factory planning is clearly no longer a task which companies only place on the agenda when they are setting up new facilities on greenfield sites.

Arrows on a CAD-Floorplan (factory layout) showing materialflows

Material flow optimization is continuous improvement.

Through material flow analysis, existing processes are evaluated and optimized in the context of material flow planning. Processes which also involve people. They are not only a source of valuable information for assessment of the logistics processes. They are themselves affected by the implementation of a new material flow concept. The employees must recognize the potential in an existing process and then work efficiently with the new system after reorganization — and that from the very first day

If companies concentrate too closely on evident requirements for individual components of their production system, they may quickly lose sight of essential correlations. Integrated material flow planning leads to optimum material flows. A good concept brings materials, workers, transport, storage, and information together in an evaluation of the status quo. Step by step, the processes are tweaked until an optimum solution is found, and new, efficient material flows can then be implemented after a positive cost-benefit analysis.

In the future, material flow planning will contribute to more than just ROI.

It will also respond to the ever louder calls for sustainability and transparency, enabling carbon footprints to be reduced and finite resources to be used more efficiently – in other words, it helps you to implement sustainable production.

Material flow planning shortens throughput times, increases transparency, reduces the risk of errors and boosts efficiency.

Material flow planning serves the optimum organization of internal material flows along the supply chain.

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André Heller

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