What is a block layout useful for in factory planning?

The block layout is the linchpin in layout planning for production sites. This is all the more true when it comes to improving the factory structure. This is because the rough representation of the functional areas of a factory in blocks provides essential information on the optimal arrangement of the operating resources already in the early planning phases. This does not require detailed knowledge of the geometry of the machines, systems or assembly stations. It is sufficient to roughly determine their space requirements and to plan them as usually rectangular blocks to scale in the available space.

Block layout with materialflows
Block layout with material flows in accordance with the transport routes

Logistics is also abstracted in the block layout. One calculates the intensities of the material flow and creates a Sankey diagram from it. The sources and sinks of the diagram are the block layout objects. As a result, the dependencies of the blocks to each other can be visualized very well by the strength of the material flow connections. On this basis, a systematic layout planning for the factory can start. The following video illustrates the procedure and explains how the material flow intensity for layout planning is determined.

Using block layouts

One goal of factory planning is to produce assessable production or factory concepts at a relatively early stage. These are always reflected in layouts, whereby one proceeds from the rough to the fine. The block layout serves here as a rough layout. The VDI Guideline 5200 on factory planning describes the rough layout as a result of concept planning, the third of a total of seven planning phases that are named as core elements in this guideline. Block layouts are created in variants, which are required, for example, for the preliminary design of the factory buildings. The next video illustrates the procedure using this example.

Current state vs. target state

Block or rough layouts therefore regularly represent target states in layout planning. Existing productions, on the other hand, are more often represented only as a detailed layout with concrete models of the operating resources in the actual situation (e.g. as a machine layout plan). Nevertheless, it makes sense to also store the current state of a factory as a block layout. For this purpose, non-spatially separable resources (e.g. machine groups, assembly lines) and logistical units (e.g. warehouses) are grouped into blocks. Their incoming and outgoing material flows are aggregated. This method results in a hierarchical factory model. The top hierarchical level (plant structure) is the block layout of the production, warehouse, social and administrative areas.

A hierarchical factory model allows the simultaneous consideration of different levels of information as well as the time-shifted planning of different levels.
Systematics of a hierarchical factory model

The aim of such modeling is to have a “playground” available for layout planning at plant structure level, even for existing production sites. It is needed when the need for action in the direction of factory planning arises from the operational factory business. It is tedious and often time-critical to have to acquire the information on the block layout only at the moment of such a planning impulse. Therefore it is better to have already done this step. It is best to continuously check the block layout, even if only seemingly small changes have been made in the spatial arrangement of the operating equipment. In addition, the result is a master layout that is always up to date. This also is the basis for any strategic consideration of change steps and perspectives for transformation.

Conclusion

On closer inspection, the block layout turns out to be a quite universal aid in layout planning for production sites. Not only does it allow the factory structure to be displayed as a rough layout. But it also makes it possible to use factory planning methods for optimal spatial arrangement (e.g. Sankey diagram, logistics evaluation, especially transportation effort, area balance). It abstracts so far that variants can be created quickly and evaluated with sufficient accuracy. This is one of the reasons why it is an integral part of established procedures for factory planning.

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Thomas Weber
Thomas Weber

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