Process Layout (Plus How to Design, Benefits, and Examples)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published May 28, 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

When assembling a manufacturing plant, firms usually look for the best way to minimize costs while maximizing efficiency and productivity. Companies often choose based on their industry and type, volume and nature of products, and the exact process required to complete the manufacturing process. Understanding these layouts and their uses can help you choose the most appropriate system for a company. In this article, we discuss a process layout, explain where you can find it, explore how to design one, review its benefits, identify other types of facility layouts, and provide examples of process designs in the manufacturing industry.

What is a process layout?

A process layout is one type of facility layout that companies use to design floor plans for buildings. Organizations use process design in plants to arrange processes, equipment, tools, machinery, and workstations according to the function they perform to increase efficiency. For example, a manufacturing plant using a process design may arrange all the plant's mills, saws, and lathes together.

Professionals may refer to this as a "functional layout" or "flexible flow layout" as pieces of equipment and facilities that perform the same or similar functions usually fall under the same groups. This layout differs from a product layout where manufacturers arrange equipment and processes based on the sequential steps required to manufacture a product, just like an assembly line. Instead, a process design aims to maximize productivity by providing a range of services or functions in a predetermined arrangement.

Where can you find a process design?

You may find process designs in firms that produce custom or specialized products in smaller volumes or quantities. Process designs are generally more ideal for small or mid-sized manufacturing establishments. These firms often handle one-off production of custom items, so professionals refer to them as "Job shops." Job shops adopt process designs as they often produce various products that require multiple skills sets, technological processes, and sequences. This layout makes their operations possible and efficient.

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How to design a process layout

Here are a few steps to take when designing a process design in a manufacturing plant:

1. Start with a needs analysis

A needs analysis is the first step in designing a process design and ensures that the final plant layout satisfies the necessary facility functions. Typically, a need analysis involves considering several factors relevant to the production process and operation of the facility. First, it considers what department may occupy the facility. Then it considers how much space the department requires and how to configure it. In addition, it considers the details of the types of equipment that the department's facility requires, the quantity of each piece of equipment, and how it affects the design process.

2. Perform the location analysis

The location analysis determines the location of each department in the manufacturing plant. There are two types of locations under this analysis, which are absolute and relative locations. The absolute location is the department's space relative to the facility. The relative location is the department's space regarding other departments in the same facility.

3. Document the block layout

The next step after the needs and location analysis is the construction of the block layout. This block layout is a design document that shows the overall structure of all the departments in the plant's floor plan. This layout shows the absolute and relative locations of each department and the space that they require. The engineer develops a more detailed design indicating the specific area for every piece of equipment in each department from the block layout.

The block layout ensures that there's room for each equipment configuration. It also provides space between workstations and room for vehicles and workers to move around freely. When the process design is complete, you may proceed with installing the equipment.

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Benefits of a process design

Although process designs are standard in specific manufacturing organizations, they're also helpful in other industries. Some of the benefits include:

  • Diversification of task: Process designs help organizations and their employees diversify the range of functions they perform by allowing them to perform various tasks with a combination of equipment and machines. As they explore various tasks with the same equipment, this diversification helps to increase efficiency and improve satisfaction amongst employees.

  • Cost reduction: Many organizations adopt the process design method instead of the product layout to reduce costs. They achieve this by procuring more general-purpose equipment to perform various functions instead of specialized tools.

  • Protection of functionality: When organizations adopt the process design method, they protect themselves from equipment failures that may result from machine errors. They include multiple similar machines in different arrangements and maintain operational functionality.

  • Increased efficiency: A process design is more efficient in a low-rate or medium-rate facility, as an employee may use a facility or a piece of equipment for more than one product. It's also amenable to custom functions, as the employee doesn't dedicate the equipment to just one task in a particular workflow.

  • Flexibility: Organizations that adopt the process design method can complete various processes simultaneously. It also allows employees to maintain flexibility in the kinds of procedures they perform.

Related: What Is Flexibility at Work? (With Examples and Benefits)

Other types of facility layouts

Manufacturing plants usually choose layouts based on product types rather than workflow preferences. Some of the other types of facility layouts that manufacturing plants may use include:

Product layout

Under a product layout, professionals arrange facility resources like machinery, tools, equipment, and workstations according to the sequential arrangement and processes that products go through. A linear structure is more beneficial to plants that produce high volumes and standardized products using repetitive processes. Typically, when designing product layouts, companies adopt two different types of production lines, which are paced and unpaced. The significant difference between the two is their output levels. The paced line usually provides continuous output using conveyors, and unpaced lies provide variable output using work queues.

Cellular layout

A cellular layout arranges machinery and equipment in a plant according to the process requirements for producing similar items, often called part families that require the same work. These groups, also known as cells, include similar design characteristics such as size, function, or shape and require similar processes on corresponding machines. This type of layout works best for plants that operate cellular manufacturing. First, employees receive different training on running all the equipment in a cell and controlling its entire output. After that, they deliver parts from which the assembly line builds a final product.

Fixed-position layout

Manufacturing lines use fixed-position layouts when producing large, heavy items that are too weighty to move around as the product type determines the structure. The product's order and resources are in reverse order in this layout instead of other formats. Manufacturing firms develop this layout by placing the product in a fixed position and designing portable resources that employees carry to the product location to finish the immediate process. For example, when manufacturing an airplane, firms place the product in a fixed location and convey the different parts and manufacturing processes to the product's site.

Combination layout

A combination layout, also known as a hybrid layout, combines a process design, product layout, and fixed-position layout. This type of layout allows efficiency and increases productivity based on the variety of products they're handling, the different processes performed, and the product types that they deal with daily. Under this layout, the professional may set up the floor plan with one layout and still execute an entirely different type.

For instance, a company may use a process design to build individual components in its manufacturing process. It can then adopt a product layout to couple components into more significant parts in an assembly line and a fixed-position design to finally assemble the product.

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Examples of process designs in the manufacturing industry

There are different ways in which a plant may implement a process design, and they're:

  • Machine shop: Machine shops in manufacturing plants that adopt process designs usually consist of separate departments where professionals arrange the machines and tools according to their functions. For example, when setting equipment according to uses, you may place them in the order of grinding, milling, drilling, lathes and hydraulic presses machines.

  • Receiving: Most firms may adopt the process design in their receiving department that includes machinery they use in processing deliveries of materials. From this section, professionals sort deliveries and forward them to the appropriate departments.

  • Shipping: Manufacturing firms adopt the process design in a single location shipping department, where professionals package goods, print and attach labels, weigh packages and send shipments to customers. Apportioning these processes to one area usually makes shipping more efficient.

  • Assembly: Manufacturing firms may adopt a process delivery in their single assembly area. These areas include the various equipment, machines, and tools that professionals use in completing processes when manufacturing products on an assembly line.

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