New Shop Layout

      Efficient shop flow for increased profit. February 28, 2004

I am planning to build a new shop with 4000 sq. ft. of floor space. I will have an automotive size paint booth. I need ideas or plans for the shop layout from unloading material off the truck, to loading up the finished product.

Forum Responses
From contributor D:
Plan your layout so that it will flow through your shop so that it is all in one direction and never needs to go backward. You will need a receiving door for material and a shipping door for finished goods. Ideally, these doors should have accommodation for both offloading at truck height and ground height. They should be protected from wind and rain and snow.

In the shop, if need be, you might double up on some equipment so that stuff does not need to go back and forth. Think one-way streets. You should not have to weave your way around equipment, so get all the ducks in a row. Leave plenty of room for projects on the go and storage of finished stuff. There is nothing worse than getting the shop clogged with finished stuff because of a shipping delay and not being able to work on new things because your shop is clogged.

Have a separate room for flammables and painting kitchens. Have a separate room for compressors and vacuums. Lots of open space and a high ceiling so you can include a mezzanine to store hardware and other items you don't need to get at very often. Power, lots and lots of power. Go overboard with dust collection and put in floor sweeps to suck up all that falls to the floor. Lighting to make it bright. Heating - go infra red, works great. Air conditioning, you gotta have it. Air make up for your spray booth a must. Drop downs for airlines and powercords. Electrical outlets around all walls and support posts. You shouldn't have to walk 6 feet from anywhere in the shop for power. Plan the layout so there is plenty of room for material and cutting of material. An office with a huge desk and a monitor to watch all the stuff going on in the shop from all the video cams. And a huge safe to keep all your money in. 4000 square feet is just not going to be enough room.

From the original questioner:
Thanks - you gave me some info that I had not considered. I currently have 3200 sq.ft. and it is packed. I have offices and a paint booth all in a 40 x 80 building. I was planning on building 5000 sq.ft. and having 1000 sq.ft for the show room and offices, leaving 4000 to work in. I might could go to 6000 sq.ft. I was thinking of a 50x100 building.

From contributor P:
I would go for the bigger space but not too big, as you may tend to save more junk with too much space. But if you have more than you think you need within a year, you will be happy. If you are building your new shop, think of the future so that if you have to expand, you'll have the room for that. We just went from an 800 sq ft shop to 3000 and I do not know how we ever made it in that small space.

From contributor T:
You might benefit from studying some Lean Manufacturing concepts.

A lot of success will be found in spatial arrangements of your work stations. Generally, the less you have to walk, the more money you will make.

From contributor M:
Having read “The Goal” and “The Race” by Eli Goldratt, it seems to me that flow manufacturing is geared more toward plants rather than shops.

Obviously, sheet stock and hardwood should be stored near the overhead door, and the saws to process them should be next in line. I’d keep the spray room at the opposite end of the building.

That leaves, what, 2000 sq. feet for the rest? I’d be more concerned with fitting everything in as compactly as possible to give you the maximum amount of floor space. As long as you’re moving parts on mobile carts, does it really matter if you have to wheel them 50 feet rather than 20 feet?

From contributor A:
We're a two-man shop in California and we leased a new 4000 sf shop space back in July. The space was a shell core and it took the owner's architect three months to produce drawings for a 100 sf office and a 100 sf bathroom because of all the ADA and code requirements. When the owner's contactor asked for a final inspection, the whole job was rejected by the city inspector because the building code required explosion-proof light fixtures with dust-proof, moisture-proof boxes and conduit connections. None of these issues were caught by the architect or the city plan checkers and it does not matter because without them, the city inspector will not sign the job off and we can't have an occupancy permit. The electrical contractor's estimate for the light fixtures alone is $10,000.

The spray booth is another matter. It took us three months to get the required permits from the Air Quality Management District alone and we're still working on the city and the fire department. We figure it is going to be at least Feb/04 before we can have a booth up and running with the costs for permits and submittals at around $3,000 not counting the cost of the booth.

I tried to submit the shop/dust collection/spray booth/machinery power drawing to the city and they refused to consider anything that was not drawn up and wet stamped by an architect so I had to go and hire one at $95/hr and the meter is still going.

My advice to you is to get an architect who is experienced in designing cabinet shops who is going to go over the codes and regulations with a fine toothed comb and design and wet stamp the last detail and have pull all the permits.

From contributor J:
You are getting some good tips here. We have 4000 feet, an automotive size spray booth and do architectural work. We are working on adding 2000 feet but have been able to generate good profits from this space. I don’t think there is ever the perfect answer for this. Last year I toured a 100,000 sq ft architectural plant in Denver. They were out of room.

Value stream mapping and product quantity routing from the lean books really helped us. In simple terms, you map the work flow for all your products and the frequency they occur per month. I had always done something similar to try to figure out layout but never took the frequency of certain operations into account. Also have done CAD drawings of the layout and they help, but the true test is a good week of production with lumber, plywood and assembled parts moving in the shop. The biggest problem is the slider. It takes a lot of room in three directions. In our shop it’s used mainly for sheet goods, but a lot of solid wood and assembled solid wood parts have to flow easily to it. The value stream map showed the frequency of this type of work higher than thought. Another thing we found is that it's easier to build cabinets behind the slider rather than go in front for the subsequent operations. We do mostly frameless. This may not be true for face frames.

Lean will help make more profit on small jobs. The people we do the big jobs for always come back 6 months later with a small project. And a lot of the big jobs end up as several small jobs because of the design approval process.

I think shop layout is something that will always evolve based on changes of products, new machinery and processes. For example, if you add a CNC router, it may change the process totally. Quick connect dust fittings and the European blue air line pipe with changeable fittings would be first in if I were building new.

Bill Norlan's book “The Business of Woodwork” is dated but has some good info about layout.

From contributor B:
Plan for change! Whatever your machinery level and plant layout is today, it won't be relevant in five years. Put all your services on the ceiling, first - grid, electrical supply, second - lighting, third - air supply, fourth - dust extraction. Separate the levels so one will cross over or under the other - this makes change much easier.

From contributor T:
Could you please elaborate on the concept of product quantity routing? This seemed to have an influence on how you laid your shop out and I would like to know more about it.

An earlier response indicated that these concepts were more appropriate for a plant rather than a shop. I think the issue of space utilization is probably more acute in a small shop.

In case anyone is interested, value stream mapping is a process where you diagram your work flow. Start with a scale drawing of your shop layout, then start a project by holding a pencil down on the drawing. As your pencil travels from station to station, you will start to see something that looks like spaghetti. This is when you discover that a two foot long door stile has to travel about 400 lineal feet before you can ship it. It is called a value stream map because it maps the locations you add value to the board. The customer will pay you to chop and drill but they have no interest in how far you choose to travel between chopping and drilling.

Someone else described this very eloquently when they said you only add value when you change its shape or color. Every stroke you make has a cost associated with it. Only some of these strokes have a corresponding revenue account.

From contributor J:
PQR - Product Quantity Routing. This is a study of what it is we make, how many per year or month and what machines are used to make it. A spread sheet is a good way to figure this out and sort products into like groups that require similar machining. I went back through a year's worth of work and was very surprised at the frequency and infrequency of some operations. In two years we have made four major (painful) machinery moves. Twice in one week because the CAD drawing did not show the bottleneck of lumber carts with the machine in the new position. Each move resulted in more space. I have a two-page list of little things that still need to move or change.

Contributor M, I have to agree and disagree with your statements. I think our shops are similar in that we do the whole project - doors, cabinets and millwork. Yes, some days we are just an over-equipped carpenter's shop and the layout does not affect the flow that much. But a lot of the time we are a plant producing batches at a speed not seen two years ago. It is true that you can push a cart 50’ to a machine. This is easy if you are alone in the shop and the way is clear. Add two or three people with their carts and it can become very difficult.

There are a lot of other things to consider for layout - number of people working in the machining area, length of lumber used, quantities of lumber used, waste removal, can several machines be used at the same time? The list is long.

From contributor T:
Contributor J, you made me think of something when you mentioned we need to take into account length of lumber when locating machines.

Lots of times we situate these monuments (unmovable machines) to be able to respond to worst case scenarios.

About two months ago, we put much of our machinery up on pallets and bought a 6000lb pallet jack. Just last week we had to clear a corridor to be able to wide belt sand two 12 ft X 3ft slab lumber conference tables.

This was something we did to help a fellow woodworker. Our machine locations are not optimized for material this big, but it was really quick to create the space. The pallet jack cost under $400.

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