You are on page 1of 6

Practical Facility Layout Technology

for Industrial Engineers and Educators

Robin Owens
Managing Director, Proplanner Asia, Inc.
Santa Rosa, Laguna, Philippines

Abstract - When companies have costly factory, warehouse, and office layout projects, how does the industrial
engineer (IE) ensure that the new layout is better than the current layout? Millions of dollars are spent on
facility layouts every year in Asia, yet the IEs lack the tools required to measure and compare layout

From Lean Manufacturing we clearly understand that one must first measure a process before making a
change. This is to ensure that the change is actually an improvement. IEs need tools to ensure that facility
layout changes are actually improvements.

Richard Muther pioneered facility layout design when he created his Systematic Layout Planning (SLP) and
Systematic Handling Analysis (SHA) methods. Though SLP and SHA remain relevant to industry today,
Muther created these manual methods 40-50 years ago. When it comes to computerized layout planning,
many universities teach algorithms like CRAFT, which have little application in industry.

The majority of companies all over the world use AutoCAD for facility layouts. Dr. Dave Sly (PhD IE)
considered this fact and took a more practical approach when he automated SLP and SHA inside of AutoCAD.
Dr. Sly went further and developed advanced material flow and operator workstation analysis technology.
By creating analysis tools, inside of the software used by most companies, Dr. Sly created tools that address
the problems faced by practicing IEs.

Through the use of practical facility layout technology, IEs and educators in Asia can provide significantly
more contribution to industry and, at the same time, enhance the reputation of our profession.

Keywords: Facilities Design and Location (FD), Industrial Engineering Education (IE),
CAD/CAM/CIM (CA), Systems Simulation (SU), Production Systems Design, Planning and Control (PS).

1. INTRODUCTION projects without the use of IE software. For example, one

semiconductor firm in the Philippines spent $24M over a 5
Practicing IEs in Asia performing facility layout work year period on factory layouts, all without using IE tools to
face a fundamental problem: a perceived lack of available measure and compare different layout alternatives.
technology to assist them in their job. Most layout IEs use Layout IEs often become more of a draftsman than an
AutoCAD to create and modify facility layout designs. engineer.
But, AutoCAD is only a drafting tool. There are no IE Young IEs are expected to be aware of the latest
analysis tools inside of the AutoCAD product itself. technology. Facility layout textbooks don‟t do enough to
Because of this perceived lack of technology, communicate the existing IE layout software tools on the
companies spend millions of dollars every year on re-layout market. Furthermore, the facility layout technologies
taught in many universities are impractical algorithms that pages of content). This type of simulation is a useful tool
have very little application in industry. at times for facility layout studies, but the models often
The fact is that useful facility layout technology does take a long time to create (re-building the facility layout)
exist. These tools perform Muther‟s SLP and SHA and become very complex (do they actually represent the
methods, and add analysis tools that IEs need, within system accurately).
AutoCAD. Communication about these tools in Asia has
not been effective or sufficient. There are two companies 2.2 Richard Muther’s SLP & SHA Methods
that provide IEs with practical facility layout tools;
Siemens and Proplanner. Dr. Dave Sly created the Most facility layout educators in Asia teach
technology for both companies. Richard Muther‟s Systematic Layout Planning (SLP)
This paper will discuss facility layout education and and/or Systematic Handling Analysis (SHA) methods.
practice in more depth. Then we cover the background Nearly every IE recognizes the name Richard Muther.
behind practical layout technology and cover its main SLP is by far the most famous facility layout
capabilities. The end goal is to have the reader understand technique. Relationship charts and relationship diagrams
the value of, and the need for, practical IE facility layout are applicable in any environment in any industry. Color
technology. coding the flow & non-flow relationships based on
importance level, and scoring layouts based on relationship
2. FACILITY LAYOUT EDUCATION weight and length provide very useful layout information to
the IE. Perhaps that is why SLP has stood the test of time.
There is a significant disconnect between facility But, in truth, practicing IEs don‟t use SLP very much.
layout education and actual practice. Muther first created SLP in 1961. Computers were not
common at the time. So, his method is manual (paper,
2.1 Textbook colored pencil, and ruler). One major reason why SLP
isn‟t used very much is that it is too time consuming.
Perhaps the most popular facility layout textbook is SHA is also very applicable in industry today.
Facilities Planning (Tompkins, White, Bozer, and Representing higher frequency material flow with thicker
Tanchoco). In the 4th edition, released this year, 6% of the lines, and color coding these lines based on intensity of
book (52 out of 854 pages) is dedicated to impractical flow are useful methods to help the IE minimize material
algorithmic approaches. These computer algorithms handling distances. Material flow is often the
include CRAFT, BLOCPLAN, LOGIC, SABLE, and predominant issue for facility layout projects in industry.
MULTIPLE. Commercial versions for these algorithms SHA addresses this issue. But, SHA was first published in
do not exist, or must be obtained by the original author 1969. Again, it is manual method that is not used much in
(Tompkins, White, Bozer, Tanchoco, et al 2010). While industry today.
these computer algorithms focus on appropriate layout It is intuitive that SLP & SHA should advance from
aspects like relationships and material flow, they are not in manual to automated, in order to make these sound and
industry use because of their limitations (unrealistic valuable methods more useful to industry.
assumptions, department shapes, consideration of building
aspects like utilities and columns, qualitative factors, etc.) 2.3 University Facility Layout Technology
and, more importantly, their lack of addressing the
problems faced by layout IEs. One must ask the question, Professors in Asian universities know the importance
“Why is so much content and time spent on technology not of teaching engineering technology to students that will
in use by practicing IEs?” help them in the future. If the latest facility layout
In the latest edition of Facilities Planning, only 0.1% textbooks emphasize impractical computer algorithms
of the book (1 page out of 854 pages) is dedicated to instead of commercial facility layout packages, then how is
commercial facility layout packages. However, in the Professor supposed to know better? As a result, IE
Chapter 12 (Preparing, Presenting, Implementing and students are taught CRAFT and similar algorithms.
Maintaining the Facilities Plan), the authors spend half a Students are taught tools that they will not see, or use, again.
paragraph on the benefits of material flow overlays in the Though all of the computer algorithms for facility layout
AutoCAD layout. But, they fail to state that this is one of have the best intentions, they stop short of meeting the IE‟s
the features of the commercial facility layout packages. needs, and therefore, are not used in industry.
Again, the IE student is left without the knowledge to
practice facility layout work in industry.
Some mention of dynamic simulation is provided (4
3. FACILITY LAYOUT IN INDUSTRY decision making).
The computer algorithms may provide some value by
3.1 The Impracticality of Computer Algorithms generating the initial layout, or recommending alternative
layouts. However, the bulk of time spent and value
Most companies do not struggle with placing the obtained in facility layout comes from the graphical
departments in an optimal orientation, which is the problem presentation & measurement of the layout (including
solved by the computer algorithms. Instead, most various relationship constraints), with the ensuing group
companies struggle with visualizing & measuring the discussion & layout solution development. Practicing IEs
relationships, and then evaluating & discussing the need tools to generate diagrams and metrics that aid the
tradeoffs of layout alternatives (which contain different team in evolving to an optimal design. IEs also need
levels of constraint optimization). The computer tools that allow the modification of the input requirements
algorithms address a minor problem, not the major (relationships, space, shape, orientation, flow, etc.) along
problems for practicing IEs. the way, since they are not fixed during the duration of the
Layout IEs spend a significant amount of time project. The concept is that computer algorithms like
„tweaking‟ designs (changing space shapes) trying to make CRAFT may be useable for quantitative evaluation or
equipment fit given the physical constraints (aisles, validation in ideal circumstances, but humans still need to
columns, utility locations, etc.). Layout IEs also face process this information to make a decision (the computer
qualitative constraints from various stake holders that is not doing it for them).
become a major influence on the layout design process (e.g.
– placing the newest machines near the aisles for customer 3.2 Realities of the Facility Layout IE in Asia
tours, management politics, etc.). Flexible, interactive
tools that can consider the many and varied constraints are In Asia, it is common for new industrial engineers to
more valuable than a limited, rigid program. perform facility layout as their main job function. This is
Human interaction in the layout design process is even the case for on the job training (OJT) university
required for a number of reasons. In a business operation, students as well. Their tools are their knowledge
most relationships (flow and non-flow) are not 100% (university training, familiarity with the operation) and
accurate. Engineers have different levels of confidence in their computer (AutoCAD, MS Excel/Word). Most layout
their values. These factors cause the relationships to be drawings are in AutoCAD, but some people use Microsoft
subject to qualitative, human interpretation and adjustment Excel, Microsoft Paint, and other non-CAD tools in an
(during the layout design process) when there may be effort to save costs. But, over the long term the IE‟s costs
major tradeoffs in order to satisfy a particular layout become greater due to drawing inaccuracies, longer
constraint. drawing times, sharing issues, lack of layering capability,
Algorithms use fixed input requirements and then etc. IEs in this situation are a particular disadvantage.
achieve an optimal, or near-optimal, solution. During a One might notice the lack of layout engineering tools
layout project (e.g. – kaizen, new product launch, for the IE. The company likely has millions of dollars
expansion, etc.) the input requirements are not fixed. invested in the physical facility, but the resources required
Relationships between areas change over time. Space to effectively manage and improve the arrangement of
requirements and the shape of the spaces (often highly those assets are frequently neglected. The fortunate IE
irregular) are also not fixed. In other words, you might be has AutoCAD. But, AutoCAD is just a drafting tool.
able to satisfy a particular relationship/flow constraint if There is no facility layout analysis technology provided to
only the space used by a department was 10% less (the the IE.
algorithms do not take this into account). The result of this situation is that the IE becomes more
IEs work on teams. A good layout needs to be “sold” of a draftsman than an engineer. You can frequently hear
to the team responsible for that layout. Visual feedback is the IE manager say to his IE, “Rodel, tomorrow I need a
required (as accurate as possible) in order to quickly and layout with these racks moved over here.” The IE simply
effectively communicate layout alternatives to the team. goes back to his desk and draws what the manager
Algorithms lack this visual feedback capability requested. He submits the new drawing next day. The
(diagramming relationships, flow lines, etc.). This visual IE might, or might not, sit in the meeting where the new
feedback, including metrics, provides a basis for layout is presented, so that he gets a better idea of any
meaningful discussion about the layout. This issue is drawing changes he needs to make. To be clear, this is not
related to the Lean Manufacturing movement. Lean industrial engineering. This is not what we envision in the
Manufacturing techniques are not highly analytical, but university when we‟re learning about algorithms, from-to
instead they are presentation oriented (for discussion and charts, relationship diagrams, etc.
But what choice does the IE have when he/she isn‟t that he developed in the past. Dr. Sly added other tools
provided any useable technology to perform analysis and including time & motion study, mixed-model line balancing,
evaluation? If the IE did have engineering tools, then you work instructions, and process planning. But, facility
might hear him say, “Sir, I moved the racks to the new layout remains a core competency.
location you dictated. I quickly did some studies and the
new layout actually caused an increase in material flow 4.1 Automated SLP
distance and cost. I moved the racks to a different
location, and reduced these layout metrics by 12%, saving By using automated SLP inside of AutoCAD, IEs
$1000 per month. Here are both layouts for you to choose. can perform relationship studies better and faster than by
I‟ve included some graphics and metrics for each using manual methods. Relationship charts are
alternative layout, in order to support your management automatically created, and can be printed and shared with
presentation.” That would be industrial engineering. members of the layout team. Relationship diagrams are
Lean Manufacturing teaches us that before we change automatically generated, and relationship lines can be
a process we must measure it (to ensure that the change is viewed by relationship type or closeness reason (see Figure
an improvement). Practicing IEs that make layout 1).
changes, without measurements, unwillingly violate this



For over 25 years, Dr. Dave Sly has been creating

facility layout technology for use in industry. Over 800
companies and universities worldwide use Dr. Sly‟s
In the late 1980‟s when Dave Sly was an IE masters
candidate at Iowa State University, he had the idea to
automate Muther‟s SLP method inside of AutoCAD.
Later, Sly created technology to automate SHA and Figure 1: Graphical representation from an SLP project ,
improve upon it. This provided the ability to combine note the space relationship diagram and
from-to and material handling cost data, with the drawn to relationship chart inside of AutoCAD.
scale AutoCAD layout, so that IEs could measure the actual
material handling distances, times and costs (for each Weighted factor scores are automatically calculated
layout alternative). Dr. Sly added useful analysis for all layout alternatives, saving large amounts of time
capabilities to enable sophisticated material studies to help spent measuring the lengths of the relationship lines. The
minimize and eliminate material flow. His additional IE can visually improve the layout or use information in
technology provided tools to analyze and reduce the provided reports. To measure and evaluate changes to the
distance traveled by operators working on stationary, or layout, the IE simply moves any number of departments
moving parts. From the high level relationship analysis to (MOVE or STRETCH command in AutoCAD) and then
detailed workstation design, all of these IE functions could automatically recalculates all relationships to see if the
then be performed using the actual facility layout drawing. changes improved the layout score.
Dr. Sly created a company called Cimtechnologies in
the Iowa State University research park in order to market 4.2 Automated SHA
his IE technology. In the early 2000‟s, through various
acquisitions, Dr. Sly found himself as a Director for Because most layout problems in industry are flow-
Siemens PLM Solutions. The main issue here was that the based, Muther‟s SHA method offers significant value.
major product CAD companies focus on solid modeling, IEs know Lean Manufacturing very well. Many have seen
product design CAD sales and development (a major the spaghetti charts that are produced during kaizen events.
barrier to IE technology communication & growth). But these don‟t provide accurate measurements or the
In 2002, Sly left Siemens and created Proplanner to ability to study mass amounts of data (e.g. - all parts for the
focus on IE technology. At Proplanner, Sly recreated and facility). Measureable, interactive spaghetti charts that
improved upon the previous facility layout technologies analyze large mass amounts of data and facilitate SHA
techniques are what IEs need. order to obtain accurate distance, cost and time metrics for
With commercial facility layout packages, IEs take the layout.
from-to chart data (product/part routings), combine it with Following this, the IE can perform congestion analysis
the drawn to scale layout drawing, and automatically to determine which aisle segments are used heavily, and
produce material flow diagrams and quantitative metrics which are used very little (waste of space). High
for each layout option (see Figure 2). Material handling congestion aisle segments show areas of potential safety,
time, distance, and cost metrics are automatically productivity, and cleanliness concerns (see Figure 3).
calculated for each layout option. This gives a
quantitative basis to compare alternatives. If the IE wants
to evaluate a layout change, he/she simply moves the from-
to locations in the drawing and recalculates the material
flow. The resulting metrics reveal whether or not the
change was an improvement. Automatic reports can be
analyzed as well to determine opportunities for
The visualization of material flows within a facility
allows the IE, and the layout team, to quickly visualize and
improve the layout. Backtracking is clearly visible.
From Muther‟s SHA, thicker flow lines represent higher
frequency travel between 2 points. Therefore, thick flow
lines with long distances reveal opportunities to improve
the facility layout. Furthermore, IEs can color code the
flow lines and analyze by product, part, container type,
material handling method, etc. Figure 3: Congestion diagram produced by sending the
material flow down the actual path network at
an automotive parts factory.

Sophisticated material handling data studies can be

performed providing accurate data to support efforts to
minimize and eliminate material moves (e.g. – 3PL
outsourcing, moving/eliminating storage locations,
implementing Point Of Use storage, automating moves,
etc.). Loading Dock – Storage studies can be performed
to determine the best way to receive and store parts, in
order to minimize total material handling distance. Dock
and material handling device utilizations can also be
performed to determine resource requirements.
During material flow studies, we learn that pickup and
set down times consume a large percentage of material
handling time (waste of indirect labor time and resources).
Figure 2: Graphical representation of the material flow Having tools that can measure and help analyze and reduce
inside the AutoCAD facility layout drawing. this large source of non-value added time provide
Note the metrics shown (time, cost and distance). significant value to the IE.
Tuggers, or tow-trains, have been proven to reduce
4.3 Advanced Flow Analysis material handling distances within facilities. These
material handling devices pickup and deliver materials on
Commercial facility layout packages provide analysis pre-determined routes. Defining and visualizing optimal
tools beyond Muther‟s SHA. Because commercial tugger routes is a complex problem for IEs. Commercial
software uses the facility layout drawing, the IE can easily facility layout packages offer tools to define and improve
draw a network of aisles (one or two way segments). complex tugger routes which further reduce material
Then, the from-to locations are automatically connected to handling distances for the facility..
the aisle network. The IE can then send the material flow
down the actual path network (rectilinear flow lines), in
4.4 Operator Workstation Analysis

Commercial facility layout packages can also combine

the process steps for an operator with the AutoCAD layout
drawing, in order to improve the design of the workplace.
This allows the IE to visualize, measure, and reduce the
distance that the operator travels (waste of time and labor).
The IE can quickly rearrange the workcell / workstation,
and recalculate the operator travel / process steps. After
reducing the distance traveled, the IE can choose to reduce
the cycle time for the operation, or add more work to the
Operator movement studies can be performed for
stationary parts (see Figure 4) or moving parts (see Figure
Figure 5: Graphic from a moving part study for 2 operators.
5). Moving part studies without the use of this technology
The operators perform work at various points on
are particularly difficult. For assembly line stations, the
the car, as it moves through the workstation.
operator has a set of work steps to perform (that vary with
each product coming down the line). The operator walks
back and forth from the moving part (which is moving at a
constant speed) to containers, racks, tables, and other
Proven, practical IE technology for facility layouts
equipment in the station. This technology is useful to
exists. The communication to Asian universities and
determine if the operator(s) can perform the assigned
practicing IEs about these tools has not been effective.
amount of work within their assembly station, and if the
Facility layout authors and instructors should include this
operator is able to do more work per cycle. Metrics
technology in the discussions, as these are the tools that IEs
provided include the percentage of time spent walking,
need. CRAFT and other algorithms are un-useful to the
waiting for the product, and waiting for other operators, etc.
practicing IE and not used in industry. By using practical
Additionally, animation of the workplace and part
facility layout technology, IEs can begin to engineer
movement can easily be created (inside of AutoCAD), in
layouts instead of just drawing them. This way, IEs can
order to gain a better understanding of the workplace
provide more contribution to industry, and at the same time,
improve the reputation of our profession.


Tompkins, J., White, J., Bozer, Y, Tanchoco, J.M.,

(2010) Facilities Planning, John Wiley & Sons Inc.,
Chapter 6, page 303.


Robin Owens is the Managing Director for Proplanner

Asia, a registered corporation in the Philippines. Owens
received his Bachelor‟s degree in Industrial Engineering in
1994 from Penn State University. In August 2001, he
Figure 4: Stationary part operator movement study, wrote the cover story of the IE trade magazine IIE
showing before and after results from a Solutions. Owens also received Master of Manufacturing
workstation kaizen event. Management and Master of Business Administration
degrees from Penn State in 2004. Owens has been an
industrial engineer, consultant, and manufacturing manager
in the USA and Asia (American Express, Boeing, Intel,
Smiths Medical, etc.).

Robin Owens can be reached at