| Written by Mark Buzinkay

Optimising a factory's productivity regarding quality and efficiency is an important task in the manufacturing domain. For this, process improvement techniques are essential for optimising manufacturing tasks.

When process optimisation is done right, optimised processes will lead to greater efficiency. The key lies in the effectiveness of activities but also the layout of the production line.
shop floor layout optimization

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Production optimisation can be defined as a collection of activities designed to increase productivity in the production system. This definition is different to process optimisation, where the improvement effort is focused on making the finished product more efficient.

Production optimisation can include tools, staging areas, inventory protocols, facility layout, conveyance, and more. It can be used in most manufacturing operations for almost any production process to deliver more excellent value. With Industry 4.0 standards and potential, real-time data analysis allows companies to understand the changing conditions and flow of the system. Engineers use such insights to increase productivity and optimise production rates (for instance for an efficient vehicle yard management).

But there are hidden traps of process optimisation that engineers can avoid when they look from the production optimisation perspective:

Improved inventory
Real time data can spotlight difficulties in the flow of materials. You don't want to have misplaced or unused material or assets, so you need accurate visibility in the production area. Workers must quickly identify materials and prioritise them for optimal machine productivity.

Wasted space
Wasted space refers to a not-used area or not adequately used space. It adds to the costs of the entire production line and may obstruct or enlarge production paths. In the worst scenario, it is used to store material without a clear idea of what to do with it.

Jams can trigger work stoppage in upstream production processes. For example, optimising a workstation's output will probably deal with a bottleneck resulting from this upstream increase.

Focus only on the process
If too much inventory is tied up for too long, it hurts cash flow, and due to multiple moves, it may also increase labour cost to move products from station to station unnecessarily.

The most significant contrast between production and process optimisation is that process optimisation eradicates unnecessary steps in a specific process step within the production system. However, production optimisation seeks to optimise the system itself. Therefore, it optimises based on real-time data to look at flow rates, machine layout, labour utilisation, and other factors to improve the physical performance and design of the entire production system.

Process optimisation will contain stages such as:

  • Determining problems specific to the process

  • Exploring the current state to create the desired state (learn more about asset tracking with RFID)

  • Auditing the difference to see results

  • Observing the change to keep it on track

Production optimisation will include steps such as:

  • Changing plant layout

  • Modifying or rearranging machines and tools at the point of use

  • Implementing new work-in-process (WIP) procedures

  • Training operators and technicians on how to respond to automated alarms and insights on the monitoring system to eliminate old habits

  • Creating new internal inventory delivery procedures

  • Assessing monitor and human-machine-interface (HMI) layout




As discussed, industry 4.0 not only gives you data-driven production but will enable you to make changes to eliminate waste and eventually optimise production performance and lower costs. A suitable method to identify, reduce and eliminate waste in a production process is:

  1. The breakdown of the flow of processes

  2. The identification of waste

  3. A review of whether the process can be rearranged in a more efficient arrangement

  4. Consideration of a better flow pattern involving further flow layouts or transport routeing

  5. A reflection of whether everything being done at each stage is necessary and what would happen if extra tasks were removed.


Further reading: How to increase tire output in brownfield production plants

With an increasing degree of digitalisation in the manufacturing area, data become available for process monitoring, analysis, and optimisation. There are many spots where analytics can improve a factory's overall performance, such as uncovering bottlenecks and anomalies. But, first, data is necessary to tackle the abovementioned challenges (1-5).

One aspect mentioned above is to ensure short transportation paths. A factory's layout is a crucial factor in optimising the productivity of production lines. This optimisation mainly comprises the machine tools' positions concerning places where supply goods are being delivered and other tools are stationed. Keeping enough material close to the operations will lower storage and shorter the movement of material. The material handling can be improved by either better utilising the current system or reducing the necessary steps such as using forklifts, automated handling equipment and lifting aids for manual handling.

However, shop-floor layout optimisation can be challenging:

  • Automatic optimisation is expensive - due to the large number of possible solutions.
  • Unmodeled constraints are unexpected and result in errors
  • Manual optimisation by experts is challenging - there are many parameters

Further reading: Asset Tracking - RTLS, RFID and software




Despite the challenges, production optimisation is a must and shop floor layout is part of it. Having the technology available, some companies realise the need to move machines or change the factory's entire design.

As important as material flow is, workers' path is also crucial. Unnecessary paths can impair a factory's productivity, as machines may need to wait for workers who operated another machine and are still on the way due to the long distance between the machines.

Often, pathing problems for workers are difficult to account for during the layout planning phase, for instance, changes in a production line over time (e.g., machinery replacement), the addition of new production lines, or changing work timetables. However, there are numerous approaches to support the workers' pathing during production, for example, visual cues the on floor or providing the best path to the nearest machine terminal. It is also achievable to optimise the positions of movable parts, such as shared tool containers.

Tracking material (carrier tags; further reading: efficiency with RTLS) or workers (wearables) solves the lack of data and feeds path analysis. It provides the necessary information to recreate typical work-related paths (flows) and is the foundation for the next step: pathing optimisation. Additionally, it gives an idea of which parts of the layout are most promising for optimisation and most suitable for relocation.

Seeing the bottlenecks and the lost "meters" gives you an immediate idea of where to focus on your shop floor redesign. It is the defining step into an improved shop floor layout - reducing or eliminating waste in the form of unnecessary motions, inefficient transportation and idle time of machines and workers. For example, as an outcome of shop floor layout optimisation, we could recommend the relocation of work or machines, transportation means such as conveyor belts, investing in additional transport vehicles (such as forklifts) or automation.




Optimising a production line is not only optimising processes. Machines, materials, personnel and the path in between are essential to increase your shop floor's productivity. An analysis of current patterns, process steps, bottlenecks and waste in the form of lost time is crucial to perform the slightest improvement. A new shop floor layout may be a consequence.

Steps to Process Improvement

Extended reading: Real-time locating system and industry 4.0