Planning Your Plant Expansion
Industrial production and manufacturing as a whole has seen a steady uptick in demand and revenue forecasts since the start of 2015. This steady increase has created many growth opportunities for manufacturing and packaging plants alike.
This growth is the result of companies considering new lines of products or ramping up production of existing lines. Either way, expansion of facilities is often the best way – or the only way – to achieve business objectives and keep up with demand.
While expansion has many benefits, it can actually be more complicated than starting fresh with a new facility.
Let’s walk through what is involved in a plant expansion and how you can properly plan for success.
Take a moment to fill out our packaging machinery pre-investment checklist as a great first step!
Determine the Required Level of Plant Expansion
Before taking the leap into planning for plant expansion, start by asking yourself and your plant management team a few basic questions:
- Can I squeeze more out of my current facility before its time to expand?
- Will an expansion improve efficiency or hinder it?
- Does it make sense to expand our current facility or relocate to a new one?
- Can expansion take place while maintaining daily operations?
- Would a contract packager be able to provide the space and labor my business will require?
These questions are important so that you are prepared to make planned decisions that will maximize the overall output of your production line.
Beginning the process with feasibility studies and master planning efforts will help you sort out the answers to these and many other questions. Start by collecting data on your current plant process and use this information to help you determine the best option for expansion:
- Expansion- Is there is enough space available within your current building or on the ground surrounding it? If so, expansion may be the right fit. You can lease more space from your landlord or plan to have an addition built on that will combine the old plant with the new.
- Renovations– Are there areas of your current facility that are under-utilized? If the idea of making a few tweaks could really help the way things flow, a renovation may be right for you. This route allows for maintaining operations while expanding.
- Relocation- Perhaps you have outgrown your current space or are being forced to relocate. This is a great opportunity to evaluate your current process to expand to make things more productive.
Be sure to check out our checklist to help decide which of these options is right for your plant and unique situation.
Once you have decided on the appropriate plan for plant expansion, there are several considerations to make to bring your plan to life.
First, gather as much information as possible about your current production. Do this by asking your plant management team for information that will help you determine your pain points and talk through possible solutions.
For example, you could ask about production information. Get a clear idea as to the types of packaging and products that need to be produced with the expansion, as well as the type of items in each packaging category. Don’t forget to ask about the production volume for each package or product.
Next, collect information on requirements for raw materials. For example, consider the space needed for pallet storage, and the storage of other necessary materials.
Any planning for plant expansion needs to take staff into account as well as the product. What kinds of space do you need to accommodate offices, break rooms, restrooms or locker rooms, and any other spaces needed by your staff. Consider also space required by quality control, and of course, the space needed to store finished goods.
Finally, consider your plant’s processing needs. Our packaging checklist can help you identify and inventory your packaging equipment. Consider diagramming your process flow, and your current packaging equipment layout. Having this planned out will help you move forward with plans to expand.
Basis of Design
Once you have all of your information gathered for the plant you currently have, it’s time to consider what is needed to expand.
Think about increased production capacity and storage needs, as well as all physical requirements for space, flooring, walls, ceilings, etc. Process flow diagrams can be a useful tool for planning these spatial relationships.
At this point, you have gathered your information and determined what you have and where you need to go. The next step is to work on fleshing out the expansion concept.
Design principles are the way to go, creating drawings of color plan options for expansion, renovation, or relocation.
With any expansion, it’s best to consider multiple options to ensure that all needs are met. This is done by comparing several concept plans to consider relative cost, ease of implementation, and practicality of design. This is an important step, so don’t hesitate to revise the plan several times as needed until you are satisfied with the final plan.
All options will need to be reviewed to ensure they can accommodate the decided upon concept as well as zoning laws, utilities, and other details. Even if your expansion is a build onto your existing plant, the changes in design could affect your permits and other construction issues, so a professional site review is key.
Once this packaging line audit and overall review is complete, you will have a master plan in hand. This will include the finer details, such as cost estimates, building features, functional areas, staff areas, process flow, equipment layout, utility information, building/zoning codes, and future growth and site plan, if necessary.
Best Practices for Staffing an Expanded Plant
Once you have invested a significant amount of time into the design of an expansion and the creation of a master plan, it’s time to properly staff your new space.
As with all stages of plant expansion, planning is key. It is a best practice to have your staffing strategy ready at least 4-5 months prior to the launch of the expansion. Sooner is always better, so you have room to weather contingencies.
Conducting a job analysis and benchmarking report with data from your current facility will help you create a viable staffing strategy. Make sure to identify the skills, knowledge, competencies, and motivational aspects of every position you will hiring for. This will make the hiring process easier and more efficient.
Once you have created your plan for accommodating people, it’s time to consider how you will leverage technology. A plant expansion is a massive amount of work for the plant managers, staff and everyone involved. Your human resources team is a great resource. Consider working with them by taking advantage of online screening software, assessments, applications and even scheduling tools.
As you move through the hiring process, make sure you keep your prospective employees in the loop as to how things are progressing and update them if there are any delays in launching the plant expansion. The last thing you want is for them to go elsewhere for employment because of poor communication.
Common Pitfalls of Plant Expansion
No matter how well you plan, delays and unexpected issues are quite common. Having a strong plan in the first place is your best protection to be ready to weather the inevitable changes that will occur.
Poor planning is perhaps the biggest pitfall in plant expansion, or in any kind construction or business expansion plan. Research may seem time-consuming in the early stages, but that’s because a well laid plan is your best protection against the unknown. Take the time to do your research, factor in downtime for staff and the plant itself, and remember to be ready for changes or potential roadblocks along the way.
It’s also important to not try to do everything yourself. Plant expansion, even if it’s a simply addition to an existing line, is a large undertaking. By all means, leverage the skills and abilities of your existing team to make the expansion a team effort. This will not only help keep the project on time, it will prevent burnout of management.
This also results in buy-in from the team because they are empowered to make decisions. This will help them embrace the change in the long run.
Finally, remember to build in a buffer to account for unexpected issues or changes in scope. Changes at a later part of the process can be costly.
Planning for Success
The key to a strong conclusion to any expansion lies in having a strong plan. While planning processes are never linear and often stir up challenges, they also spark new ideas and unearth unforeseen possibilities. The most important step in the expansion process is to embrace the creative problem solving. This will ultimately will lead to the best solution for expanding, renovating or building a new production facility.
Ready to learn more or get started? Enjoy our free Packaging Machinery Pre-Investment Checklist as the perfect first step to planning.
About David Roberge
Part of the outstanding Industrial Packaging team. I'm lucky to hang out with some of the most knowledgeable folks in the packaging industry. I feel even luckier to be able to share our knowledge with you. I love learning about and helping readers grow their brand through unique, flexible package design from the birth of the product idea, through the supply chain and to the launch and placement on the shelf or at the consumer's door.