Factory Layout


  • Area
  • Ratios

MEA Description: The Factory Layout MEA requires teams of students to develop a generalizable procedure to layout the floor plan of aluminum tubing production plants for a company called Tube Alloy. The motivation for developing this procedure is established using a realistic context in which the company plans to open several new plants in the next few years. The General Manager of Industrial Planning wishes to be able to improve efficiency in establishing layouts for future plants that have different department sizes and overall plant sizes. The teams must take into account the size of the plant, the size and limiting aspect ratios of the departments, and the processing steps for the products that the plant will manufacture. The student teams are required to (1) develop a reusable general procedure for plant layout such that the travel distance of each product is minimized and (2) use the procedure to provide a sample layout for a particular plant with provided specifications.

Implementation Strategy:

  1. Pre-lab - Students are individually assigned a short prelab assignment to familiarize them with the terminology that will be used throughout the remainder of the MEA process. To help ensure that students complete the reading, two short questions are asked to establish comprehension.
  2. Individual Activity � Individually, students read the interoffice memo from the client which establishes the need to create a procedure to more efficiently organize a factory based on a set of departmental area and size parameters. Students individually begin to explore the concept of aspect ratios and minimum area requirements. The focus is on establishing what acceptable aspect ratios are and meeting minimum area requirements.
  3. Team Activity � In teams of 4, students develop a procedure for converting a table of areas and limiting aspect ratios into a departmental layout to minimize total travel time for a series of products given a department order for each product. This procedure is expressed in the form of a memo to the client describing the layout process.
  4. Homework - Continuing in teams of four, students revise their procedure based on TA feedback of the original procedure. As part of the revision process, students are asked to refine their procedure to place individual machines within each department. As part of the deliverables, students are required to submit a sketch of their layout, including clear labels for each machine, path lines for each product, and total travel distance for each product.

Six Principles:

Principle Description How the principle is addressed in the MEA?
Model Construction Ensures the activity requires the construction of an explicit description, explanation, or procedure for a mathematically significant situation
Describe the mathematical model the students will be developing when solving this MEA:
  • What are the elements?
  • What are the relationships among elements?
  • What are the operations that describe how the elements interact?
Elements – Area and limiting aspect ratio of each department, Overall factory dimensions
Operators – Travel path of each item as it moves through the factory
Relationships – Distance between departments and overall travel distance
Reality Requires the activity to be posed in a realistic engineering context and be designed so that the students can interpret the activity meaningfully from their different levels of mathematical ability and general knowledge
Describe the context. What is the story?
What knowledge will students need to bring to this problem?
What background information must be provided?

Describe how the problem is open-ended.
Minimizing overall travel distance is a common problem. The most common form of this problem is known as the traveling salesman problem, but shows up throughout industry.
Self-Assessment Ensures that the activity contains criteria the students can identify and use to test and revise their current ways of thinking
What is provided in this MEA that students can use to test their ways of thinking?
Using their procedure on the sample cases to an overall travel length for the provided test cases.
Model-Documentation Ensures that the students are required to create some form of documentation that will reveal explicitly how they are thinking about the problem situation
What documentation are the students being asked to produce in this MEA?
Memo to the client describing the procedure for processing the area and limiting ratio information.
Construct Share-Ability and Re-Usability Requires students produce solutions that are shareable with others and modifiable for other engineering situations
What will indicate to the students that a sharable, reusable, or generalizable solution is desired?
Sharable – produce a model that the company can use to organize their factory.
Generalizable – the model should be general enough to handle placing numerous departments with a wide variety of area and ratio constraints.
Effective Prototype Ensures that the solution generated must provide a useful prototype, a metaphor, for interpreting other situations
What are other examples of structurally or conceptually similar problems that would required a similar solution?
This problem shows up in a wide variety of circumstances. Most commonly, it is known as the traveling salesman problem and is a staple of optimization research and coursework.

Author Information:

  • Original Author(s):
    • Mark Herter
    • Tamara Moore


Tested in ENGR106 - Fall 2005