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In a feat of futuristic designing that would appease both Kubrick and Frisbee, a German factory built to handle the modern challenges of manufacturing has been built as a giant circle. Sort of.

Traditional mass production relies on standardized items that can be built in large quantities by unskilled labor - think the Model T or, in a modern capacity, the massive gadget assembly plants in China - and as organizations look for ways to offer customization and personalization to their products, those production philosophies, and the resulting facilities, jam up. Vitra, a German manufacturer of furniture, faced a logistical nightmare as it tried to resolve the kinks in a supply chain that result from mass producing items that are customized to individual clients. It's solution was to build a 60,000 sq.ft., 480 ft. wide circular assembly plant.

The supply chain-easing factory was designed by a Japanese firm SANAA, and under Japanese design rules that find beauty in imperfection, it's not exactly round. but it's round enough to accomodate both the manufacturer's and the designer's opinion that logistics and production methods no longer adhere to hierarchial principles, but are now required to be more flexible. The circular structure allows for a production line that does not adhere to a strictly linear assembly line.

Operationally, the plant is designed to receive all incoming parts at a series of bays at the north end of the plant, where they will then be distributed along storage racks in a staging area. From the staging area, each piece can be easily accessed from the central assembly area (a necessary step given the amount of customization involved in each order), assembled, then moved to a storage holding area beneath the assembly area. When it's time to ship the products out, the finished orders are moved to a series of truck bays along the south of the building.

Whether this particular material flow, or "macroflow" as logistics folks know it, catches on is yet to be seen. But when considering your organization's next production upgrade, sometimes efficiency gains don't come from the system inside the building. Sometimes they come from the building itself.
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Nicholas Hamner

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