Comment by Leigh Swalling
As we transition to smarter manufacturing, what lessons can we learn from a fast-food restaurant?
In business terms, perhaps we need to reflect on the evolution of the burger business and see if we can apply this to our manufacturing businesses.
As an observation, today’s burger creation process goes through many stages - just as we do in manufacturing. Many different hands complete a break-down of tasks. As demand increases, each team member seems to be able to manage each stage, and throughput continues. Team members seem to be able to double down in critical stages as demand increases by focussing on their individual task only. And, from the consumers point of view, the result of the end product is almost identical to that produced when not under extreme load.
So, how do they do it? How do they bring team members on board and instantly have them performing a role as a part of a team? It seems almost too simple.
Perhaps, the secret is in the details: digital systems that connect various stages, on demand instructions, quality control at each individual stage, and maintaining a balanced overall production line with steady flow. Simple, task orientated and measurable systems appear to be the key ingredient. So, what can a manufacturing business learn from a fast-food restaurant?
Training new staff to perform a particular stage of the process needs to be uncomplicated. Furthermore, maintaining the flow by focussing on nominal, set tasks is crucial. Picture that delicious burger and think of it as a newly installed cabinet. Think of the various stages and team members that are involved in the production process. How does this apply to your business?
Technology has revolutionised many things, making production easier in many ways. Automation, however, has helped businesses scale in size and throughput. To scale, a business will invest in technology, generally to address a problem or a perceived need to improve manufacturing flow. Sometimes, this is a singular focus, with benefits in specific areas of the production line. But when you think about this further, what connects the production line together? What data or information is provided to a business owner to monitor flow? Currently, you would be relying upon word of mouth, at best, nothing data driven.
It would be a fair assumption to say that when you imagine yourself in a fast-food restaurant, looking at all the stages of the burger making process, you will see the use of technology to aid communication. For example, team members wearing headsets and computer screens all through the back of the restaurant. Information is even shared with us, the customer, as we can see the big screen that tells us our order number and where it sits in the queue. As we stand there and observe, we can see that no one is running around telling each member what they need, and when they need it. No one’s running around looking for a lost bun, or a misplaced burger patty or even a missing order. There does not appear to be a docket or manilla folders being passed around, like many of us have in our manufacturing businesses.
So, the next time you are in that restaurant and upgrade your burger to a meal, I encourage you to pause and think how this system could apply to your own business.