Monday, September 16, 2013

6 lean tacos, just in time

As manufacturing facilities move to cheaper offshore locations, one type of production line is still going strong here in America.  The fast food industry has perfected lean manufacturing principals, and developed innovative solutions that their production facility counterparts could take example from.

Taco Bell serves more than 2 billion customers annually, in the US alone, in more than 5800 restaurants; more than 80% of which are owned and operated by independent franchises.  Despite this organizational structure, Taco Bell, and other fast food restaurants, are able to manufacture a similar product that meets customer expectations throughout the majority of their restaurants.  “Every Taco Bell, McDonald’s, Wendy’s and Burger King is a little factory, with a manager who oversees three dozen workers, devises schedules and shifts, keeps track of inventory and the supply chain, supervises an assembly line churning out a quality-controlled, high-volume product and takes in revenue of $1 million to $3 million a year, all with customers who show up at the front end of the factory at all hours of the day to buy the product.” 

The fast food industry has additional constraints, over their production factory counterparts, which must be managed.  One feature of fast food restaurants is to offer special products for a limited time, at each of their franchises.  To meet this deliverable, fast food restaurants must simplify and automate their production processes, and have it adaptable enough to handle new products at any given time.  They also follow a production process approach so that each worker in the restaurant contributes towards the finished product.  Just-in-time and lean production techniques allow fast food restaurants to deliver products to their customers quickly, while reducing the amount of inventory that needs to be stockpiled to meet the changing demands. 

Due to the number of customer interactions that each franchise experiences, on a daily basis, and that one bad experience at one of the restaurants could reduce sales across the entire chain, fast food restaurants in America have developed a streamlined, organized, production process that is both versatile and meets a very strict standard of expected quality.  Perhaps this is in part accomplished through the low standards of the average American’s pallet, but to supply such a consistent product in such high volumes, through multiple independent facilities, is no small feat.  Are there any other examples of industries that meet such high constraints on such a regular and consistent basis?  One product that comes to mind is cheap American light beer.  It cannot be easy to produce such a high volumes of low quality product that so consistently doesn’t have any flavor characteristics at all.  Take that you German and Belgian breweries.  We do manufacturing right, here in America! 

What are some manufacturing principles that you have seen applied in fast food restaurants that could be useful in other manufacturing arenas?  Are there any lean principles employed in fast food restaurants that you had not realized before?  

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