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Sunday, February 14, 2010

Lean Demonstrated at Subway

Last week while visiting one of our plants I had lunch at a Subway restaurant.  During lunch I had the opportunity to observe many Lean concepts in practice.  I don’t believe Subway advertises themselves as a Lean corporation but their restaurants seem to employ some basic Lean principles.

For starters they make their sandwiches to customer demand.  Subway makes the exact sandwich the customer wants at the time the customer orders it.  They process one customer at a time in what is referred to as 1 by 1 or single piece flow.  This method dramatically reduces defective product and overproduction of sandwiches.

During higher volume meal times Subway utilizes teamwork. Several people will assembly parts of the sandwich passing it from one another along the line.  Each person performs a specified sequence which we often refer to as standard work. 

Now think of the layout and organization of the restaurant.  The sandwich area is laid out in the form of an assembly line from taking your order to paying for your order.  There are signs with pictures along the assembly process to support the customer order.  Everything used to make the sandwich is displayed on the line through clear viewing panels.  This concept is an element of visual factory and 5S organization.

While the sandwich is made just in time the materials to make all the sandwiches have been prepared before hand.  Due to the need for freshness and longer cycle times the bread is baked, cheese is sliced, and vegetables are cut prior to the store opening.  The raw materials are stored at the point of use in bins in the assembly line.  They are placed in the order in which the sandwich is prepared creating a standard while mistake proofing the preparation sequence.  The amount of the vegetables prepared and the location in the line is based on the popularity of the produce.  For example, lettuce and tomatoes will be found closest to the “sandwich artist” in multiple large size bins while the hot peppers and olives will be in smaller bins further away.

Some of the inventory is kited for accuracy and efficiency like the meat.  This allows Subway to produce the same size sandwich every time for a 12 inch or 6 inch sandwich in every restaurant.  The kit also helps control inventory by knowing how much is consumed for each sandwich enabling a simple replenishment scheme.

I even observed a kanban and FIFO system at work during this visit.  As the sandwich artist was preparing my sandwich he consumed the last lettuce leafs in the bin he was using and turned to the refrigerator behind him to replace the lettuce bin.  He slid the older bins closest to him and placed the newest bin in back of the others.  This technique meant the customer was getting the freshest produce while not spoiling their inventory.

As I was there eating my sandwich I saw an experienced employee training a new employee from the customer’s viewpoint.  During orientation of the sandwich preparation process the experienced employee had the new employee stand in front of the counter, where the customer would stand, while demonstrating the process.  This gave the new employee the perspective of the customer which is so important to understand. 

While not all of Subway’s practices are Lean in nature this is a good case study.  If you want to reflect on some basic lean principles or could use an outlet to teach others some basic lean principles try a visit to your local Subway restaurant.  Food is always a good motivator.

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