It is often said that, to be successful in manufacturing, you have to have a passion for it. Sometimes, however, having a passion for your customers’ passion is important, too. This point became clear to me while visiting Branchline Trains to gather material for an article called "Mainstream Technology KeepsShop on Track," which appeared in our June, 2006 issue. My primary interest was the company’s CNC programming and machining capability, but I had a strong secondary interest. As an avid lifelong model railroader, I was intensely curious about how this company made model railroad products that are considered some of the finest in the hobby.
Serious model railroaders tend to be passionate about details. They want their scale locomotives, freight cars, passenger cars and cabooses to capture all of the features of the full-size prototypes in perfect proportion and authenticity. Do you know how many rivets are on each side panel of the standard 50-foot steel boxcar designed in the 1940s? A lot of model railroaders do because they have studied photos of these cars intently. If models of these boxcars belong on their railroad layouts, then they want the models to have the right number of rivets on each panel, too, even if these rivets are barely visible from 2 feet away. For these folks, the hobby is more fun that way.
I understand this fact. It’s my delight to pursue this level of obsessive exactitude on my own layout. The top guys at Branchline Trains also understand, and may even share, this compulsion. This passion for their customers’ passion gives them an advantage in managing their operations.
The insight helps guide product development and set manufacturing requirements. Marketing and production can mesh more fully. In this case, for example, it’s clear what shopfloor capabilities are necessary to produce kits that appeal to the strongly detail-oriented customer.
Likewise, it’s clear that manufacturing processes are a means to an end, not an end in themselves. As new techniques that promise to improve the end product emerge, the company will be motivated to adopt them. Being product specialists supersedes being process specialists.
Having an intuitive connection with the mind and heart of the customer must create a sense of purpose to shopfloor activities, too. Who needs a fancy mission statement to provide direction?
Perhaps a passion for your customers’ passion comes first, and the passion for manufacturing follows. When I daydream about having my own little manufacturing company, that’s how it would happen—Mark’s Modelworks, Inc., “Serving The Hobby Since 2015.”