Opinion: Weathering the changes
We can't control the weather, but we can plan for it
So, how 'bout this weather we're having, huh?
You're probably rolling your eyes right about now about how lame that opening sentence was, and nobody could blame you. But it's actually a valid question.
Snow is falling outside as I write this from my home office in suburban Chicago. Downtown, Wrigley Field's playing surface is covered with snow on the day the Cubs are supposed to play their home opener. Meanwhile, other parts of the country are dealing with all sorts of unexpected weather as Mother Nature can't seem to decide what kind of mood she's in.
But this is normal, right? After all, it's still early April, and the weather is sometimes a little weird. Also, what does this have to do with food processing?
Some of you are asking those questions. But some of you already know the answers, and you already understand how unexpected or severe weather can impact your operations and affect the bottom line.
There are the obvious things like extra heating or cooling days messing with your utilities budget. Or bad weather resulting in extended shipping time of either finished product out to your customers or raw materials arriving at your facility.
But weather refusing to cooperate has less obvious costs as well. For one thing, bad weather can result in employees being late or not being able to come in at all, which can lead to increases in overtime or scrambling to fill shifts. And when cold, damp weather keeps lingering, employees are more likely to get sick, which has the same result.
It can also have an effect on infrastructure as well. We've had a relatively mild winter by Chicago standards, but a couple years ago when days of -10 before the wind chill were common, pipes were breaking, trucks weren't starting and roads were taking a beating from traffic and plows. On the flip side, when the Midwest was slammed by a heat wave a couple summers ago, interstates were literally buckling. Interstates are not supposed to buckle.
All of this stuff adds up in time and money, and we sometimes overlook it when we're figuring out how to operate more efficiently. But by thinking a little more broadly, we can understand how what's going on outside the plant can have a big impact on what's going on inside of it, and we can manage it — or, we can manage it as much as it can be managed.
To do so requires some extra time up front when it comes to making contingency plans. Having a procedure in place for unexpected cold snaps or extended heat waves is one of those things that may seem somewhat unnecessary, but if you're planning for contingencies, don't just confine yourself to what's happening inside your walls.
To use another cliché, you need to think outside the box and game out how weird weather can affect your operations. If you're willing to do so, then you'll be able to adapt to nature's whims without interfering with operations, even if your golf game gets put on hold for a month or two.