Professor Burbidge was a most distinguished engineer, who has, over a long and diverse career, established an international reputation in the field of Manufacture Planning and Control.
He was born in Toronto during the First World War, but came to the United Kingdom for his serious education first at Wellington School and then at Cambridge University. His professional employment began as long ago as 1934, with a student apprenticeship at the Bristol Aeroplane Company. In his subsequent career, he occupied many different and increasingly responsible positions in the British engineering industry, culminating in his appointment as Managing Director of the Darlington Wire Mills.
In 1962 Professor Burbidge joined the International Labour Organisation and spent the next five years in its service in Poland, Cyprus and Egypt, putting his philosophy into practice. In 1967 he was appointed Professor at the International Centre of that organisation in Turin, There he was able to organise his ideas, to teach them arid to write about them. A stream of publications followed at the last count he had over 15 books and over 200 papers to his name many translated into other languages.
In his research, he also observed the differences in the performance of factories according to their size. Small factories, he found, do not have strikes, they are more profitable, and they are more efficient in satisfying customer demand. This stimulated research into the humanisation of work and the benefits of group production methods. For him, job satisfaction was to be related to the change from process organisation whereby in the manufacture of components they are passed from one specialist to another – to product organisation – whereby groups, or cells, were responsible for the complete manufacture of components. He, therefore, argued against over-specialisation of the workforce, from the shop floor to senior management. It is important, he argued, for more people to understand the system rather than its bits and pieces.
Defining the appropriate collection of groups or cells requires an analytical method. Professor Burbidge hypothesised that if one started with a large department which completed all the parts it made, then it could be divided into groups each of which again completed all the parts it made. The tool for this holistic decomposition, which was largely his invention, is production flow analysis. Associated with this is the idea that delivery times will be much shorter if all component operations are in one place.
Much of this thinking, which, as has been observed, reached practical maturity at the beginning of the 1970s, was against conventional wisdom, and it found little favour in this country. Ferranti in Edinburgh was a rare exception; the cellular manufacturing system designed for that firm in 1970 was based upon Professor Burbidge’s flow analysis principles. But the Japanese quickly grasped the implications of his thinking.
Now, however, the picture is changing, and the principles that Professor Burbidge has been advocating consistently for forty years or so are becoming widely accepted, worldwide. His achievement has been recognised in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List with the award of the Order of the British Empire. The Institution of Manufacturing Engineers has made him an Honorary Fellow; he has been given the Outstanding Service Award by the International Federation of Information Processing; and he has an Honorary Doctorate from Novi Sad University in Yugoslavia and the University of Strathclyde in Scotland.
Professor John Burbidge was an active and prominent member of the group. In order to celebrate a lifetime of achievement and contribution to the field of Integrated Production Management in 1995 the group decided to institute the Burbidge Award in recognition of excellence in research.
The Burbidge Awards are awarded at the APMS annual conference to
In making the award the following criteria are used:
1. The best paper
2. The best presentation