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McDonald’s McFlurries are delicious, but the machine that makes them breaks down all the time. The problem is so frequent that someone built a bot to keep track of which machines are broken across all 14,000 McDonald's locations in the United States. The problems are less frequent recently, in part because an independent company called Kytch has made a device that helps McDonald’s franchise owners repair the ice cream machines and keep the McFlurries flowing.
State of Repair is Motherboard's exploration of DIY culture, device repair, ownership, and the forces fighting to lock down access to the things you own.
Taylor, the company that made the Mcflurry machine, had a monopoly on repairs of the ice cream machines before Kytch, and—according to a lawsuit filed by Kytch—it has tried to maintain that monopoly by telling McDonald's franchisees that using Kytch devices could cause "serious human injury." On July 30, however, Kytch won an important legal fight against Taylor, when a California judge issued a temporary restraining order against Taylor after Kytch claimed Taylor acquired a Kytch Solution Devices in an attempt to learn its secrets.According to the application for the temporary restraining order, Kytch believes that Taylor got a McDonald's franchisee and member of the National Supply Leadership Council, which tests new products for McDonald's, to acquire a Kytch device for the company, which could then mine it for "trade secret information." According to the court document, Taylor's COO admits that it sought to obtain a Kytch device "in order to evaluate and assess its potential technology-related impacts upon our Soft Serve Machine—such as whether the radio frequency of the Kytch device would interfere with our software signal, or whether the Kytch device would drain the power source of our software and/or cause it malfunction," but denied that Taylor mined it for trade secrets or even "need such information."
As first reported by WIRED, at the center of the story is a long running cold war that explains why you often can't get a McFlurry when you want to. Taylor’s ice cream machines are an absolute nightmare to repair. When they break down, only a certified Taylor repair technician can fix the machine, which can lead to weeks where the McFlurrys don’t flow at McDonald’s.Some overworked fast food employees learned various tricks to bypass sanitary and security measures on the Taylor machines, which made the ice cream flow but could also make people sick. Enter Kytch, a company making a diagnostic tool that gives McDonald’s franchise owners better control over their McFlurry machines. It collects data and allows them to make simple repairs, like replacing broken equipment or cleaning the machine, without having to call in a Taylor certified technician.According to a lawsuit filed by Kytch, after obtaining one of the Kytch devices from a McDonald's franchise, Taylor told McDonald’s and its franchisees that the Kytch machines were dangerous and to stop using them. At the same time, Taylor began working on its own version of the Kytch system, according to court documents.“These guys did a really effective job at frightening off all of our customers and investors so we're hoping the public will support our case in the name of justice, right to repair and humanity,” Jeremy O’Sullivan, co-founder of Kytch, told Motherboard. “We still have some diehard customers sticking with us. Though few in comparison to what we once had before McDonald’s and Taylor called our product dangerous.”The ice cream machine maker, Taylor, now has to turn over all its ill-gotten Kytch Solution Devices within 24 hours of the court order. “Defendants must not use, copy, disclose, or otherwise make available in any way information, including formula, pattern, compilation, program, device, method, technique, or process obtained by any of them,” the court document said.“We are optimistic that the truth will prevail,” Kytch co-founder Melissa Nelson told Motherboard. “It’s disgusting that such lengths were taken to steal our trade secrets, destroy our business, and to stand in the way of modernizing kitchens. Kytch is just a small piece of the broader right-to-repair movement. But our case makes clear that it’s past time to end shady business practices that create hundreds of millions of dollars of unnecessary repair fees from ‘certified’ technicians.”Taylor did not respond to Motherboard’s request for comment.