Just in Time Manufacturing 



What It Takes to Win

World class performance demands a company strategy that embraces simultaneous quality and productivity improvements that don't stop until perfection is reached. Since this can only be achieved by people working together, it can't be automated or programmed in a computer. It is a continuous process that feeds on the synergism of human teamwork focused on satisfying all of the customers price, quality, delivery and service wants. Notice, I said wants, not what we might care to perceive as needs.

When I first learned about what the Japanese called JUST-IN-TIME, or JIT, in the late 1970's, it addressed all of those issues. Somehow, in the intervening years the experts managed to fragment and distort the original meaning of that process to the jumble of junk we have now. To a huge number of misinformed people today, JIT is a quick delivery system foisted on an unsuspecting supply base or an inventory management procedure.

Quality is promoted under various TQM labels which ignore productivity concerns. (The goodness of quality will not win customers at noncompetitive prices. In fact, Tom Peters now believes that TQM is fatally flawed.) Team building has been promoted as a way to create a mystical problem-solving, money-saving force that can operate in a near-vacuum. (Such programs usually die in a few years for lack of leadership from a disap­pointed management.) Many of the JIT productivity elements, like group technology cells, setup reduction and pull system cards, have been implemented in isolation of one another, resulting in partially effective islands of change. (A job shop full of partial cells is hardly better than a job shop of functional departments. Neither reaps the productivity advantages of JIT focused flow manufacturing.) In fact, it's been fouled up so completely that I've started calling the original strategy REAL JIT to differentiate it from the smorgasbord that's out there today.

Whatever you call it (I encourage my clients to make up a name of their own), the most important thing to remember is that the winning process is like a good recipe. All of the proper ingredients in the right proportions, properly blended and nurtured in the right environment are necessary. If you decide to omit something that doesn't appeal to you (We can't share that kind of information with the employees.) or that you're afraid to try (Our volumes are much too low to try mixed-model scheduling.), then you won't get what you expected. But, whose fault is that?

The REAL JIT Recipe

First, you need a strategic envelope that will guide all of the tactical decisions that will be necessary as you move to world class performance. That strategy must simultaneously encompass the essence of customer satisfaction: best quality, lowest prices, fastest delivery and regal service. While tactical elements can be implemented sequentially, the biggest mistake most companies make is failure to adopt the total strategy up front. That's why I use a coin to describe the JIT Strategy. It has two facets, the productivity and quality sides, but the two are part of the same whole and cannot be separated.

Productivity Principles

The productivity strategy requires that we abandon the traditional approach of trying to out-guess the customer to compensate for a slow manufacturing process and replace it with an immediate response, build-to-order process. To do that, we have to eliminate every wasteful, time-consuming practice and investment in the business that doesn't add value for the customer to get truly lean and mean. The ultimate goal is to produce one-at-a-time, in any flavor with near-zero lead time. Obviously, this cannot be achieved in one step, so the guiding principle for this strategy is one of continuous improvement which, in turn, can only be accomplished by the nurturing of all the human brainpower in the company. These improvements will lead to the elimination of all the contingency investments we've made, just-in-case something might go wrong. Finally, because so much of our traditional approach to business has been short-term oriented (as demon­strated by the instant-return and break-through schools of wishful thinking), we must recognize that this is a major cultural change to our company which can only be achieved as part of an evolutionary, long-term strategy.


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