Just-in-Time History

The technique was first used by the Ford Motor Company as described explicitly by Henry Ford’s My Life and Work (1923): “We have found in buying materials that it is not worthwhile to buy for other than immediate needs. We buy only enough to fit into the plan of production, taking into consideration the state of transportation at the time. If transportation were perfect and an even flow of materials could be assured, it would not be necessary to carry any stock whatsoever. The carloads of raw materials would arrive on schedule and in the planned order and amounts, and go from the railway cars into production.

That would save a great deal of money, for it would give a very rapid turnover and thus decrease the amount of money tied up in materials. With bad transportation one has to carry larger stocks. ” This statement also describes the concept of “dock to factory floor” in which incoming materials are not even stored or warehoused before going into production. The concept needed an effective freight management system (FMS); Ford’s Today and Tomorrow (1926) describes one. The technique was subsequently adopted and publicized by Toyota Motor Corporation of Japan as part of its Toyota Production System (TPS).

However, Toyota famously did not adopt the procedure from Ford, but from Piggly Wiggly. Although Toyota visited Ford as part of its tour of American businesses, Ford had not fully adopted the Just-In-Time system, and Toyota executives were appalled at the piles of inventory lying around and the uneven work schedule of the employees of Ford. Toyota also visited Piggly Wiggly, and it was there that Toyota executives first observed a fully functioning and successful Just-In-Time system, and modeled TPS after it.

It is hard for Japanese corporations to warehouse finished products and parts, due to the limited amount of land available for them. Before the 1950s, this was thought to be a disadvantage because it forced the production lot size below the economic lot size. (An economic lot size is the number of identical products that should be produced, given the cost of changing the production process over to another product. )

The undesirable result was poor return on investment for a factory. The chief engineer at Toyota in the 1950s, Taiichi Ohno (?? ?? ), examined accounting assumptions and realized that another method was possible.

The factory could implement JIT which would require it to be made more flexible and reduce the overhead costs of retooling and thereby reduce the economic lot size to fit the available warehouse space. JIT is now regarded by Ohno as one of the two ‘pillars’ of the Toyota Production System. Therefore over a period of several years, Toyota engineers redesigned car models for commonality of tooling for such production processes as paint-spraying and welding. Toyota was one of the first to apply flexible robotic systems for these tasks.

Some of the changes were as simple as standardizing the whole sizes used to hang parts on hooks. The number and types of fasteners were reduced in order to standardize assembly steps and tools. In some cases, identical sub-assemblies could be used in several models. Toyota engineers then determined that the remaining critical bottleneck in the retooling process was the time required to change the stamping dies used for body parts. These were adjusted by hand, using crowbars and wrenches. It sometimes took as long as several days to install a large, multi-ton die set and adjust it for acceptable quality.

Further, these were usually installed one at a time by a team of experts, so that the line was down for several weeks. So Toyota implemented a strategy now called Single Minute Exchange of Die (SMED), developed with Shigeo Shingo (?? ? ? ). With very simple fixtures, measurements were substituted for adjustments. Almost immediately, die change times fell to hours instead of days. At the same time, quality of the stampings became controlled by a written recipe, reducing the skill level required for the change. Further analysis showed that a lot of the remaining time was used to search for hand tools and move dies.

Procedural changes (such as moving the new die in place with the line in operation) and dedicated tool-racks reduced the die-change times to as little as 40 seconds. Today dies are changed in a ripple through the factory as a new product begins flowing. After SMED, economic lot sizes fell to as little as one vehicle in some Toyota plants. Carrying the process into parts-storage made it possible to store as little as one part in each assembly station. When a part disappeared, that was used as a signal (Kanban) to produce or order a replacement.