By Greg | April 16, 2009
Just In Time Manufacturing
About fifteen years ago I moved from Central Europe to the USA. Back then many things were different between these two places (not anymore, though). I almost felt like I was on another planet. I was so excited about the New World I was discovering that everything seemed better to me than what I remembered from back home. It wasn’t until much later that I started noticing some things that were actually better in my old Poland.
One of them was the way food… felt to me. At first buying a ready made plate of potatoes, steak and green beans nicely placed in 3 dents was really amazing to me. I wrote to my parents that in America people don’t have to spend time cooking because everything is ready made. All you have to do is take it out of the freezer, remove plastic foil and stick it in the microwave oven for a few minutes. But soon I realized that the food just isn’t as good as what my dad would make. Somehow the idea of buying fresh produce and meat and spending an hour or two preparing it right before the meal makes much more sense to me now. It tastes better, its more healthy and costs less.
There is no question that one of the main reasons why I (and anybody who has ever visited my parents’ home) love my dad’s food is because he is a talented cook. But he doesn’t use magic to turn raw veggies and dead corps into a tasty, irresistible dish. He knows what material to use and how to process it. He also uses the Just-In-Time system.
You might ask: “What does food preparation have to do with Lean Philosophy?” Ok, I agree that cars and many other commodities don’t have to taste good and so probably they don’t have to be made out of fresh, straight from the steel mill material (although in some cases it does matter how long ago a piece of metal came out of the oven). As I have mentioned – my dad’s meals are not only better and healthier. They also cost less. Before that whitish/yellowish thing on the paper plate comes out of the microwave oven, it must go through a lot of processes, many hands must move it from place to place, I imagine – some things need to be added to it (the names of those things just don’t sound tasty to me) and – what probably costs the most – the so called “potatoes” spend a lot of time just sitting and being moved from freezer to freezer in the factory, the warehouse, the truck and yet another in the store where I purchased it, until I finally put it in my own freezer (paying for the electricity to keep it cold right up until I eat it). It would be interesting to find out what percentage of the time between the moment the potato was dug out of the ground to the time it appeared on my table the vegetable spent just sitting and waiting. My guess is – much more than 90% of the time. I have to pay for all that time even though not even one second of it represents any real value to me. As a matter of fact – the potatoes would be much more valuable to me if they didn’t have to be mixed with some nasty preservatives in order to stay fresh looking.
Even though cars, toys, houses and many other products don’t have to be kept in freezers – every minute they spend laying and waiting costs much more than it seems. Waiting is waste. Laying and acquiring dust is Muda. Toyota System or Lean Manufacturing system’s aim is to eliminate Muda by creating an environment that allows the material to flow through the production without stopping for too long (or in the ideal world of Lean – without stopping at all).
The best way to achieve this goal is by organizing the production process into cells, where individual workers constantly add to the value of the product carrying it through the successive processes of production. Then, Kanbans need to be placed between those cells, or work stations. When the Kanban is empty – one piece of the product is made and put in the Kanban just in time when it is needed. It is then immediately taken out of the Kanban and more value is added to it. Eventually the customer receives the product (no sooner and no later than she needs it) and pays for it. Part of the price goes to the workers, part pays for the material and part is the profit. Not a dime goes into covering the costs of pointless, wasteful sitting and waiting. Ok – so a big chunk of the price is tax, but even the Japanese have not been able to avoid this stinkiest of all Mudas.