Key Tools and Tactics for Just-in-Time Manufacturing

We’ve covered several helpful manufacturing methods in the past, like lean and cellular manufacturing. And today, we’re covering another popular style – just-in-time (JIT) manufacturing.

Now there’s a discourse on whether just-in-time manufacturing will continue to be helpful for manufacturers. Some say it’s on its way out, while others say it’s still a very valid method.

If you’re considering just-in-time manufacturing or looking to optimize your procedures further, the key is to have the right tools and tactics in place.

What is Just-in-Time Manufacturing? 

Before we start, let’s define what JIT manufacturing entails. JIT is a production model that, ideally, receives the materials necessary to complete orders as they come in, instead of stockpiling products ahead of time.

JIT manufacturing is also a way of thinking. Overall, its goal is to improve efficiency in every area of your manufacturing and warehouse performance.

JIT manufacturing aims to do this by:

  • Reducing wasteful actions
  • Optimizing employee actions and tasks
  • Creating protocols for quality control checks and machine maintenance
  • Prioritizing simplicity

While this may sound similar to lean manufacturing, there are important differences. Lean manufacturing is more customer-focused, while JIT is designed to improve a manufacturer’s business process.

Now that doesn’t mean that a JIT manufacturer overlooks its customers. It just defines waste differently. Lean manufacturing considers waste to be inventory-based, while JIT sees waste in procedures that hinder efficiency, like maintenance delays, lack of inspections and quality control issues.

Pros and Cons of Just-in-Time Manufacturing

As with any method, certain production philosophies and processes might work better for your business than others. Here’s a quick rundown of the pros and cons of implementing JIT in your company.

PROS:

  • Reducing Waste: As mentioned, JIT is focused on reducing waste in all forms – not just what gets thrown into your trash receptacles. Waste refers to optimizing the amount of time spent on tasks. This could mean how long it takes your employees to get orders out the door or how effective your warehouse management systems are.
  • Less Space Required: JIT manufacturing means you’re dealing with only the inventory and products you need as orders arrive. You’re not stock-piling items, so you’ll have less storage and warehouse space required. And since the manufacturing industry is seeing a major shortage of space, that makes JIT an attractive method.
  • Easier on The Bottom Line: JIT is a smart choice for new businesses that don’t have the finances to purchase a large amount of inventory. Plus, excess inventory means a good deal of your finances will be tied up in products that aren’t moving. JIT only requires the inventory you need as orders come in.

CONS:

  • Supplier Reliant: JIT can be effective until you’re met with an unexpected demand in orders or turnaround times. In moments like that, you’ll have to be much more dependent on suppliers to get you the materials you need before delays pile up.
  • Production Costs: With potential unforeseen order demands come price hikes. That means JIT manufacturers could see unanticipated costs that weren’t originally built into their financial plan.
  • Potential Overhaul: It can often be difficult to scale back your operations as opposed to expanding. If you’re currently dealing with excess inventory, you’ll first need to course correct and reduce the amount of product you have on hand. Then you can begin re-organizing your systems to align with JIT manufacturing.

Tools for Just-in-Time Manufacturing

If you’ve considered the pros and cons and decided JIT is right for you, let’s review the tools and tactics you’ll need to start your transition.

Appropriate Technology

Ideally, a company converting to the JIT method is already digitally inclined, as this will make switching to JIT an easier process.

For example, having a warehouse management system centralizes your warehouse’s procedures and performance metrics, giving manufacturers the power to make data-driven decisions when it comes to optimizing their warehouse systems and ordering inventory.

Going hand-in-hand with a WMS, enterprise resource planning software goes beyond a facility’s progress and oversees your business as a whole. It offers more robust features, such as bill of material features, route tracking, quality assurance records and more.

Another necessary tool for JIT is utilizing Kanban, which is a Japanese method created by Toyota engineer, Taiichi Ohno. The word translates to “visual card,” because Kanban relies on visual cues to drive production. Ideally, Kanban reduces the buildup of unnecessary products.

Steady Production

JIT manufacturing is built on the assumption that order demands will remain steady and turnaround times won’t increase and your business won’t be subject to unexpected booms. For example, 2020 led to an unforeseen rise in eCommerce orders that many manufacturers weren’t prepared for. While it’s impossible to predict these types of events, JIT manufacturers need to recognize the likelihood of such events and have protocols in place to address them as they arise.

Reviewing Inefficient Employee Processes

Now’s the time to assess if your picking method is holding you back. By reviewing your current strategy and identifying areas that can be improved, you can follow one of the main tenants of JIT and reduce picking time waste. 

Strategies like wave picking, batch picking or zone picking can give you a foundation for building a more simplified picking system. And even if those methods are working for your facilities, there are still other potential wasteful areas manufacturing leaders should be aware of, like bottlenecks from picking to packing and too little space in crucial areas, like shipping and receiving.

Empowered Employees

When your employees are supported, listened to and given the tools they need to succeed, JIT manufacturing is more likely to flourish.

Within JIT, employees are considered a very important part of the production system. By speaking with team members, manufacturing leaders can collaboratively build JIT protocols tailored to their facility’s needs. This input is critical, as your employees have a more nuanced understanding of the processes already in place, and likely have ideas on opportunities for improvement.

Reliable Machinery

Once an order enters a JIT facility, turnaround time is expected to be quick. And if your machinery breaks down, delays can be amassed quickly.

Reliable machinery and regular maintenance checks are crucial. That’s why many manufacturers are relying on preventative maintenance, which requires regular performance checks on machinery to avoid breakdowns or broken pieces. This method can save your company time and money in the long run.

But, to reduce the likelihood of such events in the first place, it’s ideal to purchase machinery from companies that provide reliable, high-quality machines.

At Dalmec, our durable industrial manipulators are designed to withstand the demands of your manufacturing facility. With customized options, we can build a material handler that fits your needs and manufacturing process and will last for years to come.

Ready to learn more? Contact our team today to find the perfect manipulator for your company.

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