Timeline: The history of just-in-time manufacturing

Developed by Toyota with the vision to make vehicle orders in the quickest and most efficient way, here's the evolution of just-in-time manufacturing

With the vision to make vehicle orders in the quickest and most efficient way, Manufacturing Global walks through the evolution of the just-in-time manufacturing method, created by Toyota. 

1930’s-1945: Japan’s adoption of just-in-time (JTI)

At the end of World War II Japan’s primary objective was to rebuild its industry with western methodology in mind. 

Gerhard Plenert, identified four challenges that occurred at this time: 

  1. Lack of cash flow
  2. Lack of land space
  3. Lack of natural resources 
  4. An excess of labour

Taking 30 years to develop, Toyota pioneered the just-in-time (JIT) method. The introduction of this method helped the automotive manufacturer to optimise their processes in response to these challenges to make their operations lean. 

1973: JIT spreads in Japan 

In 1973, Japan faced an ‘oil shock’; an economic and political crisis which emerged from export restrictions during the Middle East war. 

This crisis coupled with Toyota sharing its ‘Toyota Production System’ - including the JIT method - brought about a rise in organisations taking notice of the automotive manufacturer’s resilience. 

1977-1980s: JIT enters the United States

Starting in 1977 though to 1980, articles in English began to emerge from Japan detailing the JIT method, which the US quickly began to adopt, as well as other western countries

1988: JIT rebrands to ‘lean manufacturing’

In 1988, John Krafcik, CEO of Waymo, coined the term ‘lean production’ in an ‘MIT Sloan Management Review’. Krafcik was using the term in reference to both Ford and Toyota production systems.

“Rather than continuing to refer to the different paradigms as recent Fordism and TPS, I would like to introduce two new terms here - buffered and lean production systems.” 

1996: General Motors publishes its Global Manufacturing System

Following its partnership with Toyota to build cars in the US, General Motors released its ‘Global Manufacturing System’. 

Based on the ‘Toyota Production System’, General Motors’ system provided the company with flexible layouts and production processes designed so that all manufacturing facilities globally could build high-quality vehicles at a competitive cost.

2021 and beyond: Has COVID-19 brought to an end the JIT method?

With the outbreak of COVID-19, long and lean supply chains struggled with the market's volatility. 

“The COVID pandemic mercilessly exposed weak points in global supply chains and drummed up the perfect storm we now find ourselves in,” said CIPS.

Concerns centred around the over-reliance on JIT are being raised. “JIT works brilliantly under the right circumstances, and as such has been the cornerstone of cost-effective, lean sourcing methods for decades. But under exceptional circumstances, the risks increase and this model is often found wanting,” added CIPS.

Could this then be the start of the end for JIT supply chain methods? Will organisations adopt a hybrid approach? Or will the industry bounce back and continue to use the method that has served them well before? Only time will tell...


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