JIT…A Failure Story

During the past weekend, I end up reflecting on how I have spent some summers of the past.  I don’t know why.  I just did for some reason.  There was one summer 17 years ago that ended sticking in my mind that I thought I would share.

I was working for a consumer electronics company that had manufacturing in the U.S. and in Mexico.  One fall, I was asked to help design a new manufacturing facility to be built in Mexico and they wanted it to be a Just-In-Time facility.  This was my first time hearing about JIT, so I read up on the concept.  Of course, 17 years ago almost all the material was about what it was and not how it worked.

The goal was to only have 2 hours of production materials at the production lines.  I made a super fancy spreadsheet that showed how much square footage was needed in each area based on line speed, shelving, component size, packaging, etc…

In July, I was approached again and asked if I would spend the month in Mexico straightening out what was going on.  The JIT system wasn’t working.  There wasn’t enough room for everything.

My boss and I went over the spreadsheet three times before we went on our visit and verified all the calculations and formulas.  It was all fine.

When we arrived the first day, we toured the plant.  We where horrified.  Televisions that were designed to stack 3 high were stacked 6 or 7 high.  Boxes were being crushed and leaning.  They looked like they could fall at any minute.  Areas that were not designed for storage were stuffed and there were approximately 100 trailers in the parking lot with materials in them.

This was a brand new facility.  It had only been open about 1 or 2 months.  It was a disaster.

The first thing I learned was there was no ramp up period.  On a Friday, one facility was closed.  The following Monday this facility was opened and expected to run at full capacity.  I had never seen any company do that before or since.  There is always a ramp up period.

The second thing we learned and more importantly was there had been no training on JIT, what it was or how it worked.  The facility was operating under old batch-n-queue mentality causing space to quickly fill up.

My manager and I were able to get the inventory under control through some strict inventory management processes and even get a more consistent delivery of materials to the assembly lines.

In the end, the company was not ready to run any differently.  It was a shame.  They ended up expanding the building and continued to run in a batch-n-queue manner.  I believe the facility has been closed in the last 3 or 4 years.

It was my first exposure to JIT and all that it takes to run a JIT system successfully.  I call it a system because it isn’t just about space and delivering parts.  It is the management mentality to reduce changeovers, run in much smaller batches and solve problems.  It really showed me how everything must work together.

Does anyone else have any horror stories from trying to implement a just-in-time system?

Posted on July 15, 2013, in Flow, Leadership, Manufacturing, Problem Solving, Pull, Waste and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. A good story, Matt. It looks like one more example of someone trying to buy a miracle in a can, which of course cannot work. But I am sure that you all learned from it 🙂

    It would be interesting to hear the other sides of the story – the plant manager’s side, for instance, or the workers’. And there must have been some advisors telling about JIT – I wonder what they told?

    As always, preparation, analysis and a learning culture probably could have helped. Did you see any other important things that should have been different?

    • Great thoughts. This was an example of everything done wrong. There should have been some training as to what JIT was and how to manage in that type of environment. Also, a ramp up and learning period for the plant. But with 20/20 hindsight that would not have happened because it was a traditional thinking company. Chasing cheap labor to Mexico (this was before China was a player) and trying to produce with all the buzz words without any real understanding as to what it really meant. I was a young industrial engineer and still had no real understanding either so I didn’t help out with the understanding like I could now.

      • I am on an eternal hunt for reasons why management ideas fail at large – often more than 80% of attempts to use a new idea, be it Lean, Six sigma, CMMI, or whatever, end up in some kind of failure.

        Your story helped me understand that maybe there really isn’t anything wrong with the idea itself. It simply have to fail when noone involved have a clear understanding of neither the idea nor its consequences.

        This will be one of the threads i will now follow. Thank you very much for leading me there!

  1. Pingback: JIT...A Failure Story | Excellence operationnel...

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