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Home » Manufacturing & Export » Just-in-Time (JIT) Manufacturing in 2024: Definition, Examples, and Pros & Cons
Last updated on February 28, 2024 by Ben Thompson

Just-in-Time (JIT) Manufacturing in 2024: Definition, Examples, and Pros & Cons

Just in Time manufacturing

What is Just-In-Time Manufacturing?

For Exporters and Importers, Just-In-Time (JIT) manufacturing is a management strategy that aligns an exporter’s supply of product, with the importer’s receival of shipments into their store or warehouse. The Just-In-Time manufacturing strategy aims to reduce the level of stock that an importer must hold in order to maintain their sales numbers.

It’s important to understand that storing goods in warehouses and storefronts brings additional costs to the supply chain, namely in the costs of storage & warehousing, and also the cost of financing the stock all the way along the supply chain. In global trade, it’s most common that importers will pay for all of the relevant costs to financing the product from the exporter, all the way through to their final sales location. An importer may pay a supplier that will manufacture an order in 30 days, plus 30-60 days shipping (if via seafreight), plus 30-60++ days by the time that product is actually sold.

Time is money. Therefore, the longer that it takes from manufacturing to final sale, the more costs that are incurred by the importer. Just-In-Time manufacturing aims to reduce the time from order to final sale.

What are the Advantages of Just-In-Time Manufacturing?

The benefits of Just-In-Time (JIT) manufacturing are substantial, contributing to its widespread adoption across various industries. The most significant advantages is the reduction in inventory warehousing and financing costs. By producing goods only as they are needed, companies can minimize the amount of money tied up factory orders, shipments on the water and stock in their warehouses.

This reduction in inventory not only frees up capital that can be used elsewhere in the business but also decreases the costs associated with storing, insuring, and managing inventory.

Furthermore, JIT manufacturing can lead to shorter production lead times, as the process is streamlined and more focused on meeting immediate demand. This increase in efficiency can give companies a competitive edge by enabling them to respond more quickly to market changes and customer needs.

In addition to cost and quality improvements, JIT manufacturing promotes a more flexible and responsive production system. As production is closely tied to actual demand, companies can adapt more easily to changes in the market, such as shifts in consumer preferences or the introduction of new products. This flexibility allows companies to be more agile in their operations, reducing the risk of overproduction or stockouts and enabling them to capitalize on new opportunities more effectively.

  • Increased Manufacturing Efficiency: Streamlines production processes, reducing waste and enhancing operational efficiency.
  • Supply Chain Efficiency: Promotes a more optimized supply chain, with improved communication and coordination among all parties involved.
  • Reduction in Inventory Costs: Minimizes costs associated with holding, managing, and storing inventory by keeping stock levels low.
  • Space Savings: Requires less space for inventory storage, allowing for more efficient use of production areas and potential cost savings on warehousing.
  • Improved Quality Control: Encourages continuous improvement and immediate problem-solving, leading to higher product quality.
  • Greater Flexibility: Allows for quicker response to changes in consumer demand, enabling companies to adapt production schedules more effectively.
  • Reduced Waste: Emphasizes lean production, minimizing overproduction, defects, and unnecessary processes, contributing to more sustainable operations.
  • Better Cash Flow Management: Reduced inventory levels free up capital that can be invested elsewhere in the business, improving cash flow.
  • Customization Opportunities: Facilitates the ability to offer customized products or variations with shorter lead times.
  • Competitive Advantage: Faster turnaround times and the ability to adapt quickly to market changes can provide a competitive edge.

How Does Just-In-Time Manufacturing Work?

Just in Time manufacturing warehouse management

Just-In-Time manufacturing works by closely aligning production schedules with customer demand, thereby ensuring that products are made only as needed. This lean production method requires a thorough understanding of the production process, from the time required to manufacture each component to the logistics involved in delivering the final product.

This approach relies heavily on precise demand forecasting, efficient communication with suppliers, and a highly coordinated production schedule to ensure that materials arrive just in time for their use, minimizing the need for large inventories.

By reducing the amount of inventory that a company must hold, firms can lower their overall costs and increase their operational efficiency. Importers must have a detailed forecast of customer demand to ensure that production aligns with sales expectations. This approach not only reduces the cost associated with holding inventory but also allows companies to adapt quickly to changes in customer preferences.

In practice, JIT manufacturing involves improving the various elements from various partners along the supply chain, including:

  • Supplier Relationship Management: Establishing closer, collaborative relationships with suppliers to ensure reliable, timely delivery of raw materials, and to facilitate quick adjustments in response to demand changes.
  • Demand Forecasting: Utilizing advanced analytics and data-driven tools to accurately predict customer demand, enabling precise scheduling of production activities.
  • Inventory Management: Implementing inventory tracking systems to minimize stock levels and reduce holding costs, while ensuring raw materials are available when needed.
  • Production Scheduling: Developing flexible production schedules that can be adjusted quickly in response to fluctuating demand, minimizing waste and maximizing efficiency.
  • Quality Control: Integrating quality control measures throughout the production process to reduce defects and rework, ensuring products meet customer expectations the first time.
  • Logistics and Distribution: Optimizing logistics and distribution strategies to ensure fast, efficient delivery of finished goods to customers, minimizing delays and improving customer satisfaction.
  • Technology Integration: Leveraging new technologies such as IoT (Internet of Things) and AI (Artificial Intelligence for real-time monitoring and coordination of the supply chain.
  • Continuous Improvement: Adopting a culture of continuous improvement to constantly seek ways to streamline operations, reduce costs, and improve product quality.
  • Customer Feedback Loop: Establishing tight feedback loops with customers to gain insights into their experiences and preferences, allowing for further refinement of production and supply chain processes.
  • Employee Training and Involvement: Engaging and training employees in JIT principles and practices, fostering a workforce that is flexible, skilled, and committed to the company’s lean manufacturing goals.

By focusing on these components, companies can enhance their Just-In-Time manufacturing processes, leading to increased efficiency, reduced costs, and improved competitiveness in the global market.

What are the Disadvantages of Just-In-Time Manufacturing?

Just in Time manufacturing disadvantages

A significant downfall of JIT manufacturing is its susceptibility to disruptions in the supply chain. Because JIT systems operate with minimal inventory, any delays in the supply of materials can lead to production stoppages, missed deadlines, and lost sales. This vulnerability was highlighted during global events such as the COVID-19 pandemic, where disruptions in international logistics caused significant challenges for companies relying on JIT methodologies.

Moreover, JIT manufacturing requires a high degree of coordination and trust between a company and its suppliers. The need for precise timing in delivery and production can strain relationships with suppliers if not managed correctly. Companies must invest in robust communication and planning systems to mitigate these risks, which can be a significant challenge for smaller businesses or those operating in regions with less reliable infrastructure. The balance between efficiency and vulnerability is a critical consideration for any company considering adopting a JIT approach.

  • Vulnerability to Supply Chain Disruptions: JIT systems are highly susceptible to delays caused by natural disasters, geopolitical tensions, supplier issues, or transportation breakdowns, leading to production halts.
  • Geopolitical and Economic Risks: Global supply chains are subject to geopolitical tensions and economic fluctuations, which can disrupt the flow of materials and goods.
  • High Dependency on Suppliers: Requires strong, reliable relationships with suppliers, making companies vulnerable if a supplier fails to deliver on time or meets quality standards.
  • Limited Flexibility for Unexpected Demand: Difficulty in quickly scaling production up or down in response to sudden changes in market demand due to minimal inventory levels.
  • Investment in Technology and Systems: Requires significant upfront investment in advanced technology and systems for supply chain monitoring, demand forecasting, and inventory management.
  • Complex Coordination and Planning: Demands meticulous planning and coordination across the entire supply chain, which can be challenging and resource-intensive.
  • Risk of Stockouts: Increased risk of stockouts and missed sales opportunities if demand forecasting is inaccurate or if there are any delays in the supply chain.
  • Reduced Economies of Scale: Smaller, more frequent orders to suppliers may increase costs due to lost economies of scale in purchasing and production.
  • Quality Issues: Rapid production cycles and tighter schedules may lead to quality control challenges, impacting the final product’s quality.

Why Has Just-In-Time Manufacturing as a Strategy Increased Over the Past Few Years?

The adoption of Just-In-Time manufacturing has increased significantly over the past few years, driven by the need for companies to become more efficient and responsive in a highly competitive and volatile global market.

Recent geo-political tensions and trade uncertainties have also prompted companies to adopt JIT strategies to better navigate supply chain risks and material shortages.

Advances in technology, particularly in data analytics, supply chain management software, and communication tools have made it easier for companies to implement JIT strategies effectively.

What Types of Companies use Just-In-Time Manufacturing?

Several high-profile companies across various industries have successfully implemented JIT manufacturing. The most well known is automotive manufacturer Toyota. Since the 1970’s, Toyota are renowned for their pioneering use of JIT principles, fathered by Taiichi Ohno, which form the core of the Toyota Production System. This system has become a benchmark for lean manufacturing techniques worldwide.

In addition to the automotive industry, technology companies like Dell have utilized JIT manufacturing to maintain their competitive edge. By closely managing inventory levels and production schedules, Dell can quickly assemble computers to match customer specifications and ship them directly to consumers, minimizing the need for large warehouses filled with pre-assembled computers. This direct-to-consumer model, enabled by JIT, allows for significant savings on storage and reduces the risk of obsolescence for fast-moving tech products.

JIT manufacturing is also prominent in the garment industry. As fashion is seasonal, garment retailers must be agile and move quickly to ensure shipments of fresh products are delivered in time for peak retail seasons. Examples of companies using JIT in their supply chains include:

  • Toyota (Japan): Pioneered the JIT concept as part of the Toyota Production System, becoming a global benchmark for efficiency and lean manufacturing.
  • Dell (United States): Utilizes JIT to manage inventory and production, customizing computers based on customer orders and minimizing warehouse storage.
  • Harley-Davidson (United States): Implemented JIT to streamline operations, reduce costs, and improve flexibility in manufacturing processes.
  • Nissan (Japan): Applies JIT principles to optimize inventory management and production efficiency, enhancing its global competitiveness.
  • Apple (United States): Employs JIT in its supply chain to manage the production of its devices, ensuring timely delivery of components and products.
  • McDonald’s (United States): Uses a form of JIT in its kitchens, preparing food as orders are placed to ensure freshness and reduce waste.
  • Zara (Spain): Operates a JIT system in its supply chain to quickly move designs from concept to store shelves, keeping inventory levels low and responding swiftly to fashion trends.
  • Samsung Electronics (South Korea): Implements JIT to manage component supplies for its electronics manufacturing, reducing lead times and inventory costs.
  • IKEA (Sweden): Adopts JIT principles in its supply chain to minimize storage needs and efficiently manage inventory of its flat-packed furniture.
  • Boeing (United States): Applies JIT methodologies in the production of aircraft, coordinating the delivery of parts to align with assembly schedules to reduce inventory storage.
  • Intel (United States): Uses JIT to streamline its semiconductor manufacturing processes, ensuring timely delivery of materials and reducing inventory levels.

Video Insight: JIT Inventory Management in Action By Toyota

What is Just-In-Case Manufacturing?

Just-In-Case (JIC) manufacturing is essentially the opposite of Just-In-Time (JIT) methodologies. Just-In-Case manufacturing focusing on maintaining higher levels of inventory to buffer against uncertainties such as supply chain disruptions, fluctuations in demand, and production challenges.

JIC manufacturing is particularly beneficial in industries with long lead times for materials, unpredictable supply chains, or where the consequences of running out of stock are severe in terms of lost sales and customer trust, or inability to supply critical products when needed. Examples include medical supply chains, hospitals and military operations.

The decision between adopting JIT or JIC strategies hinges on a company’s risk tolerance, industry characteristics, and the specific dynamics of its supply chain and customer demand.

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