From Just-In-Time and Lean to Digital Manufacturing
Just-in-time and lean manufacturing origins
Just-in-time (JIT) manufacturing is a methodology that can drive down production and response times not only within a factory but also when it comes to relationships with vendors and customers. Sometimes referred to as the Toyota Production System, it was conceived by Toyota in Japan in the 1960’s. It came about during Japan’s post-World War II recovery when resources were scarce and manufacturers had to get creative.
Subsequently, through trial and error, in the 1990’s JIT evolved into its more modern counterpart, lean manufacturing. Lean took further many of the basic principles of JIT, further expanding on the topic of waste reduction. More recently, when discussing innovation in manufacturing, the collective term digital manufacturing has garnered much prominence, though it still has differing connotations depending on the stakeholder.
In its simplest form, when we talk about digital manufacturing, we are largely referring to an integrated, computerized, and often robotized approach that utilizes the principles of just-in-time and lean manufacturing and further builds on their strengths. Digital resource and material planning, robotic production, supply chain and logistics IT systems are the integral building blocks of this approach. As a result, decision-making is based on real-time data and analytics, making it fast, efficient, and precise. In time, the full integration of information systems into production processes means that R&D can respond to market trends much more efficiently.
Digital manufacturing: industry applications
Although the concept of demand-based production isn’t a complete novelty, the digital transformation that many organizations have undergone in the past decade means their manufacturing processes can become even ’leaner’ and more responsive. From ad-hoc production and product customization to speedy resolution of warranty issues, the same principles can also be successfully applied to market research, supply chain, logistics, procurement, customer service, and sales.
In a dynamic world moving at a rapid pace, it’s paramount for manufacturers to implement the systems and processes that support fast-changing customer demands and preferences. Before going fully digital, it helps if production methodologies are already based at least partially on the principles of just-in-time, lean, or trend-based manufacturing. Industries whoсе success depends on the successful implementation of this type of innovative manufacturing include (fast) fashion, retail, wholesale, FMCG, and computing, among others.
Shortcomings of digital manufacturing
Complexity is perhaps the biggest shortcoming of the digital manufacturing approach. Often multiple, third-party, decentralized applications must be successfully integrated so that information can flow freely among all systems and decisions can be informed by real-time data. From an IT standpoint, this can be time-consuming and resource-intensive. From an operational standpoint, dependency on the integrity and freshness of data in all partner systems implies inherent vulnerabilities.
Still, when all risks are mitigated from human resource, IT and security perspectives, digital manufacturing can lead to significant improvements in efficiency, time-to-market, and production quality. Because operational and manufacturing resource planning is also enhanced, the number of accidents – an inevitable part of any production environment – are, in turn, minimized.
Adopting digital manufacturing in your production processes
Although fully digitizing your manufacturing methodology is likely the right strategic decision, it must be noted that this isn’t a trivial process. Such a large-scale transformation comes with its set of unique challenges and risks. The factors that help achieve a successful implementation include organizational readiness, the IT and financial resources needed for deployment, and last but not least – leadership support. Often, working with the right implementation partners can make a significant difference in the process, which is where detailed vendor research and due diligence can be useful.