The end of LEAN?

Image thanks to BHR Symposium

Is this the end of LEAN, the innovation in manufacturing processes first developed by Toyota? I hope not but some of its concepts have been sorely tested over the last few weeks. As one minister put it’ ‘We are a just in time economy.’

The Toyota Production System led a revolution in manufacturing, moving from batch processing to a more dynamic flow of production based upon demand. As one item was required then one was produced, at least in theory, with a ruthless focus on waste in the system. Manufacturing errores reduced, quality of output improved, stock levels fell as did customer complaints and the amount of stock held. All of this led to automobiles being manufactured far cheaper than before, pushing Toyota to become the leading vehicle manufacturer in the world.

Just in time is part of the system. Component manufacturers worked with Toyota to produce goods at the rate that the production line needed, leading to low inventory values and highly complex supply chains. Just in time is a system that has been adopted across the industrial world, to include nearly everything we consume. It has been transformational.

This is all great and has led to a manufacturing and supply chain miracle, that is until things go wrong outside of businesses’ control. Things such as COVID, or war or Brexit.

We have seen significant disruption in global supply chains of late. COVID has led to manufacturing breaks, products being out of synch with demand and skilled workers being laid low. Add to this maneuvering in global politics and the self-inflicted barriers imposed on the flow of goods through Brexit and we have seen empty shelves in supermarkets, long queues at petrol stations, food rotting in the fields, pigs wasted and rapidly rising energy prices.

Does this mean the end of just in time or Lean? I doubt it, the system will adapt and adjust to a new reality, though there is likely to be a period where inventories are built, a movement from just in time to just in case. Panic buying as it is known. 

I, for one, will be buying a few more tins and stocking up my freezer. I will probably add a few more days of food to my inventory and all of this adds up.

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