What About The Other Car Makers?

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by Dan Markovitz

This blog has commented (here and here) on the WSJ's rush to predict the folly of just-in-time manufacturing in the wake of the earthquake last week that crippled Japanese auto production. (“Blame it on kanban, the just-in-time philosophy of keeping as little inventory on hand as possible.”)

What's striking about the WSJ's maligning of just-in-time is that the earthquake forced the temporary shutdown of nearly 70% of Japan's auto production — not just Toyota's. Honda, Nissan, Mitsubishi, Mazda, Suzuki, and Fuji Heavy Industries (Subaru) also had to stop or slow production last week.

So why attack just-in-time? Why not attack mass production, since it clearly didn't keep the other car companies running? Or the danger of single-source supply for critical parts? Or having factories in Japan, a notoriously earthquake-prone country, for that matter?

Fortunately, Toyota's president, Katsuaki Watanabe, doesn't pay too much attention to the shrill cries of the WSJ. He announced that

the company will examine its risk management and risk control and look for ways to become less dependent on single suppliers. He stressed the auto maker won't change its kanban, or just-in-time, strategy of keeping as little inventory as possible on hand, which reduces warehouse costs and ensures quality.

The solution to these once a decade disasters? Kaizen, of course.

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