A tale about Toyota, Kanban, and Freight Transport
The story of how these three concepts interrelated in a chain of innovative consequences during the 1940s and 1950s is a story to remember undoubtedly
During the 1940s and 1950s, Japan was in a reconstruction phase following World War II. Japanese companies at the time were facing a heavily damaged economy and significant resource shortages. This fact drove manufacturers to search for more efficient means of production.
Enter the automotive company Toyota and its production system, also known as Lean Manufacturing. Pivotal figures in its engineering team, such as Taiichi Ohno, developed a system where the production and delivery of parts and products are only executed when required, minimizing inventory and waste. This is now known worldwide as Just In Time (JIT).
Previously, having vast quantities of inventory stocked up was commonplace, incurring additional costs and obsolescence risks. The JIT logistics challenged this traditional model by demonstrating that it could operate with much lower inventory levels while effectively meeting customer demand.
In 1959, Taiichi Ohno, as a plant manager, introduced the Kanban System. It is a scheduling technique for lean and JIT production. The word "Kanban" in Japanese means "card" or "signal." The idea was simple yet revolutionary: using physical cards (Kanbans) to signal the need for parts supply in the production line. When a workstation needed more components, it would send a Kanban card to the previous station, indicating the demand. This system ensured that necessary goods were only produced when needed, reducing excess inventory and waste.
The JIT system, underpinned by the Kanban technique, is exceptionally efficient but can also be fragile. The requirement for prompt and accurate deliveries intensified. It was no longer enough to deliver a batch of goods simply; it now had to be done within a specific time window.
Hence, if a supplier encounters unforeseen challenges or there are disruptions in the supply chain, it could cause significant production issues. This system relies on precision, reliability, and swift responses to setbacks. It led to a growing demand for carriers who could offer precise delivery times and dependability.
The JIT philosophy influenced the functioning of transportation towards optimization in route planning and available capacity. Transport companies had to adjust their operations to meet Toyota's demands, which often meant finding the quickest and most efficient routes to meet strict delivery windows.
Over time, the need for precision in transportation drove the adoption of technologies like real-time tracking, advanced GPS, and fleet management systems to keep clients informed about the status and location of their shipments. Carriers also had to become more flexible to accommodate fluctuations in demand. This fact could include having additional transport capacity available during peak demand times or being able to adjust operations in response to changes in delivery schedules quickly.
Though the JIT philosophy and Kanban technique originated in production, their principles have left an indelible mark on the freight transport industry. The demands for efficiency, precision, and adaptability have driven transport companies to innovate, adapt, and overcome challenges in ways they might not have envisioned in a previous era. It's proof of the interconnectedness between production and transport and how a change in one can reverberate throughout an entire supply chain.