What is the difference between JIT, Lean, and TPS?

To put it most simply, the Toyota Production System (TPS) is the primary influence of Lean manufacturing which operates using a just-in-time (JIT) system.

What is TPS?

As its name suggests, the Toyota Production System was a production system created by the Toyota Motor Corporation. TPS was developed in the 1950s and 1960s with the goal of providing the best quality products, at the lowest cost, and with the shortest lead time through the elimination of waste. The two core elements of TPS are just-in-time and Jidoka, or autonomation. In addition to these concepts,  also focused on leveling production (Heijunka), standardized work, and continuous improvement (Kaizen).

Influencing the Lean Philosophy

The TPS tools and continuous improvement mindset that made Toyota successful would ultimately become the foundation of Lean manufacturing. Lean principles were first introduced to Western countries in 1991 by the book The Machine That Changed the World by James P. Womack, Daniel T. Jones, and Daniel Ross. The book, which summarizes Toyota’s principles for manufacturing, was written after the authors studied several different manufacturing systems, outlines the framework of Lean: identifying value, mapping the value stream, creating flow, establishing pull, and continue to improve until the process is perfected.

Just-in-Time Manufacturing

As mentioned above, just-in-time was one of the two main pillars of the Toyota Production System. The basic idea of a JIT system is to make only “what is needed, when it is needed, and in the amount needed”. By producing items only when there is an actual demand (such as a Kanban card), your business won’t need to unnecessarily store finished products or extra materials.  JIT was initially developed as a system for managing inventory but plays a key role in how Lean your company is because you will need to establish a pull system and use Kanban boards to create a smoother workflow.

Although some Lean professionals use TPS, Lean, and JIT interchangeably, it’s important to know the differences.


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