Just In Time = Almost Too Late

Today I am reminded of my training as an engineer in manufacturing about the Just In Time principle. What reminded me? A flower I planted from seed. I have planted this flower every year for the past ten years with good success, that is, until this year. Maybe the seeds were affected by COVID, but the end result didn’t happen as it should have. I planted the seeds in late May and within a few days they germinated and began to grow. They grew, and grew, and grew, but only the foliage. There was not a flower within sight for well over four months. I distinctly remember that the package stated seventy days from germination to flowers. It is now the third week in October and the damned plant finally began to show flowers. It is a simple Morning Glory. My recollection is that in prior years I enjoyed these blooms beginning in August. What happened this year is strange. All I know is that we are about two weeks away from a killing frost and there are still only a few blooms showing in a mass of foliage. Disappointing to say the least. At least the plant met the deadline of blooming before a the frost shuts it down, or Just in Time.

In the manufacturing world of the eighties and nineties Just in Time manufacturing was a system used by the Japanese car companies to streamline their assembly process. The company I worked for was steeped in the study of these concepts. Basically, just in time means that parts arrive at the assembly line minutes before they are needed to put into the unit. Why waste providing warehouse space to hold parts before they are needed. Put that together with the labor required to unload and stock the warehouse and then to unload it again when it is needed. The factory floor is less cluttered with inventory meaning a smaller factory is needed, and the company doesn’t pay for goods to sit around waiting for a time to be used. It works and does save money, but at the price of too many employees’ nervous systems overloading when a car is coming down the line and you still don’t have the next part needed. Therein, we coined the phrase “almost too late.” The Japanese system relies on parts manufacturers being located within a one day drive from the assembly plant. The vision is that raw materials flow from the ground to the steel mill, to the component manufacturer to the assembly plant in a smooth uninterrupted flow, just like water flowing through a pipe from the well into your glass.

Recent headlines during COVID citing the computer chip shortage are prime examples of a just in time system that failed. How any auto company allowed that to happen is beyond me. It is, however, easy to visualize happening when the chips are a part of a JIT system and the company making the chips suddenly has a huge shortage of manpower down with the virus, and it is non-stop for a year, meaning that the shortage continues as more and more employees get the virus as time marches on. Henry Ford’s original idea of building a process that was vertically integrated so that his company made every part of the car, without involving outside suppliers solves this problem. The trouble with vertical integration is that the factory becomes so frickin huge it is impossible to manage. It also means that one company has to be expert at making thousands of discreet components all of which require their own experts. Separate companies specializing in discreet components can become very adept at making starters, radiators, brakes, etc. Even body parts like fenders, and hoods require experts in stamping and processing large sheets of metal.

In a phone discussion with a Ford employee this morning I learned that at this time Ford has more cars to sell than any company on the planet, and Ford is building more cars than any other car company. I can testify that the Ford dealer in my town finally has new cars and trucks on the lot.

Day 36-Quarantine-Car Doctor

Today was doctor day for the Deathstar. I took my Toyota Avalon to the dealer for service. For the very first time since 2005 I overran the recommended oil change mileage. Since this car has given me the best reliability and service of any other that I have owned I wanted to continue adhering to the maintenance practices I began when I bought it.

2005 Toyota Avalon, I fondly named it the Deathstar.
1983 Mercury Sable, I got Christmas cards from the tow company every year
1992 Oldsmobile Intrigue-I really loved this car

At the beginning I had the oil changed every three thousand miles which was the recommended practice of all the American auto makers for many years. After four years of this, Toyota came out with new mileage guidelines and set the marker at five thousand miles. I have driven this car for more miles than any other car I have owned by a large margin. I have owned two previous cars a Mercury Sable which made it to 110,000 miles and followed by an Oldsmobile Intrigue which I sold at 120,000 miles. My Avalon is currently at 158,000 miles and might be the final car in my life.

I am not afraid to push this car hard, I have driven it at 100 mph for extended miles when traveling the western states on very good roads. I have loaded it with all types of equipment and materials as one would use a truck for. I have driven it in the extremes, 110 degrees F through the desert of Arizona and -30 degrees F in the Chicago area. Most of the miles were racked up while traveling the USA and Canada on interstate highways, but many miles were driven on the gravel pothole filled back roads of the country. One thing I have never done is to race with the car. I learned my lesson once when as a much younger man I accepted a challenge to drag race a youngster while driving my GMC van. The van had a very big motor and was notorious for it’s ability to haul ass. The light turned green and I floored the accelerator. Much to my surprise my opponent streaked out ahead of me. My van went clunk and coasted across the intersection. I blew the transmission. I was lucky to get home by driving slowly in low-low gear.

When I reserved my spot with the dealer I asked what kind of protective gear I should wear. The attendant told me they practiced social distancing and wiped down all the chairs between customers. When I arrived, much to my surprise the waiting area was set up so every other lounge chair was removed and the ones that were there were six feet apart. I bought my computer so I could continue to read my book, and as I sat in the bar area I witnessed an employee come through and wipe down all the seats with disinfectant.

2020 Camry TRD

2020 World’s Ugliest Car

I resisted any impulse to buy a new car, although I spotted a special sport model Camry which I liked. If the Avalon model looked as good as that Camry, I would have driven home in a new car. Unfortunately for the dealer I happen to think the 2020 Avalon is the ugliest car every made by anyone. The entire time I was waiting I never came in close contact with anyone except the service advisor and I stayed six feet away from her. She handed me my credit card holding it by the edges.

On my drive home I took the interstate highway and found traffic to be just a tad less than normal for the time of day. Going to the dealer, I took a state hwy that passes through Frankfort, and traffic was non-existent. Gasoline prices vary from $1.99/ gallon in Frankfort, to $1. 35/ gallon in Bourbonnais where the dealer is located. As usual, I had just filled my tank in Frankfort yesterday so I didn’t need gas.

Yesterday in a Zoom meeting with my Tuesday night Stray Bar Club friends, I promised to stop and visit Bob and Carol from Manteno a town next to the dealer. In the interest of staying COVID-19 free, I opted out of the visit. I also skipped my usual stop at the Farm and Fleet store where I load up on bird seed when I am in the neighborhood. Instead, I rushed home to the solitude of my castle where I have not seen, nor heard a single soul except for the news broadcaster on TV. This too shall pass.

Day 34-Quarantine-I’m Sorry

Back on Day 12, I wrote a sarcastic piece about GM and their promise to build ventilators for COVID-19 patients. I really didn’t believe they had a chance of coming up with something that looked different from a Chevy or Cadillac. What I failed to remember is that they had an empty plant in Kokomo, Indiana where they made electronic parts for Chevies and Cadillacs. It was a natural for making ventilators. Where they got the workforce to assemble them I don’t know. Maybe they rehired all the workers they laid off when they stopped making starters and alternators in the USA. What ever, I owe them an apology. I am sorry GM for making you the butt of my disbelief, and thank you for coming through for the country.

In my secret life I have always wanted a Cadillac, but changed my mind after owning a Toyota. The reason is that I take my trusty Avalon to the dealer for oil changes and tire rotations. Each time I walk through the shop on my way to the customer waiting area I walk between piles of Cadillac parts like motors, and transmissions spread all over the floor under skeletons of Cadillacs on lifts I Don’t think I have ever seen a Toyota spread out on the floor. When I first bought my car the dealer handled  Cadillac, Toyota, and Jeeps. They lost the Jeep line when Obama manhandled the automotive industry during the 2008 economic melt-down.

 

 

Urban Evolution

 

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Antique-Graham, Street rod

Last evening I took a rare after supper walk into town. As I turned the corner to return I walked east down Kansas street and realized it was Thursday night. Traditionally, the Frankfort Car Club hosts Cruise Night on Thursdays. Usually, the entire town is descended upon by antiques, hot rods, street rods, and muscle cars. They are parked along both sides of Kansas, and fill the parking lots surrounding the Grainery building.

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Hot Rod

People from all around town drive, bicycle, and walk into town to buy an ice cream cone and to visit with the car people who show their master pieces. Last night was totally different. The town was filled with cars, but not the kind people like to show off. The cars brought people to the five restaurants that encircle the Grainery. For many years the Village Admin has been working with the Chamber of Commerce to increase the population density of the historic district as a way to develop a good business climate. They are succeeding. Town houses, condominiums, and apartments surround the district. Small businesses are doing much better. The real reason for the growth are the restaurants. People like to eat, and historic Frankfort provides food. People who eat are using the parking spots the car club filled previously, and the neat community meeting of neighbors coming to town for a nostalgia trip is waning.

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Pre-muscle antique

There were car club cars, a bevy of Corvettes, and 1970-80 vintage muscle cars but the volume of cars was minimal. SO the Chamber succeeded in making its goal, but the car club is losing its unique display area. Frankly, I like the club nights better than I do the restaurants. It was nice to be able to meet and talk with friends on these balmy summer evenings. The event was so popular that neighboring towns began to conduct their own cruise nights. I have attended some of them, mostly by accident while driving through on my way home, but none compare to the ambiance of the Frankfort cruise night.

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Street rod

 

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Hybrid Street rod

I Love Little Cars

The little cars I am talking about are in the video below. They are probably the only “Dwarf” cars in the world. Take a look and tell me you would not love one of these lil guys.

http://www.chonday.com/Videos/dwarf-car-museum

 

SIA-Dwarf1939Chevrolet_lede dwarf-car-museum Blue MrDwarfCar

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