Scenes from the JIT World

“Just in Time.” A lot of people don’t realize how this Lean Thinking concept can potentially rule their lives. I had a dramatic example of it a few days ago.

First, JIT is a business philosophy that started in the manufacturing world, and has spread to retail, finance, and just about everywhere people try to pry a buck out of the economy. Simply put, JIT is a the concept that “inventory is bad.” That means inventory both of finished goods and raw materials. Manufacturers used to have warehouses full of raw materials so they could keep production lines fed. Keeping the machines going is a good thing, but storing the materials is bad – you pay taxes on it, you have to insure it, and you have to heat and light a warehouse and pay people to manage the inventory. Nowadays, with improved IT systems and better logistics, a manufacturer can count on a shipment of parts to arrive at exactly the time they’ll be needed, and move them directly from the truck to the production line. No storage of parts, costs go down, and everyone is happy. At least until the first traffic jam keeps the truck full of steering columns from arriving on time. But, on average, it works out financially.

Retail outfits have picked up on JIT lately. I’ve known for a while that grocery stores don’t really have an “in back” anymore, as in when you ask the kid stocking the dairy shelf, “Have you got any Chobani pineapple in back?” Pretty much, what you see is what you get, with stock going from loading dock to the shelves almost instantly. And the number of deliveries a grocery store gets every day is staggering. When those trucks stop rolling, the shelves will empty within a matter of hours, and let the Hunger Games begin.

Ninety bucks a vial. If you can find it.
Ninety bucks a vial. If you can find it.

My brush with JIT was a couple of days ago at CVS pharmacy. My daughter’s insulin prescription was ready to refill, and having just got her registered for a special program on my health insurance that offers zero co-pays for insulin and testing supplies, we were eager to score 90 days worth of “free” insulin, instead of the $100 co-pay we’ve been paying, or the $900 it would cost retail. The pharmacy tech looked up the records, went to the fridge, and came back to tell us, “I can’t fill the whole order. I can only give you half. Do you want to just wait until we get more on Tuesday?”

My first thought was, “This is frigging insulin! What if we were out altogether? Do you say, ‘Tough luck, kid. Nice knowing you’? I mean, it’s not like Viagra or something optional. A guy can wait until Tuesday to get a boner. There’s not a lot of waiting with insulin.” Luckily, we’ve got plenty in stock in our redundant refrigerators with power backup, but I told her I’d take what they had and come back for the rest.

My lesson: don’t EVER let the insulin supply drop below 90 days. And at the first sniff of a problem in the world that could disrupt supply lines, take $1000 in cash to the pharmacy and buy whatever they have in stock. We need to be well ahead of the curve here, and while the other diabetics are still in their normalcy bias, we’ll be walking away with a fair percentage of the town’s ready supply of insulin.

And I guess it would probably be wise to make sure we’re not followed home.

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