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Re: SC22

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August 13, 2006 09:22PM
http://resourceinsights.blogspot.com/2006/08/is-just-in-time-nearly-out-of-time_13.html

Is just-in-time nearly out of time?

.........From year to year the new settlements of ancient civilizations ensured their continuity through one very important measure: the storage of surplus food crops, especially grain. This enabled them to withstand a bad harvest or even two or three without facing collapse.

What a supreme irony then that the sine qua non of civilization--maintaining a store of essential materials--should in our time be considered a source of inefficiency and waste to be avoided at all costs. The long tradition of saving for a rainy day (or as we will see, in our case, a drought-stricken decade) has now been rejected in favor of the so-called just-in-time revolution. For those who didn't get the memo, just-in-time inventory management means that everything needed for the manufacture of any good is delivered to the factory just as it is needed or nearly so. Inventory levels are kept at minimal levels which frees up cash for other purposes.

Just-in-time methods have become synonymous with lean, well-managed international corporations. And, they are now the Achilles heel of a global trading system at risk on several fronts..........

Of more immediate concern is the way just-in-time ideas have filtered into the retail food system. Grocery stores are believed to have no more than a three-day supply of food. That means those who don't grow their own food (which is most of us) will find themselves going hungry within a week of an emergency that shuts down the just-in-time delivery system to stores. What could do that? Try an avian flu pandemic.

And, that brings us to the medical field which has long been applying the minimalist, just-in-time view to its operations. The corporate mentality driving both for-profit and non-profit hospitals has resulted in an attempt to keep capacity to a minimum in order to drive down costs. But, the effect has been to undermine surge capacity, that is, the capacity to treat large numbers of patients from a mass casualty event such as a terrorist attack or a flu pandemic. The issue also applies to vaccines, drugs and medical equipment that might be needed in an emergency.

As for energy supplies, one almost certain near-term crisis will come to North America when its natural gas production begins to decline. That crisis could arrive as early as this winter and it's one reason the U. S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is trying to encourage the creation of additional natural gas storage.

When it comes to oil, there is a recognition on the part of nearly every major importing nation that just-in-time inventories are not enough. The United States, the European Union and China all have plans for or already have in place large state-run petroleum inventories, normally referred to as strategic petroleum reserves.

Perhaps the ultimate expression of the just-in-time idea is Wal-Mart's so-called warehouse-on-wheels. Only in a cheap oil environment would the idea of motion be added to the idea of warehouse. Wal-Mart tries to keep much of its inventory on the road in trucks to maintain low costs and flexibility. This is the ultimate in just-in-time delivery. But, those who believe world peak oil production will soon be upon us with its skyrocketing oil prices think that Wal-Mart would quickly crumble under the resulting financial and logistical strain.

When any resource becomes scarce, the natural tendency of people is to hoard it. That has the effect of sending the price higher which makes people think they should hoard it all the more.

In the coming years we may be faced with such a dynamic in many markets. The most devastating and far-reaching effects could come in the energy markets. Will the just-in-time religion which swept the world in the 1990s survive such a dynamic?............
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