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Heijunka is the Japanese term for level-loading. Heijunka is intended to flatten out the peaks and valleys in demand to create conditions that make standardization easier. It also stabilizes the product mix to support Standard Work.

Heijunka is a workaround for variations in demand. Heijunka essentially consolidates short-term daily demand into larger buckets, and then parcels it out in daily buckets.

The premise behind heijunka is that bigger demand windows vary less than smaller ones. The January and February’s average demand (big demand window) look a lot more alike than a small demand window at 1:00 on March 16th and 2:00 on March 16th.

This lets Lean manufacturers build in repetitive sequences instead of running a single model for a long period. Heijunka turns AAAAAABBBBBBCCC into ABABC, ABABC, ABABC.

Because of the shorter runs of each product, inventory needed on hand drops. It also allows for some production flexibility. (I discuss this concept in more detail in my Lean tutorial, Structuring Standard Work.)

For heijunka to be effective, demand must be monitored. When demand shifts, the model mix has to be adjusted as well. Heijunka is also limited to moderate demand fluctuations. Dramatic demand shifts need more extreme measures.

Benefits of heijunka

  • Heijunka provides consistency in processes
  • Heijunka presents stable demand to suppliers
  • Heijunka makes processes predictable

Drawbacks of heijunka

  • Heijunka trades inventory or lead time for stability
  • Heijunka limits rapid adjustments
  • Heijunka requires industrial discipline
  • Heijunka only handles moderate variations in demand

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