The longer it takes, and the more expensive it is to setup equipment and labor to produce an item, the greater the quantity of items that have to be produced in a given production run. Traditional production management philosophy promoted the notion that long production runs of the same item were the key to driving down unit costs. The problem was that large production runs created large quantities of WIP and finished goods inventory that far exceeded the demand. These items would consequently cause high levels of inventory costs, long lead times, high potential rework, low flexibility in responding to customer needs, etc.
Driving down setup costs and setup times are key to dramatically improving factory competitiveness in a JIT environment. In the 1980s, the 3M company converted a factory that made a few adhesive products in long production runs into a factory that made over 500 adhesive products in small production runs. To keep unit production costs under control, 3M studied the setups on its coating machines. Since the cost of chemical waste disposal was a major part of the cost of changing over a coating machine to make another product, 3M shortened the length of hoses that needed purging and redesigned the shape of the adhesive solution holding pan on the coating machine to be shallower. 3M also used quick-connect devices, disposable filters, and work teams to speed up setups. The result was that 3M could maintain low unit costs on its coating machines while producing small lots of hundreds of products to meet market demand quickly.