What is Kanban?

Kanban is a system that is used in Lean manufacturing as well as just-in-time (JIT) manufacturing. It was developed by the Toyota Motor Company, and the word itself means signboard or billboard in Japanese. The intent of a Kanban system is to help improve efficiency to help benefit the production of whatever is being produced by a manufacturing facility.

This system uses visual communication to make sure that each step in the production process has what it needs to perform the necessary tasks. At the same time, it will help to prevent the overstocking of parts or other items so that they have to be stored until they can be used. This will help to achieve the just-in-time goals in a way that is much easier than would be possible with most other systems.

Kanban Cards

Kanban card in bin

The Kanban system uses signals within the facility to trigger the movement of materials in a facility. Kanban cards are what is used to alert people or processes to engage in the various activities that need to be completed. Traditionally these have been physical cards that are various colors based on what is needed.

A worker at a specific machine that needs more of a certain part, for example, could put up a yellow Kanban card. This would alert a supplier to bring that specific part to the machine so that it would be available as it was needed.

In some modern facilities, the physical cards have been replaced with digital signals. The concept is the same whether the communication is handled via physical cards or digital. In addition, it is even possible to have machines that can track their part levels in particular areas, and order more as there is a need.

Implementing Kanban

There are many different ways to implement Kanban in a manufacturing facility. Taking the time to review the different options and find what will help your facility to operate properly following Lean and just-in-time manufacturing standards will help you to accomplish your goals and maximize productivity.


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