Recognize the Signs & Power of Kanban


Lean is a powerful, effective and simple to understand business improvement activity. Kanban, a lean information and material flow control tool, is a great example of this simplicity. Initiated by Toyota, Kanban is a concept that relates to obtaining materials or required items 'just in time' for their introduction into the assembly or process.

A Brief History
In the late 1940's, Toyota began studying supermarkets with the idea to apply shelf-stocking techniques to the factory floor. What they found was that supermarkets stock just enough product to meet consumer demand, a practice which optimizes the flow between the supermarket and the consumer. The grocers’ just-in-time delivery process sparked Toyota engineers to reconsider their methods and pioneer a new approach—a Kanban system—that would match inventory with demand and achieve higher levels of quality and throughput.

Literally, ‘Kanban’ is Japanese for ‘visual signal’ or ‘card’. In 1953, Toyota applied this logic in their main plant machine shop where line-workers used an actual card Kanban to signal steps in their manufacturing process.

How Kanban Works
Kanban works in multiple ways. The main goal of this process is to be able to quickly and appropriately respond to the demand of a customer. Whenever a component is purchased or consumed by a customer, another component is then produced to replace it.

By working with the direct supply need of your customer, you can more accurately control inventory, improve materials handling and your manufacturing process overall. The systems are fairly easy to incorporate into your business. When followed properly and with appropriate guidance, it sends a clear signal that it’s time to produce more stock.

Benefits of Implementation
Reduced Inventory. With a properly implemented Kanban, inventory tends to be reduced to less than 30% of the initial level while maintaining the same level of order fill, shorter lead time for customer orders, and same service level for customers.

Employee Performance. With Kanban, workers tend to be self-paced, more in-control of their job, and less frustrated.

Commitment to Ongoing Improvements. Once the system is operating well and stable, Kanban can be used as a simple, powerful tool for forcing ongoing improvements in the manufacturing process. By removing one of the Kanban cards after the system is stabilized, supervision can de-stabilize the system in a controlled manner, forcing it to find a way of regaining stability through further process improvements.

As a lean manufacturer, Kanban can be a key component to the success of your company. MMTC can assess your operation and determine the potential benefits of adopting this system into your business. Call 888.414.6682 or visit for more information.

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Categories: Lean Principles