Kanban (in kanji 看板 also in katakana カンバン, where kan, 看 / カン, means "visual," and ban, 板 / バン, means "card" or "board") is a concept related to lean and just-in-time (JIT) production. The Japanese word kanban (pronounced [kambaɴ]) is a common everyday term meaning "signboard" or "billboard" and utterly lacks the specialized meaning that this loanword has acquired in English. According to Taiichi Ohno, the man credited with developing JIT, kanban is a means through which JIT is achieved.
Kanban is a signaling system to trigger action. As its name suggests, kanban historically uses cards to signal the need for an item. However, other devices such as plastic markers (kanban squares) or balls (often golf balls) or an empty part-transport trolley or floor location can also be used to trigger the movement, production, or supply of a unit in a factory.
It was out of a need to maintain the level of improvements that the kanban system was devised by Toyota. Kanban became an effective tool to support the running of the production system as a whole. In addition, it proved to be an excellent way for promoting improvements because reducing the number of kanban in circulation highlighted problem areas
The term kanban describes an embellished wooden or metal sign which has often been reduced to become a trade mark or seal. Since the 17th century, this expression in the Japanese mercantile system has been as important to the merchants of Japan as military banners have been to the samurai. Visual puns, calligraphy and ingenious shapes — or kanban — define the trade and class of a business or tradesman. Often produced within rigid Confucian restrictions on size and color, the signs and seals are masterpieces of logo and symbol design. For example, sumo wrestlers, a symbol of strength, may be used as kanban on a pharmacy's sign to advertise a treatment for anemia.
In the late 1940s, Toyota was studying supermarkets with a view to applying some of their...