What you need to know about Kanban methodology

We have talked about just in time manufacturing in previous articles, showing its importance in today’s industries and the benefits working under this methodology. As we have seen, just in time system was born in Japan between 1960 and 1970, and its principal figure was Toyota. This approach is focused on the processes optimization, letting companies reduce costs and times in their production chains, creating competitive advantage. Basically, this methodology seeks to deliver the required components for a production chain as they are needed, so they will be coming “just in time”, increasing the effectiveness in the manufacturing line.

Related: Just in time: A practical method for increasing productivity in your business by David Kiger

Having this concept clear, we can talk about Kanban. This term is very connected with the just in time philosophy and is a vital key to achieving what the just in time methodology seeks in the manufacturing process.

Kanban could be defined as an inventory control technique for the supply chain, letting companies improve their manufacturing processes. In other words, Kanban is the system to control times and needed components in every stage of the supply chain, allowing businesses to know and regulate their fabrication in each of its production phases, giving to customer better delivery times.

It is important to say that Kanban is present not only in production stages but also in transportation processes because this makes part of the whole system. Kanban seeks to improve and optimize company’s procedures from suppliers to distributions.


We can not talk about Kanban methodology without referring to Toyota. In 1950, Toyota started to implement this technique in their fabrication plants after analyze how customers buy what they need at specific times. Toyota through Kanban method, aligned its inventories with its consumption in the manufacturing line, letting them have “just in time” the precise components what the production chain needs. Put differently, in 1950, Toyota was the pioneer in the implementation of a controlling system for its inventories, watching the demand rate to control the production rate.

Kanban rules

These rules were designed for Toyota for the Kanban methodology implementation:

  1. The earlier process gives and indicates what the next process needs: this rule indicates to every process what they need as the manufacturing chain works, that is to say, that in the production line, every process must specify what the next needs before it starts.

  2. Kanban methodology is who indicates to every process quantities and times: Kanban, as a methodology for controlling manufacturing inventories, is the only responsible for establishing quantities and production sequences. In other words, Kanban implementation is for production line know how to works and when.

  3. No production without Kanban: as we mentioned in the second rule, Kanban is the responsible for controlling the production line stocks, so if this technique is not working or is not present in some processes, no item will be produced.

  4. Always connect Kanban with produced items: Kanban must be always present for controlling every production stage, so it is vital to attach Kanban to each manufactured item. If some item does not have it, the manufacturing line could not work as expected and will not give the desired results.

  5. Every process works without defective products: This controlling system seeks for optimization and effectiveness, so every process must work with excellence and perfect entries. Put differently, to ensure top quality, every phase in the manufacturing line should work with defect-free items.

  6. Lower Kanban numbers could increase sensitivity: if companies understand and adopt what this methodology proposes, they will reach a better understanding of production, getting better results and the desired quality.
Image courtesy of Mike Mahaffie at Flickr.com

Kanban cards

The Kanban methodology works with multiple cards for its implementation. These cards are stuck in raw material containers for determining their content. When one of these is used, the card is retired guaranteeing the container reposition. This system ensures to companies an excellent controlling method.

There are two principal card types and every of them applies the six rules mentioned above.

Manufacturing cards

These cards are used inside the fabrication plant, working as an internal control for manufacturing processes. These cards must have information about the item to be manufactured, its working center, the number of pieces and its storage and delivery place.

Transportation cards

They are the cards who indicate what materials are needed between processes, that is to say, these cards specify what every process need as they are working.

The transportation cards must have information about the transported product, its number of pieces, order number, and orders amount.

In conclusion, Kanban is an excellent methodology for leverage all the manufacturing processes, because, through it, companies can have a precise control for what they need as they are producing. In other words, this technique not only helps businesses to optimize their production procedures but also lets them control accurately everything in their supply chain, from providers to deliveries.


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