A Japanese term meaning “visual record” or “card.” In Lean Manufacturing speak KanBan has come to mean “Signal.”

Comments: So what is KanBan signaling? KanBan “signals” are basically just telling workers that there is more work to be done. In other words, the presence of a “KanBan Card” or an empty “KanBan Location” is a “signal” to do the work described on the card (make the parts) or fill the empty KanBan location with parts which means you have to make them to put them there.

There are many ways to use and implement KanBans like empty totes, pallets, cartons, flashing lights, electronic messages, etc. You can even park a semi truck at a certain dock and that could be your signal to produce parts that will be shipped via this truck. There is no limit to the creativity you can have with KanBan signals. One key is to make them work in your specific situation and environment.

Perhaps the most important rule of KanBan is to “Obey KanBan.” In other words do not go around the system or it will fail. Failing to keep the rules of KanBan will result in higher inventories, greater risk for errors/defects, and other associated problems.

Now that we have emphasized keeping the rules of KanBan we must discuss a few reasonable exceptions. Breaking KanBan limits to production should occur if a machine has broken but will be able to catch up as soon as it is repaired. Yes, you will be building inventories, but this machines cycles faster than the feeding machine(s) and will be able to process the “TEMPORARY” glut of WIP “Work in Process” parts.

One more exception might be breaking KanBan to create parts for a customer or sister company that suddenly and desperately needs parts that are only finished to a certain degree. You may find yourself off-loading a machine or process to feed temporary work cells to meet this unexpected and “temporary” demand.

Generally speaking you’ll want to stick with KanBan and follow its’ basic rules. It works better that way.

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