Kanban, translated to mean visual card or sign, is an extremely helpful too for manufacturing facilities that use pull systems or the Just-In-Time system. A kanban system utilizes visual communication and works to avoid overproduction and excess inventory, but it is a concept that can be a little tricky to dive into. In order to use kanban effectively, it is important to understand a few other related concepts.
Kanban is an inventory system that is normally integrated with kaizen and 5S. Kaizen, also a Japanese creation, means continuous improvement. Companies that use the kaizen system are constantly on the lookout for ways to improve their operational functions. In some companies there are teams of people whose job is to find ways to cut costs and improve working conditions; in a kaizen system this is a job for every employee.
Successful Japanese businesses like Canon and Toyota use this system. They ask that every employee suggest ways to improve the company on a regular basis. They mean every employee, too. Whether it is the janitor or members of upper management, all suggestions are taken into consideration. Every worker is considered an expert at their job, and so their suggestions hold weight.
The ideas are not just big changes; they can be little improvements that help how processes work. In America we tend to run our lives with a mentality of “do not x what isn’t broken,” whereas the kaizen system is based on the idea of doing things better, improving even what isn’t a problem.
The Japanese apply this concept to all aspects of their lives, even in social situations. This is in part why they have been so successful in manufacturing and other business ventures. If you set high standards and allow every employee to help improve those standards, the odds of success are in your favor.
Implementing kanban in the workplace begins with visualizing workflow on a kanban board, with cards representing a work item in the manufacturing process. As these items are completed, the card moves on. Kanban uses these visual cues to signal when a particular action should occur, effectively ensuring production is happening only when necessary.
A key component of practicing kaizen is to involve employees from all levels and departments. When workers understand the kanban system and how their role fits into the system, they can help identify ways to improve your kanban system and improve the movement of materials.
It is important to note that although kanban systems are primarily found in manufacturing facilities, the methodology can be used in a number of workplaces. Systems developed on the principles of kanban are used all the time in business, warehouses, hospitals, offices, or even a house! These types of kanban systems still heavily rely on visual cues to trigger actions and the goal is still to improve efficiency and reduce waste.