The modern manufacturing industry is one that has been alive and well here in the United States, and around the world since the late 18th century. It got its start in Britain after the Industrial Revolution, and then spread like wild fire across the globe as companies started to realise just how fast and efficiently they could start pumping out products. And while the manufacturing industry is one that is still robust, critical, and profitable around the world today, it’s also gone through a number of changes in its time.

While there have been plenty of impactful things to hit the industry, such as interchangeable parts, automation, and the idea of building large inventories, it’s Kanban that has had a real and lasting impact. Kanban is a whole other way to approach work that takes on a visual perspective, and is proving to be a great way to improve workflow and processes.

So, what exactly is Kanban, and why has it managed to revolutionise the manufacturing industry in such a huge way? Let’s take a closer look.

What is Kanban?

A great place to start is with a concrete definition of Kanban. Kanban is a concept that was born in Japan and when translated, the word means ‘signboard’ or ‘billboard’. It came about in the late 1940s and was introduced by Toyota. The manufacturing company broke the mould so to speak, and found a whole new way to approach stocking the inventory. It was actually the system used in grocery stores that sparked the idea. Called ‘just-in-time’ delivery, Toyota decided that instead of stocking their inventory without any care for demand, instead they would match it with demand.

The concept seemed simple enough, but it was the visual management techniques that really solidified this approach to inventory and manufacturing as a whole. Toyota implemented a process wherein its line-workers would use Kanban, which is a card, that would then identify the various steps in the manufacturing process from start to finish. The idea is that everything would be mapped out in a visual manner in order to create flow, streamline processes, reduce waste and costs, and truly maximise the process.

How has it impacted the manufacturing industry?

Where the Kanban approach truly shines is that it can be flexible and at the same time efficient. This just-in-time approach that is reacting to current market trends and demands meant that Toyota didn’t have stockpiles of inventory and waste. When you think about how this can be transferred over into other businesses and manufacturing streams, the simple concept seems like the perfect solution for many out there. Why spend the time, money, and employee power just stocking inventory that may not be in demand?

When the system has been implemented properly with all the key steps being taken, it’s able to control the entire chain from the start of the manufacturing process, right through to the delivery to the customer.

Can any industry benefit from Kanban?

Even though it was the manufacturing industry that really embraced Kanban, that’s not to say it’s the only one that can benefit. When you think about Kanban’s core elements, which are a visual style of workflow, it can actually be adjusted and tweaked for a variety of industries and settings. 

How to adopt Kanban practices in a manufacturing environment

To start with, you probably will want to know more about Kanban Boards. Check this article from Kanbanise that answers the question ‘what is a Kanban board‘ for an in-depth explanation. Kanbanise specialises in unique software designed to enhance a company’s adoption of the Kanban method. The board is the true backbone of the process, yet it’s a fairly simple concept to grasp. As Kanbanise explains, the Kanban board is made up of a few main components. There are the Kanban cards, which are the tasks on actual cards; the Kanban columns that show where the task is in the workflow process (requested, in progress, done); work in progress limits, which will put restrictions on the maximum amount of tasks in each of the columns; and the Kanban swim lanes, which are a bit more complex and refer to different types of services, teams, tasks, activities, and more.

Now, clearly dedicated software, such as the one Kanbanise offers, is a great way to go about introducing and implementing the practice of Kanban in a company. The software offers a streamlined solution that will take all the questions and confusion out of the transition period. It’s also extremely important that employees understand that the company is using the visual workflow process, and embrace it themselves. This will ensure that everyone is on the same page and the process realises its true potential.

Still plenty to conquer

So, while it’s true that Kanban has already had a substantial impact on the manufacturing industry, there’s really no telling what the future holds and just how big this practice will become.