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Pawley Lean Institute

Pawley Hall, Room 460K
456 Pioneer Drive
Rochester, MI 48309-4482
(location map)
(248) 370-4542


An essential tool of Lean is the kanban system. In Japanese, kanban means “card.” Kanban is an information system that uses cards to signal the need to start an event, such as to produce more products or order more supplies.

Kanban cards may come in a variety of forms. They may be manual, electronic or verbal.

Kanban works through a pull system, based on the principles of just-in-time production. In this way, the customer takes from the supplier exactly what they need when they need it. The supplier would then produce exactly what the customer took.

The kanban card system is useful for many reasons, including that it:

  • helps control product flow by keeping everyone at each step informed of inventory levels and customer demand
  • lets suppliers know when and how much to produce of a product